Post-Colonial Planning, Global Technology Transfer, and the Cold War

Postmodernism Is Almost All Right. Architecture After Socialism and the Post-Colonial Experience. Exhibition, Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, October 1-31, 2011

Romuald Loegler & team, Auditorium in Aleppo (Syria, 1982). Drawing by Romuald Loegler.

“Is Warsaw becoming a city of the ‘Third World’?”—asked the sociologist Bohdan Jałowiecki in 2006. If the city was moving in that direction, Polish architects and planners might have already been well equipped to deal with it. This is because those among the most active today know the cities of the ‘Third World’ from first hand experience in the 1970s and 1980s, when intellectual labor was one of Poland’s top export products. This exhibition questions the impact of this design experience in the Middle East and North Africa on the production of urban space in Poland after socialism. Working in Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates gave Polish professionals an acquaintance not only with advanced technologies, materials, and functional programs, but also with postmodernism as the new tendency in architectural practice and discourse. The postmodern appropriation of traditional urbanity and the rejection of architectural “utopias” of the early 20th century avant-gardes was as popular with the regimes in Baghdad, Damascus, Tripoli, and Abu Dhabi in the 1970s and 1980s, as with investors and large parts of the public in Poland after socialism.

>>>The catalogue of the exhibition is out! Download the introductory essay here. Buy the book on the web-page of Fundacja Bec-Zmiana, or on amazon

Curators: Piotr Bujas, Łukasz Stanek Archival research and interviews: Piotr Bujas, Alicja Gzowska, Aleksandra Kędziorek, Łukasz Stanek Analytical drawings: Michał Bartnicki, Maciej Bojarczuk, Tomasz Chmielewski, Dorota Flor, Michał Grzegorczyk, Tomasz Janko, Franek Ryczer, Filip Surowiecki, Agnieszka Szymczakiewicz Exhibition architecture: Piotr Bujas, Łukasz Stanek Graphic design: Noviki Studio

Romuald Loegler & team, Centrum E neighborhood in Nowa Huta (Poland, 1988-1995). Drawing by Romuald Loegler.

Architecture After Socialism: Is Postmodernism All Right? Symposium, Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, October 8th, 2011

When in 1966 Robert Venturi asked if the Main Street is not “almost all right” he pointed at what had become since then the essential fascination of postmodern architecture: American consumerist culture. Thirty years later, this fascination was embraced without hesitation by investors, authorities, and the broad public in Central and Eastern Europe, welcoming postmodernism as the appropriate idiom for architecture after the end of socialism.

Yet the entanglement between postmodernism and postsocialism is more complicated, and this symposium aims at tracing alternative genealogies of current architecture production in Central and Eastern Europe.

This includes the focus on the architectural debates and experiences which prepared the ground for the fundamental rupture with the architecture of late socialism, defined by the requirements of state bureaucracy and building industry. It was since the 1970s and 1980s that Polish architects subscribed to the international rediscovery of urban morphologies, historical typologies, and traditional images of the city and its scales. With the exchanges with the West being difficult, filtered, and increasingly unequal, it was the experience of working in the Middle East and Africa—a generational experience for hundreds of Polish architects in the 1970s and 1980s—that provided the testing ground for some of these ideas. This was an experience of an architecture practice moving beyond the modernist framework and gauging the limits of architectural agency within liberalizing market economies.

Complementing the exhibition “Postmodernism is Almost All Right. Polish Architecture After Socialism and the Postcolonial Experience” (Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, October 1st-31st, 2011), this symposium will contextualize the experience of export architecture from socialist Poland within a multiplicity of genealogies of postmodernism and its various geographies, including the engagement of Venturi and Denise Scott—Brown with Africa and the Middle East; the instrumentalization of the postmodern idiom by East—German regime; or the emergence of postmodernism as identity politics within late socialist Yugoslavia.

Speakers: Max Hirsh (Cambridge MA/ Berlin), Lukasz Stanek (Zurich/ Washington), Martino Stierli (Zurich), Jane Pavitt (London), Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss (Philadelphia), Piotr Winskowski (Kraków).