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Dossier : Socialist Networks

Socialist Networks and the Internationalization of Building Culture after 1945

Les réseaux socialistes et l'internationalisation de la culture du bâtiment après 1945
Łukasz Stanek

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  • 1 David Crowley, Posters of the Cold War, London: V&A, 2008, p. 50.

1In 1968 the Parisian journal Opus International published on its cover an image of two mirrored supermen, differing only by the acronyms on their chest: that of the United States and that of the Soviet Union (fig. 1). Designed by the Polish artist Roman Cieślewicz, this poster, it has been noted, made the two powers appear as twins, accused them of exercising a destructive influence on the rest of the world, and suggested the impossibility, or futility, of choosing between them. 1

  • 2 Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of our Times, Cambri (...)
  • 3 Oscar Sanchez Sibony, “Capitalism’s fellow traveler: The Soviet Union, Bretton Woods, and the Cold (...)

2However, in another way, the use of an essentially American icon suggested a fundamental asymmetry, as if the only visual language in which the conflict could be expressed was provided by just one of its sides. As is well known, the claim about the symmetry between the US and the Soviet Union was part of the Cold War discourse,2 and it helped the “superpowers” to discipline their populations and their allies, with, for example, the cia’s Handbook of Economic Statistics consistently overestimating the size of the Soviet economy. Yet it was precisely the economy where the American preponderance was most evident. As economic historians have shown, Cold War rivalries were articulated within a global system of financial and commercial exchange by and large defined by the United States and the former colonial powers in Western Europe, to which the Soviet Union and its allies could hardly present a viable alternative.3

  • 4 Odd Arne Westad, Global Cold War, op. cit. (note 2).

3It is this entanglement of politics and economy that conditioned the work of architects, planners and engineers from socialist countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia – the topic of three papers in this issue of abe. Rather than discussing singular events that seemingly confirmed the symmetrical images of the “Global Cold War,”4 the three authors look at longer engagements of architects and planners in what was at that time called the “Third World.” Christina Schwenkel studies the transformation of the city of Vinh in central Vietnam, to which architects from socialist countries contributed in two phases, during the wars of independence against France and the United States. Vladimir Kulić shows how a blueprint of a hotel, originally designed in the early 1970s for the Adriatic coast of socialist Yugoslavia, was built in Baghdad a decade later, to be operated by the Indian luxury chain Oberoi. Alicja Gzowska discusses the reconstruction, restoration and conservation of buildings in North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia by the Polish State Workshops for Conservation of Cultural Heritage (pkz) from the 1960s until the end of the Cold War.

  • 5 See the papers in Łukasz Stanek and Tom Avermaete (eds.), “Cold War transfer. Architecture and plan (...)
  • 6 For an updated overview and bibliography, see Johan Lagae and Kim De Raedt, “Editorial,” ABE Journa (...)

4Together with a small, but growing, body of literature on the work of architects from socialist countries abroad,5 this issue contributes to the larger debate on the mobility of models, people, images, affects and norms in twentieth-century architecture, which the recent issues of abe significantly advanced. The focus on socialist countries extends the discussion about the networks that facilitated the acceleration of this mobility after World War II, including colonial institutions and their postcolonial mutations; economic globalization; international organizations such as the un, unesco, and the institutions of the emerging eu; professional organizations such as the uia; as well as technical assistance programs of Israel and Scandinavian countries. 6

  • 7 Dubravka Sekulić, Three points of support: Zoran Bojović (MSUB, 2013); Mojca Smode Cvitanovic, Igor (...)

5This issue shows that architects and planners from socialist countries were part of these transnational processes of architectural exchange, and demonstrates how the economic and political dynamics of the Cold War offered both opportunities and constraints to their practice abroad. In line with other studies of architectural transfers between the “Second” and the “Third” Worlds, these three essays make it clear that the Central European “satellites” were far from transmitters of Soviet orders, and that their partners in Africa and Asia were by no means “proxies” of the socialist bloc. This is not only because the “splits” between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (1948) and People’s Republic of China (1960) left the socialist bloc divided and contributed to distinct flows of architectural transfers;7 but also because of the differentiation and heterogeneity of Soviet-dominated Central Europe. The shifts in Soviet policies were only one, among many, factors that influenced the dynamics of Central European architectural exports, which were often more dependent on internal events and bilateral treaties, and on the opportunities created by partners in Africa and Asia.

  • 8 See the ongoing habilitation project by Daniela Spiegel at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, “Feriena (...)

6This heterogeneity is particularly evident in the varying architectural mobilities among Central European socialist countries that greatly differed in scales, speeds, modes of aggregation and rhythm patterns. No doubt the “family” of socialist countries in Central Europe was characterized by a resemblance of political and economic trajectories that, in architectural terms, resulted in shared debates on “national style” since the late nineteenth century, and on the role of architecture in nation building after World War I, tackling underdevelopment (with the particularly acute “rural question”), and state-led reconstruction and fast-track industrialization after World War II. Yet the responses to these shared challenges greatly differed, both within these countries and among them. Within the Soviet bloc, they often led to specializations that were recognized within the bloc (even if rarely coordinated within the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, cmea) and resulted, for example, in the export of gdr prefab technology to Poland; the activities of Polish conservators in other socialist countries in Europe; or the advisory and design work of Yugoslav and Bulgarian architects on tourist architecture in the gdr.8 As the papers in this issue show, these specializations were projected and carried out abroad. However, the discourse about specific national competences, such as the “Polish school of conservation,” was often more of a branding attempt than a common denominator for a coherent body of expertise, and many of the specializations aimed less at a “socialist division of labor” aspired to by the cmea, and more at a flexible identification of niches on the international market of services.

7Given the scale of these projects and the breadth of their occurrences, what is most surprising is the speed with which the contributions of socialist countries to architectural production and, more generally, urbanization processes around the world, were forgotten after the end of the Cold War. This in spite of the familiarity with these projects in socialist countries, stemming from their circulation in the mass media and from an increasingly common experience of working abroad, shared by the urban, professional workforce. A similar familiarity can be sensed when talking today to the older generation of architects and planners from Algeria, Libya, Syria or Iraq, who knew professionals from socialist countries from their cosmopolitan working environments, rather than as a parallel world of architectural transfers, “symmetrical” to those of the West. By contributing to the undoing of this forgetting, this issue of abe challenges not only Cold War mirages, but also some more recent ones.

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Note de fin

1 David Crowley, Posters of the Cold War, London: V&A, 2008, p. 50.

2 Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of our Times, Cambridge: Cambridge up, 2005.

3 Oscar Sanchez Sibony, “Capitalism’s fellow traveler: The Soviet Union, Bretton Woods, and the Cold War,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 56, no. 2, 2014, p. 290–319.

4 Odd Arne Westad, Global Cold War, op. cit. (note 2).

5 See the papers in Łukasz Stanek and Tom Avermaete (eds.), “Cold War transfer. Architecture and planning from socialist countries in the ‘Third World’,” theme issue of The Journal of Architecture vol. 17, no. 3, June 2012. For bibliography, see Stephen Ward, “Transnational planners in a postcolonial world,” in Patsey Healey and Robert Upton (eds.), Crossing borders: International exchange and planning practices, London; New York, NY: Routledge, 2010 (RTPI Library series, 19), p. 47–72; and Łukasz Stanek, “Second World’s Architecture and Planning in the Third World,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 17, no. 3, June 2012, p. 299–307. See also Taoufik Souami and Éric Verdeil (eds.), Concevoir et gérer les villes: milieux d’urbanistes du sud de la Méditerranée, Paris: Economica; Anthropos, 2006 (Villes); Péter Borbás, “A vidék építésze. Értekezés a vidéki építészetről Reischl Gábor munkái kapcsán,” PhD dissertation, Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, Budapest, 2014; Jennifer Czysz, “Urban design as a tool for re-imaging a capital city: planning Conakry, Guinea after independence,” MA dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, 2001; Yasser Elsheshtawy, “City interrupted: modernity and architecture in Nasser’s post-1952 Cairo,” Planning Perspectives, vol. 28, no. 3, 2012, p. 1–25; Ákos Moravánszky, “Charles Polónyi and the Art of Sailing with the Wind,” in Łukasz Stanek (ed.), Team 10 East. Revisionist Architecture in Real Existing Modernism, Warsaw: Museum of Modern Art, 2014, p. 34–63; Christina Schwenkel, “Traveling architecture: East German urban designs abroad,” International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity vol. 2, no. 2, 2014, p. 155–174. url: Accessed 20 January 2015; Łukasz Stanek, Postmodernism is almost all right. Polish architecture after socialist globalization, Warsaw: Fundacja Bęc-Zmiana, 2012; Łukasz Stanek, “Accra, Warsaw, and socialist globalization,” in Benno Albrecht (ed.), Africa. Big change, big chance, Exhibition Catalogue (Milan, Triennale di Milano, 15 october–28 december 2014), Bologna: Editrice Compositori, 2014, p. 162–164; Łukasz Stanek, “Architects from socialist countries in Ghana (1957–1967): Architecture and mondialization,” forthcoming in December 2015 in The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians; Łukasz Stanek, “Architectural globalization in the late Cold War: Techno-cultural transfers between socialist Poland and Kuwait,” forthcoming in 2015 in the International Journal of Islamic Architecture. See also the forthcoming publications by Andreas Butter (presentation with Christoph Bernhardt, “Networking across the iron curtain, competing for the Global South: The International Union of Architects (uia) and the export of East-German socialist architecture to the Global South (1949–1989)” at the conference “Alternative Encounters: The ‘Second World’ and the ‘Global South’, 1945–1991,” Jena, 3–4 November 2014 ) and Nikolai Brandes (presentation “Concrete utopia. Mozambican housing schemes between cooperative colonialism and afro-socialism,” at the 5th European Conference on African Studies, Lisbon, 27–29 June 2013).

6 For an updated overview and bibliography, see Johan Lagae and Kim De Raedt, “Editorial,” ABE Journal, no. 4, 2014, theme issue Global experts “off radar”. url: Accessed 03 June 2015; recent contributions to this debate include Benno Albrecht (ed.), Africa. Big change, big chance, op. cit. (note 5); Luce Beeckmans, “The adventures of the French architect Michel Ecochard in postindependence Dakar: A transnational development expert drifting between commitment and expediency,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 19, no. 6, 2014, p. 849–871; Kim De Raedt, “Between ‘true believers’ and operational experts: unesco architects and school building in post-colonial Africa,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 19, no. 1, 2014, p. 19–42; Neta Feniger and Rachel Kallus, “Building a ‘new Middle East’: Israeli architects in Iran in the 1970s,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 18, no. 3, 2013, p. 381–401; Regina Göckede, “Spätkoloniale Moderne – Vergleichende Studien zur Globalisierung der Architekturmoderne,” ongoing habilitation project at the Technische Universität Cottbus; Rachel Lee, “An architectural link between Masala Dosas and war. The unlikely potentials of Otto Koenigsberger’s shrinking heritage,” ABE journal, no. 3, 2013, theme issue Colonial today. URL: Accessed 03 June 2015; Rachel Lee, “Negotiating modernities: Otto Koenigsberger’s works and network in exile (1933–1951),” abe journal, no. 5, 2014, URL: Accessed 03 June 2015; Tim Livsey, “‘Suitable lodgings for students’: Modern space, colonial development and decolonization in Nigeria,” Urban History, vol. 41, no. 4, November 2014, p. 664–685; Itohan Osayimwese and David Rifkind (eds.), “Building modern Africa,” theme issue of The Journal of Architectural Education, vol. 68, no. 2, October 2014; Peter Scriver and Amit Srivastava, “Building a new university in Cold War Australia: The Colombo Plan and architecture at unsw in the 1950s and 60s,” in Antony Moulis and Deborah van der Plaat (eds.), Audience: 28th Annual conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, Brisbane: SAHANZ, 2011. Recent exhibitions include: “Forms of freedom. African independence and Nordic models,” The Nordic Pavilion, Venice, 7 June–23 November 2014; “Africa. Big change, big chance,” Triennale di Milano, 15 October–28 December 2014, Milan, Italy; “Architecture of independence: African modernism,” Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany, 20 February–31 May 2015.

7 Dubravka Sekulić, Three points of support: Zoran Bojović (MSUB, 2013); Mojca Smode Cvitanovic, Igor Ekštajn and Marina Smokvina, “Naval bases as polygons for the new urbanity of African cities. Naval military base in Homs, Libya (‘Centroprojekt Zagreb’, 1974),” presentation at the conference “Colonial and postcolonial urban planning in Africa,” University of Lisbon, Portugal, 5–6 September 2013; Mojca Smode Cvitanovic, Igor Ekštajn and Marina Smokvina, “The engagement of Croatian architects and town planners in Guinea. The urban development plan of Conakry (1963),” presentation at the conference “Colonial and postcolonial urban planning in Africa,” University of Lisbon, Portugal, 5–6 September 2013; Cole Roskam, “Non-aligned architecture: China’s designs on/in Ghana and Guinea, 1961–1992,” forthcoming in Architectural History.

8 See the ongoing habilitation project by Daniela Spiegel at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, “Ferienarchitektur der ddr im europäischen Kontext.”

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Titre Figure 1: Supermen, poster by Roman Cieslewicz, Paris, 1968.
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Łukasz Stanek, « Socialist Networks and the Internationalization of Building Culture after 1945 »ABE Journal [En ligne], 6 | 2014, mis en ligne le 31 janvier 2015, consulté le 08 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Łukasz Stanek

Lecturer, The University of Manchester, United Kingdom

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