Special Issue of the Journal of Architecture

We are happy to present a new publication by SWU group – Urban Planning and Architecture of Late Socialism. Ed. by Daria Bocharnikova & Andres Kurg. A special issue of The Journal of Architecture Volume 24 (5) 2019.

This special issue brings together five articles, presented in Second World Urbanity Conferences in St. Petersburg and Lviv, focusing on architecture and urban planning in the Soviet Union (and in one case, its export to Afghanistan) from the 1960s to the 1980s, in the period of so-called late socialism.

Discussing topics that range from cybernetics in town planning, development cooperation in urbanism, to mechanisms of assigning pan-Soviet architectural awards, and the post-industrial models of life represented in the works of the Moscow architecture group NER, it traces the changes in the institutional and discursive structures of the architectural profession during the decades that were politically marked by the shift from Khrushchev’s optimism in rebuilding the communist society to Leonid Brezhnev’s Realpolitik.

If this changing political superstructure is not always directly addressed in the papers, it forms a backdrop to many of the discussions in Soviet architecture that in turn allows us to rethink the prevailing assumptions about these years.

In contrast to many recent histories of the late or developed socialism that take account of the era primarily through the shifts in values and emotional states in everyday life — cynicism, apathy, withdrawal — this issue turns to the changes in socialist institutions, and in the discourses of science and technology, that left their imprint on architectural and planning practices. In this way, it feeds into a new reading of the late Soviet period as a time of ongoing social experimentation.

Introduction: urban planning and architecture of late socialism
Daria Bocharnikova & Andres Kurg

The cybernetic eye: scientific planning in the Soviet Mikroraion
Diana Kurkovsky

Building institutions in Kabul in the 1960s. Sites, spaces and architectures of development cooperation
Elke Beyer

Baltic mikroraions and kolkhoz settlements within the Soviet architectural award system
Marija Drėmaitė

The NER project: a vision of post-industrial urbanity from post-Stalin Russia
Daria Bocharnikova

Free communication: from Soviet future cities to kitchen conversations
Andres Kurg

Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980

If you’re in New York, bee sure to see this upcoming exhibition on Yugoslavia’s architecture at the Museum of Modern Art, opening July 15. See the exhibition description and information below. And before going to the exhibition, be sure to read this essay by its guest curator Vladimir Kulić, “Orientalizing Socialism: Architecture, Media, and the Representations of Eastern Europe.”

Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980

Situated between the capitalist West and the socialist East, Yugoslavia’s architects responded to contradictory demands and influences, developing a postwar architecture both in line with and distinct from the design approaches seen elsewhere in Europe and beyond. The architecture that emerged—from International Style skyscrapers to Brutalist “social condensers”—is a manifestation of the radical diversity, hybridity, and idealism that characterized the Yugoslav state itself. Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 introduces the exceptional work of socialist Yugoslavia’s leading architects to an international audience for the first time, highlighting a significant yet thus-far understudied body of modernist architecture, whose forward-thinking contributions still resonate today.

Toward a Concrete Utopia explores themes of large-scale urbanization, technology in everyday life, consumerism, monuments and memorialization, and the global reach of Yugoslav architecture. The exhibition includes more than 400 drawings, models, photographs, and film reels from an array of municipal archives, family-held collections, and museums across the region, and features work by important architects including Bogdan Bogdanović, Juraj Neidhardt, Svetlana Kana Radević, Edvard Ravnikar, Vjenceslav Richter, and Milica Šterić. From the sculptural interior of the White Mosque in rural Bosnia, to the post-earthquake reconstruction of the city of Skopje based on Kenzo Tange’s Metabolist design, to the new town of New Belgrade, with its expressive large-scale housing blocks and civic buildings, the exhibition examines the unique range of forms and modes of production in Yugoslav architecture and its distinct yet multifaceted character.

Organized by Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art, and Vladimir Kulić, guest curator, with Anna Kats, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art.

For more information, see https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/3931

Transformations of the Urban: Global Perspectives on the History of Industrial Cities

The conference, “Transformations of the Urban: Global Perspectives on the History of Industrial Cities,” will be held April 18-20, 2018 at the German Historical Institute, Moscow (Voroncovskaya str. 8/7). The conference’s keynote speaker will be Lewis Siegelbaum (Michigan State University). Please see the attached program below for details.

Conference programme Transformations of the Urban 18-20.04.2018

Christina Crawford wins Emerging Scholar Prize

Christina Crawford (Emory University) recently won the Emerging Scholar Prize from the Society of Historians of East European, Eurasian, and Russian Art and Architecture (SHERA) for her essay, “From Tractors to Territory: Socialist Urbanization through Standardization.” Crawford’s essay is included in the special issue on Second World Urbanity in the Journal of Urban History (now available on-line and forthcoming in print, January 2018). Congratulations to Christina!

Second World Urbanity: Infrastructures of Utopia and Really Existing Socialism

The Second World Urbanity project is proud to announce publication of its first collection of essays, “Second World Urbanity: Infrastructures of Utopia and Really Existing Socialism,” as a special issue of the Journal of Urban History. The essays are presently available through the JUH’s on-line first platform and are forthcoming in print in January 2018. This first collections of essays from our project is drawn from papers presented at the conferences we held in 2014-2015 (see conference programs in the SWU Conferences tab).

Essays from this special issue of the Journal of Urban History are available here.

Ins and Outs of Socialism–August 25-27, 2017

The fourth conference of the Second World Urbanity project was recently held at the Center for Urban History in Lviv. “Ins and Outs of Socialism: Visions and Experiences of Urban Change in the Second World” explored a range of cities as they entered or exited the socialist era over the course of the 20th century and up to the present. See the full conference program here: The Ins and Outs of Socialism. EN

Response to the forum by Tarik Cyril Amar

First of all, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the organizers and contributors of this forum; their initiative and work are much appreciated. In the following, I will discuss (not very systematically, I am afraid) several points raised in the contributions by (in alphabetical order) Christian A. Hess, Elidor Mëhilli, and Tom Williams. For the sake of brevity, I will not say much about comments that point to agreement with my work (although those have been very welcome as well), but focus on those that are critical, point to things missing or possibilities not (fully) realized, and suggest further avenues of research and debate.

Christian Hess provides fascinating points of comparison with his work on the Chinese city of Dalian that underwent Soviet and Japanese regimes during its transformation from a colonial port to a Chinese Communist production city (such as the importance of disruptive war as well as long-term processes that cut across regime changes). He raises a number of important questions about my book, of which I would like to highlight one in particular, i.e. how newcomers integrated into Lviv apart from the workplace (which I understand, hopefully correctly, to also refer to higher education here): in that respect there remains much that could (I believe, should) be explored further, such as kinship and regional networks, the roles of the black and gray markets, and of “corruption.” The efforts of Soviet elites to, as it were, “city-train” their new urbanites (often in a condescending manner that articulated their self-idealization and reaffirmed their own elite status) also deserve more systematic exploration, especially because urbanizing others is also a way to claim one’s own urbanity. Leisure, consumption, and generational differences and interactions come to mind as well.

To some extent, I think, some of these issues are present in my work. But I can only agree that there is much room for more work. One thing that, I feel, I have been able to do is lay to rest the old misconception (unfortunately still making its way into the response to my book from some historians in Lviv) that we can neatly divide the postwar years into an initial period when almost exclusively “easterners” resettled Lviv and a later period, beginning no earlier than the mid-1950s (and in some views even later than that) when “locals” began to arrive in large numbers. In fact, these two categories of newcomers were overlapping substantially from the beginning which makes the issues that need further research all the more interesting. (One young historian from Lviv I should mention in this respect is Halyna Bodnar, who is, strikingly enough, the only historian in Ukraine who has actually conducted and published extensive, original research based on archives and interviews into the resettling of Lviv over the postwar decades. Her work has, unfortunately, not been published in English and non-Ukrainian speakers are likely to encounter its results only in mediated form, which is a great pity.

Elidor Mëhilli points out that my book offers little on urban planning and, perhaps, in a related vein, Tom Williams regrets the absence of maps. They are both right, if for different reasons. Yes, there should have been maps (beyond the cover illustration) and I can only regret what is really a bit of an oversight on my part (perhaps relying too much on the internet as an alternative source).

Regarding urban planning, the absence of a chapter on it (which it easily deserves) is not an oversight. While it is clearly pertinent to the history of Lviv in the last century and would, I think, link up well with several themes my book covers, I made a (perhaps youthful) decision not to include it systematically early in my research, for two reasons: a promising work that focuses heavily on the material cityscape in postwar Lviv and Wrocław, including urban planning, is in the making by a different author. (Concerning Wrocław, but not Lviv, there is already Gregor Thum’s outstanding book, of course.)

Secondly, perhaps more fundamentally, while writing “The Paradox,” I tried to adopt a principle formulated by historian Jörg Baberowski – to focus on processes in a place less than on the place as such. In this sense, “The Paradox” was deliberately written in this spirit and not that of, for instance, Karl Schlögel. Another important example that has influenced my efforts has been Amir Weiner’s crucial “Making Sense of War,” a locally anchored study with a wide purview. Put differently, “The Paradox” is not and was not meant to be book that “reads time in space” in a Schlögelian vein. (Not, I should perhaps add, that I would like to argue that urban planning (and planners) could not be explored very much in a “process” register as well; they clearly could – and I hope, they will be. The above is really less an argument than a description of a path to an outcome as it stands now.)

All contributors ask about (to summarize) larger frames of comparison and broader contexts. They also ask in how far Lviv was unique, special, or typical. The first thing I should say about this point is that I feel they are fundamentally correct: there clearly is much more potential for comparison and contextualization than I have been able to exploit. In part (I’ll say it: although it’s predictable and somewhat self-serving, it’s also true) this is due to the limits of what one project realized by one person can do: I did not set out to do so, but it did become clear to me fairly quickly during my research that I needed to write a book focusing on revising existing narratives by, among other things, deploying deep and quite often unprecedented archival research, in which I had to go through a multiple of the materials that I actually used in the end. In sum, with Lviv’s historiography being what it was when I wrote “The Paradox,” I had to spend much time on building my own archival foundations from scratch, and this has biased the result toward an ever sharper as well as narrower focus on one city (all the while being attentive to its inherently transnational experience).

While I have made an effort to highlight some comparisons and contexts to signal, as it were, what was missing and awaits future research (and researchers), what the book could have featured but does not is, for instance, a separate chapter discussing them. Christian Hess’s comments regarding Dalian and those by Tom Williams on Alsace-Lorraine are truly inspiring in this regard because they point to potentials beyond Eastern Europe and beyond Europe as a whole. Clearly, a transnational and global urban history has wide vistas to explore – and in that respect my book can only be a very modest part of a hopefully much larger and growing whole.

Ellidor Mëhilli, no less importantly, raises the different question to what extent postwar Stalinist things happening beyond Lviv influenced Lviv. Again, this question as well is spot-on: indeed, a book that addresses Lviv under late Stalinism could spend more time on, say, the Lviv specifics of campaigns that were not targeted at Ukraine or nationalism in particular – for instance, campaigns such as the Kliueva-Roskin “case,” Lysenkoism, anticosmopolitanism; or events such as Stalin seventieth birthday and his death a few (but still too many) years later. In a similar vein, I could have dedicated more space to parallels in postwar collectivization or dirty wars of insurgency and counter-insurgency, for instance between the Baltics and Western Ukraine. Again, there is no doubt that much remains to be done, also by historians in Ukraine and especially Lviv, of course.

(By the way, during my research I never ceased to be astonished, just how very few local researchers found their way to the party branch of the archive, a fascinating and rich resource literally next door. I hope that the lively response that my work has found among some of Lviv’s historians will serve as an incentive to no longer neglect a period of time that may well be deeply unloved but whose impact on Lviv is second to none.)

My guess, however, is that works centering on comparison, context, and connections would really have to do precisely that: they would have to be designed around such an agenda as their main purpose. My feeling is (and that’s what it is, a felling) that we may not yet be at a stage where one, synthetic work can really symmetrically balance the local and beyond-local.

On the other hand. I would not want to draw a sharp line between the universally Soviet (or Stalinist) and the specifically Lvivian. As I tried to show in my reading of the anti-Hrushevskyi campaign or the Soviet re-forging of Lviv’s past, it was a fact and a pattern that the local and generally Soviet could not stop interacting – with, for good measure, the generally Soviet-Ukrainian thrown in as well.

I am certain that I have omitted important questions and comments raised by the contributors and I hope that I have not misunderstood the points that I have addressed. These would be my thoughts at this point and it remains for me to once again thank the reviewers and the organizers.







Life and Death on the Borderland

The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv is a superb study of the transformations that multiethnic Lviv (also known as Lwów and Lemberg) went through during and after the Second World War. Based on solid research in Polish, German, Ukrainian, and Russian sources, Amar does not deny the persistence of pre-Soviet modes in the city, but he makes a convincing case for the crucial importance of Soviet policy in making Lviv Ukrainian.

The author sees the city’s initial Sovietization of 1939-1941 (“The First Soviet Lviv”) as being about more than conquering space. He frames it as a mental exercise, a battle over expectations, and claims about the meaning of progress and historical possibility. To rule over Lviv was to rule over Poles and Ukrainians—for both of these groups, Lviv was a national symbol—as well as Jews. The Soviets demoted the Poles, but they did not get rid of them. On the other hand, new professional opportunities became available for local Ukrainians, but they were expected to show total commitment to the model of a Soviet Ukraine. (Some refused.) Jews, too, had to abide by a “Soviet Jewish” template. (Soviet authorities preferred “progressive” Yiddish to the “reactionary” Hebrew).

The Soviet “liberation” of Western Ukraine quickly became the stuff of celebratory articles, fiery speeches, and films. Like the Habsburgs, the “Bolshevik enlighteners,” offers Amar, “imagined Lviv as both marginal and central, backward and crucial: a potential proving ground for their cutting-edge modernity.” (62) The upshot, for this book, is that it offers neither the story of a capital (centralized power), nor the history of a backwater. Instead, it is the story of something suspended in between: a city on the edge, existing between physical cleansing and memory clearing.

Amar delivers striking details to illustrate the mechanics of Soviet power: Moscow’ Bezbozhnik journal writing about the “talmudists” of Lviv’s Golden Rose Synagogue as “overgrown with moss” like the building they congregated in (64), for instance, or the discussion of how Soviet authorities tried to lay claim to Mickiewicz, the great Polish icon (a “metaphorical and physical conquest,” 72). As with every instance of occupation, encounters are at the heart of the story; we get brilliant glimpses of personal contacts and conflicts between Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. Some Ukrainians had dreamt of a united Ukraine, only to be disappointed by Soviet rule. Others believed in the promise of Soviet modernity. Soviet power, in other words, also drove differences among Ukrainians, including between eastern and western Ukrainians.

The Germans occupied Lviv/Lemberg shortly after launching their operation to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941. Much of the existing literature on wartime Eastern Europe is preoccupied with the similarities and differences between Soviet and German rule. And sure enough, the city’s inhabitants had to contend with these comparisons on a daily basis. But Amar is also concerned with what overlapped between occupations. The description of the 1941 pogrom is devastating. A Soviet-German continuity, he writes, was the propaganda warning non-Jewish inhabitants not to become Jew-like (“getting rich at others’ expense”) even as Jews were forced to sell their valuables to try and stay alive (106). Ghettoization followed, and then the shipments to the death camps. The book traces the looting of Jewish property, as well as the myriad of indirect ways of involvement in the mass persecution of Jews, as well as efforts to save them.

“More than two hundred thousands Jews from the former eastern Galicia were deported to death camps and murdered out of sight,” writes Amar, but some (between thirty and forty thousand) were murdered in the city’s outskirts. By the end of 1943, Lviv/Lemberg had undergone a profound transformation: “a historic metropole of Jewish culture was now reduced to the nightmare utopia of European anti-Semitism” (115). As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the arrival of the Germans excited native nationalists who nurtured visions of ethnic statehood. There has never been a shortage of opportunists in wartime, and Amar captures a variety of motivations among an admittedly broad and complex array of actors.

Why did some Ukrainians support the Germans? And does it make sense to look for only one reason? (This is not history driven by a single operative force.) Did Ukrainian patriotism and pragmatism necessarily conflict with German aims and brutal measures? (Amar argues that they did not.) How can we make sense of motivations that were not clearly spelled out in writing or in speech? And if they were, should we take them at face value?

Once the Jews were purged, Germans, Ukrainians and Poles made plans to remake the city—again. But when the Soviets returned, in July 1944, fortunes reversed once more. Since then, Lviv’s Polish population has gone from an absolute majority (in 1944) to less than 1 percent in the early 2000s. The expulsion of the Poles in the 1940s completed the “clearing” of the city’s population. Polish signs (street names, buildings, but also books) disappeared. This was yet another continuity across the typically sharp line drawn in 1944.

For decades after the war, Lviv turned into a center of conflict between western and eastern Ukrainian elites. Importantly, the city received an infusion of “outsiders” (Ukrainians, Russians, Soviet Jews). This new elite included government officials, party members, administrators, and technical staff. New terms emerged to describe this new reality (“locals,” “arrivals from the east”). This was in addition to the now consolidated Soviet jargon that marked individuals based on party affiliation, class, and behavior.

But despite the displacement and the sheer will of Soviet power, the old historic Lwów did not disappear completely; the very fact that “locals” were distinguished from “easterners,” argues Amar, meant that a sense of the old city survived. Under the guise of Soviet power and in light of the historic defeat of the Nazi war machine, a united Ukraine contained within it Lviv’s alienated Western Ukrainians.

After 1944, “the easterners” found themselves in a position of ideological authority. It was the “locals” who had to “catch up” with the Soviet east. Effectively, notes Amar, being “a local” after the war meant not being Jewish or Polish (182). Industry was at the core of the Soviet civilization, but so were collectivization and ideological work, which meant a battle against Ukrainian nationalists. Officials projected the idea of backwardness onto past Habsburg and Polish rule, just as the Ottoman Empire became a stand-in for backwardness in the post-World War II Balkans. The Western parts of Ukraine became “a test and triumph of the Soviet achievement” (186).

The idea of this local inadequacy vis-à-vis the Soviet civilization is picked up again in Chapter 6 (“Local Minds”), which shows how Lviv’s old intelligentsia became an instrument of this once-more Sovietization. The Ukrainians who stayed in Lviv in the interwar period, notes Amar, “missed out” on the Soviet project, and were thus urged to see themselves as “contaminated and underdeveloped, having missed out on the “‘great school of Socialism building’ of the interwar Soviet Union.” This accounts for Lviv’s paradox: the Soviet “liberation” of Western Ukraine, instead of erasing it, contributed to its persistence.

What about the city itself? Amar frames the story around the problem of urban administration, which explains the book’s sharp focus on schools, administrators, municipal politics, literary circles, and the Komsomol (youth organization). We get glimpses of the informal ground level forces unleashed by occupation and chaos (for example, in Chapter 3, on the removal of Polish traces, and the architectural aspect of postwar campaigns). The photographs, too, are helpful in giving the reader a sense of place amidst constant upheaval. Still, one reads hoping that Amar might go deeper into the history of Lviv’s urban planning. (The book’s splendid cover invites it.)

The author is razor-sharp in outlining Soviet shortcomings, especially with post-1944 labor mobilization, to the point that one wonders how the authorities got anything done at all. But more than that: how to analyze reported Soviet plan shortcomings in a system where shortcomings were necessary, indeed, a structural need?

The need to “catch up” in the 1940s and 1950s, finally, was neither limited to Lviv, nor to Soviet Ukraine. From the Balkans to East Asia, industry and cities became showcases of a backbreaking battle to overcome poverty by way of central planning. Given the complexity of Lviv’s history, perhaps it would be unfair to fault Amar for keeping the frame local. Clearly, there are advantages in doing so. This raises the question, however: To what extent is an understanding of post-Second World War Stalinism in Lviv dependent on what was happening to the world beyond Lviv?