Łukasz Stanek: Architecture in the World Socialist System

A Seminar organized by the City/Architecture Phd Programme
Guest lecturer Łukasz Stanek, Manchester Architecture Research Centre
Wednesday, February 1st, 6.30 pm
Architectural Association
33 Bedford Square, First Floor, Front Room

Against the dominant reduction of architecture’s globalisation to “Westernization,” this talk argues that the world-wide mobility of architecture was accelerated after World War II by competing visions of global cooperation. Among the most consequential of such visions was that of the world socialist system, launched by the Soviet Union as an alternative to the Western-dominated “globalism” of the 1970s and to the splits among socialist countries in the previous decade. Rather than a utopia or an ideology, in this talk I will discuss the world socialist system as a set of specific instruments of foreign trade which regulated the circulation of design and construction practices between socialist Europe and countries in Africa and Asia. By focusing on Iraq between the coup of Qasim (1958) and the end of the first Gulf war (1991), I will show how such instruments of the world socialist system as employment contracts, currency exchange rates, and barter agreements offered opportunities and constraints for architects, planners and construction companies from socialist countries. These instruments circumscribed the conditions of labour of actors from Eastern Europe and the conditions of collaboration with their Iraqi partners which, in turn, facilitated specific design methodologies and the techno-politics of buildings designed and constructed in Iraq. This argument will be made by revisiting the master plans of Baghdad delivered by a Polish office (1967, 1973); housing neighbourhoods by Romanian contractors; infrastructure in Iraqi cities by Bulgarian, East German and Soviet design institutes; public buildings by Yugoslav firms; and teaching curricula at the Department of Architecture in Baghdad to which architects from Czechoslovakia contributed. Since the results of these engagements have continued to impact the conditions of urbanization in Iraq until today, this talk is not an archaeology of failed attempts at architecture’s globalization, but rather an alternative genealogy of these processes.