photo: Bolt 958

The Heritage of Postwar Modernism: Engaged Research

The current mono-thematic issue of Architektúra & urbanizmus edited by Henrieta Moravčíková, Peter Szalay and Rostislav Švácha, present soundings into the destruction and rejection of postwar modern architecture across a wide geographic span, from Belgium into Central Europe. The varied causes and narratives of the problematic acceptance of late 20th-century architectural heritage presented in the contributions might seem to indicate the persistence of a West-East division primarily through the function of the buildings under threat. The Belgian and German contributions stress the impact on mass and social housing, or more broadly the built legacy of the social policies of the Western welfare state. In the texts from post-socialist Europe, by contrast, the predominant theme is of threats to public infrastructure. All these studies reveal that in the countries that experienced post-socialist transformation, the most immediately threatened architectural heritage consists of works representing investments in socialist public infrastructure: in a sense confirming the assumption of a persistent anti-Communist animus in Europe’s East and a contrasting continuity of the public sphere in the capitalist West. Still, a detailed comparison of the actual processes leading to the disappearance of postwar architecture across Europe reveals that the strict dichotomy offered by this image should not be taken as a uniform truth. As indicated by Ákos Moravanszky, efforts toward the humanisation of architecture and policies to reduce social inequality were similar, in the early years of postwar Modernism, in both the socialist bloc and the West. Currently, with the prevailing political tendencies across Europe favouring neoliberal capitalism marked by the central idea of a minimal state and unregulated market growth, there is a common effort to use architecture in the race for the greatest economic value-extraction from the built environment. Whether it is a question of the privatisation of social and public housing funds and its associated infrastructure in the West, or the privatisation of the grandiosely sized socialist public works in the East, the gaining of profits from real estate is in no way limited either by social and public function, or by architectonic and urban form.

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