Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe

By Neil Leach | Go to book overview

11

The humanity of architecture

Dalibor Vesely

The wall which for a period of time separated Eastern and Western Europe was partly real and partly imaginary. It was certainly imaginary in view of the more fundamental developments, values and identities which cannot be changed in a few decades.

In the attempt to understand the nature and the implications of the artificial division of Europe, too much importance is very often given to the difference of political regimes and very little to the universality of primary developments or continuity of traditions and their identities. To those who lived in the Eastern European regimes, the link between politics and culture was only too obvious. It was also quite obvious that there is more than one level of culture, and that politics cannot change or influence all of them. It did not take long to discover that behind the official politics of the day are deeper issues and problems common to countries in both the east and west. The technical transformation of reality, politics and everyday life, the cult of efficiency and the determinism of technological and economic thinking tend to transcend political systems. It is not difficult to see retrospectively that in certain areas such as politics or everyday life, for instance, the process of technical transformation was probably more radical and advanced in the East, despite the general tendency of all industrial societies to develop a more effective form of an appropriation and monopolization of power, collecting and control of informations and steady promotion of surveillance.

That there is a common ground shared by societies on both sides of the wall has been revealed already in the international character of the prewar avantgardes where even the most doctrinaire utopian projects of the Russian constructivists, motivated to a great extent by totalitarian political thinking, were received by the intellectuals and artists in the west as congenial with their own efforts. The unity of interest behind different political orientations cannot be explained politically. This became eventually clear to many of us living on the east side of the wall. It became clear that what was at stake was not politics itself but its foundations, the humanity of institutions, of everyday life and in our own field, the humanity of architecture.

The notion of humanity is very often used as an argument and criterion for the suitability of buildings and created spaces. The argument itself is usually

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