A Theory of the Socialist Architecture: Story of an Unfinished Project

A Seminar with Hamed Khosravi

Wednesday, March 29, 33 Bedford Square, first floor, back room

Organized by the City/Architecture PhD Programme

The aftermath of the Second World War not only marked the beginning of new geopo­litical order but also once again brought back discourses of architecture and planning to the frontline of those confrontations. The immediate needs for the post-war reconstruction left almost no time for a comprehensive theoretical development in comprehensive architecture and planning principles, however the ‘occupied’ and ‘liberated’ territories became laboratories in which the new concepts of territory, city, and its forms of life were tested.

Since 1948 the U.S. initiatives such as Marshall Plan or the Truman’s Point IV program, operated in order to counter the Soviet’s ideological colonization of the Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries, as territories that could immediately block the expanding Socialist System. The extension of those projects and counter-projects into the domains of architecture and planning inevitably enabled architectural theory as devices through which the ideologies of the power blocs could be exported, towards shaping a global socialist utopia.

Although in the history and theory of architecture the project of ‘Westernization’ has been largely discussed however the counter-project by the Soviet bloc has not been fully unveiled. A Theory of the Socialist Architecture: Story of an Unfinished Project, would revisit a joint mission initiated by the USSR and GDR (1955-77) to develop a research project on theorization of the Socialist Architecture. The project was planned aiming to socio-politically transform the Capitalist world from within through architecture and planning principles.

In 1954 two research institutions, the Academy of Architecture in Moscow and the Deutsche Bauakademie in Berlin (GDR) were put in charge of run­ning this extensive research project.

“The communist transformation of the way of life requires a qualitative change in the concept of settlement on the basis of an organic interaction of all three elements of the city: industry, housing and social institutions. The functional aspects of the architecture must therefore undergo a corresponding change…

According to the materialist conception, architecture is man-built environment, and thus is one of the spatio-temporal organizational forms of social processes. It is precisely in this respect that architecture has great possibilities of conditioning social processes. By reflecting the social development, and not being merely a passive envelope for social processes, architecture becomes an fundamental asset in the development of a communist way of life.”  G.A Gradov, Stadt und Lebensweise (1971).

The 25-year attempts were resulted in two books and few articles that were only published in the Soviet Union and the East Germany. Although most part of the research remained unpublished, and the project was never finalized due to the political circumstances in the both countries, however many aspects of the ‘socialist architecture principles’ were already implemented during the research process in the targeted countries such as Iran. Next to discussing an overview of the joint USSR-GDR mission, few examples of those planned residential neighbourhoods in Tehran and their roles in mobilization of the labour movement during 1950s-70s will be discussed.