Conference Report: Windows upon Planning History Kassel, Germany, 7-9 February 2013
Diefendorf, Jeffry M., The Town Planning Review
Part of the inspiration for this conference, hosted by Uwe Altrock and Friedhelm Fischer - town planning historians at the University of Kassel - was concern about a generational change brought about by the retirement or forthcoming retirement of major scholars/participants, such as Harald Bodenschatz, Dirk Schubert, Gerhard Fehl, Hans Harms, Ursula von Petz, Hartmut Frank, Giorgio Piccinato and now Friedhelm Fischer. Thus, the goal of the conference was to explore how the history of the field of planning history and the directions it might go in the future have been shaped by new insights, paradigm changes, professional associations, journals and electronic resources. Altrock and Fischer hoped that the presentations and discussions would interest established scholars and inspire the numerous Kassel students in the audience to devote themselves to planning history. The term 'windows' was to serve as a heuristic metaphor - a framework for looking outward at specific examples of planning history and looking inward at underlying theories and challenges for scholars. As Fischer stated, one should ask why some 'windows' have been neglected or not opened at all. Throughout the conference, there was sufficient scheduling flexibility to allow for full Powerpoint-aided papers and ample comments from those in the audience.
About half of the paper presenters, session chairs and discussants were German, with the remainder from other European countries, Australia and the United States. The language for everyone, however, was English, and Fischer expects to publish a book in English containing the papers that were presented. This is itself interesting, since the keynote speaker, Stephen Ward (Oxford Brookes University), and others observed that English has been the primary language in international planning history, as well as being dominant in terms of publication and conferences -something that has perhaps been to the neglect of the history of planning in non-English language countries, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America, even 'though planning history is truly international and interdisciplinary'.1 Ward also observed that planning history has tended to be highly empirical, concentrating on modernist planning models and planners, individual cities or types of cities (such as new towns, capital cities and war-damaged cities) and the influence of such things as local culture and the conservation of historic monuments. The discipline has shied away from theoretical thinking, offering big generalisations or providing grand narratives.2
Eye-openers and long-range perspectives
Max Welch Guerra (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar) opened the first conference session by discussing how the evolution of urban studies and planning history at Aachen's Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH Aachen) helped to shape the field in Germany. Social-scientific studies of housing during the era of National Socialism and urban design in fascist Italy involved the examination of planning, the inhabitants of realised housing projects and the broader impact on the city as a whole. This approach marked a move towards urbanism based on social-science theories, which included the political, social and economic conditions underlying planning and urban design. Harald Kegler (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar) then offered a new perspective on continuities in design and planning history in the former German Democratic Republic that spanned the twentieth century. Thus, in the 1970s and 1980s, colloquia were held in Weimar to explore the history of the Bauhaus, celebrate the birthdays of Walter Gropius, Ernst May, Mies van der Rohe and Hannes Meyer and examine issues such as urban ecology and how economic and technical advances would shape future planning. In other words, the study of planning history was not restricted to a narrow post-1945 Marxist perspective.
Harald Bodenschatz (formerly of the RWTH in Aachen, now the Technische Universität Berlin) followed by offering a new window on urban design under the dictatorial regimes of Mussolini, Stalin, Salazar, Hitler and Franco. …