Convergences and Divergences – Open Call, © Graphic: Pilecki Institut, 2023
The Organizers of the conference call for contributions that critically rethink and analyze the history of European modern architecture with reference to Central and Eastern Europe.
The conference will be held in English language. It addresses the history of modern architecture from a horizontal and non-hierarchical perspective, overcoming outdated and simplistic categories such as East and West. It will focus not only on design and urban planning issues, but also on questions related to the transformation of societies, the exchange of ideas, the building of relationships between people or the struggle for a better future. The conference approaches architecture from a broader perspective – presenting it as a „seismograph“ of the visionary and at the same time ambivalent experience of Modernism, which has much to say not only about the particular moment in history but also about the present.
For too long, theoretical and political constructs have contributed to a territorial or thematic marginalization of Central and Eastern Europe in European architectural historiography. Instead, the conference encourages a closer look at the dynamics between and beyond the political, geographical and cultural borders of Europe in the 20th and 21st century. The aim is not only to analyze the differences, but also to write a history of connections in modern architecture, employing a range of scales and approaches: focusing on timeframes and milestones, exploring cities, regions and borders where histories and memories meet, as well as examining architecture from the perspective of individual stories – those behind biographies or those behind particular architectural objects and ideas of Modernism.
The open call seeks to bring together various perspectives and areas of expertise represented by researchers, architects, designers, architectural historians, urban activists and civic society actors. The main goal is to critically rethink the legacy of Modernism and its associated transformations in Central and Eastern Europe in the context of international relations, dependencies, influence, and power. The conference builds on the five-year experience of the “Exercising Modernity” program – an interdisciplinary intellectual exchange on art and architecture in a broader sense, exploring how ideas of modernity were reflected in various social and political spheres – and is being organized in cooperation with the initiative for a “European Triennial of Modernism (ETOM)”.
The conference program is shaped along the following five topic areas:
TOPIC AREA 1:
Contested architectural heritage
across Central and Eastern Europe
Objects, sites or typologies of compromised or ambivalent history are often referred to as contested, difficult or problematic heritage. All these terms attempt to capture the social resonance of or responsibility for our cultural legacy. This often results in that heritage being excluded from social circulation and appreciation, because from today’s perspective, it is perceived as evidence of a shameful or painful past that has been successfully overcome.
Both rejection of a fragment of the past and the abandonment of care can lead to a gradual decay or even invite active processes of aesthetic devaluation or de facto destruction. The reason may be that such heritage is judged unsuitable by a majority society, a defined group, or the political administration to tell a positive, unifying story about itself or is perceived as “alien”.
The call-section asks for examples of such ambivalent heritage and for contemporary socio-cultural practices in dealing with it – in particular as regards current challenges of post-Soviet traces in modern architecture in Central and Eastern Europe.
TOPIC AREA 2:
Iron curtain(s) of the 20th century.
Modernism beyond the binary of East and West
This section explores the reception and migration of designs and ideas across various divisions that accompanied the Iron Curtain. Rather than focusing on a one-way flow from the center to the periphery, the interest is on a ‘moving map’. Vectors of exchange between West and East are oriented in many ways and directions. The goal is to challenge unidirectional or vertical historical architectural narratives that are often based on the principle of subordination of Central and Eastern European architecture.
The panel aims to trace disconnected histories and obscure biographies. Particular attention will be given to the question, how did ideological and geopolitical rifts and tensions reinforce the demarcation between the notions of Eastern and Western European Modernism? How did they contribute to the suppression or neglect of certain narratives, design principles, and individual stories? How may ideologically motivated exacerbations have hindered or re-channeled the transfer of ideas?
The call asks for examples of biographies or activities that, despite political or ideological barriers, facilitated the flow of ideas and concepts between East and West or West and East – with a particular focus on countries of Central and Eastern Europe and East and West Germany.
TOPIC AREA 3:
Multilayered identities of modern architecture
Architectural heritage is often used to tell stories about particular versions of the past. In geographical and cultural areas where multiple groups have lived together and various political spheres have intersected, built heritage may consist of numerous historical layers and witness many deliberate aesthetic redesigns. For various reasons, these are not – or have not been made – equally visible.
The call asks for examples of architectural heritage that bear witness to multicultural and multilingual histories, as well as for examples of successful policies and practices. How can plurality be expressed and made accessible through conservation, storytelling, activism, and artistic intervention?
TOPIC AREA 4:
Points of contact and best practices
The notion of shared built heritage unveils the hidden networks and the potential for sharing (architectural) history by various communities, nations, regions and countries.
On the other hand, this concept revives sources and risks of tension, as a result of which joint or in-depth exploration is sometimes neglected.
This section is dedicated to strategies for making the public, local communities, authorities and professionals aware of the importance of shared modern history. This includes the same or similar guiding principles, roots, characteristics and design features in modern architecture in Central and Eastern Europe.
The call asks for examples of practices of revitalization, rehabilitation, conservation, documentation, communication and management pertaining to common architectural heritage, with a special focus on the collaboration between various actors involved.
TOPIC AREA 5:
New Communities, New Buildings, New People:
the notion of the “new” in Central and Eastern European modern architecture
Housing is an important part of architectural history, but it also plays a major role in the history of political, social and spatial changes of a particular era. Especially the ideas of social and communal living were labeled “new” at the beginning of the 20th century, when they began to shape cities and social life in various parts of the continent. How did these ideas develop in the first and second half of the 20th century in both East and West?
The panel focuses on centers of change that show diverse developments and layers based on their political history, shifts of borders, migrations and cultures of exile, to examine individual traces, shared models and differences that need to be addressed.
Based on selected case studies, the section discusses examples from polycultural cities such as Berlin, Prague, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Warsaw, Tallinn and Vilnius. Of special interest are significant examples of modern housing settlements for which the initial ideas can be juxtaposed with the present situation and contemporary challenges.