Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Manufacturing a Socialist Modernity

Manufacturing a Socialist Modernity: Housing in Czechoslovakia, 1945-1960

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Manufacturing a Socialist Modernity
    Book Description:

    Eastern European prefabricated housing blocks are often vilified as the visible manifestations of everything that was wrong with state socialism. For many inside and outside the region, the uniformity of these buildings became symbols of the dullness and drudgery of everyday life.Manufacturing a Socialist Modernitycomplicates this common perception. Analyzing the cultural, intellectual, and professional debates surrounding the construction of mass housing in early postwar Czechoslovakia, Zarecor shows that these housing blocks served an essential function in the planned economy and reflected an interwar aesthetic, derived from constructivism and functionalism, that carried forward into the 1950s.With a focus on prefabricated and standardized housing built from 1945 to 1960, Zarecor offers broad and innovative insights into the country's transition from capitalism to state socialism. She demonstrates that during this shift, architects and engineers consistently strove to meet the needs of Czechs and Slovaks despite challenging economic conditions, a lack of material resources, and manufacturing and technological limitations. In the process, architects were asked to put aside their individual creative aspirations and transform themselves into technicians and industrial producers.Manufacturing a Socialist Modernityis the first comprehensive history of architectural practice and the emergence of prefabricated housing in the Eastern Bloc. Through discussions of individual architects and projects, as well as building typologies, professional associations, and institutional organization, it opens a rare window into the cultural and economic life of Eastern Europe during the early postwar period.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7780-3
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION: Writing a Postwar History
    (pp. 1-12)

    Few building types are as vilified as the socialist housing block. Built by the thousands in Eastern Europe in the decades after World War II, the apartment buildings of the planned economy are notorious for problems such as faulty construction methods, lack of space, nonexistent landscaping, long-term maintenance lapses, and general ugliness. The typical narrative of the construction and perceived failure of these blocks, the most iconic of which was the structural panel building (panelový důmorpanelák, for short, in Czech), places the blame with a Soviet-imposed system of building that was forced upon the unwilling countries of Eastern...

  2. 1 PHOENIX RISING: Housing and the Early Debates on Socialist Modernity
    (pp. 13-68)

    On the night of July 17, 1945, just two months after Czechoslovakia’s liberation from Nazi occupation, architects gathered in the main hall of the Central Library in Prague for the first public meeting of the newly established Block of Progressive Architectural Associations (Blok architektonických pokrokových spolků, henceforth BAPS). Although the professional journalArchitektura ČSR(Czechoslovak Architecture) listed the names of more than thirty architects who had lost their lives in concentration camps or in resistance fighting, the close-knit professional community regrouped with most of its leaders alive and in Czechoslovakia.¹ Among the speakers that evening were leading left-wing architects of...

  3. 2 TYPIFICATION AND STANDARDIZATION: Stavoprojekt and the Transformation of Architectural Practice
    (pp. 69-112)

    Immediately after the Communist Party took control of the Czechoslovak government on February 25, 1948, action committees were formed in all professional and educational organizations to purge them of politically undesirable members. As historian John Connelly describes in his book on higher education in postwar Central Europe, within days of the February 25 takeover, chaos ensued at universities as “revolutionary” students and professors on the Action Committee of Higher Education forced many popular professors out of their jobs.¹ The new government’s first decrees related to architecture came on February 27, resulting in the creation of a new department “S” at...

  4. 3 NATIONAL IN FORM, SOCIALIST IN CONTENT: Sorela and Architectural Imagery
    (pp. 113-176)

    Czech and Slovak architects were slow to accept the changing cultural climate of the late 1940s. In the first years of Communist rule, designers were brought into a state-run system of architecture and engineering offices with a mandate to standardize the design and delivery of buildings through the widespread implementation of industrial methods. The architectural leadership remained committed to modern forms and used their political credentials to protect the profession from the encroachment of Soviet-style socialist realism. By early 1950, however, the political elite were growing restless as the Soviets put more pressure on them to conform to expectations. Strict...

  5. 4 A VISION OF SOCIALIST ARCHITECTURE: The Late Career of Jiří Kroha
    (pp. 177-223)

    Jiří Kroha was the most prolific and high-profile architect of the socialist realist period in Czechoslovakia. He is primarily remembered as a left-wing interwar modernist whose buildings can be found in Mladá Boleslav and the villa districts around Brno.¹ Many people do not know that the most active period of his career was between 1948 and 1956, when he was a prominent Communist and head of the only independent atelier within Stavoprojekt. In his role as Czechoslovakia’s premier socialist designer, Kroha, along with his staff, completed diverse projects, including workers’ clubs, university buildings, the renovation of Strahov Stadium for the...

  6. 5 THE INDUSTRIALIZATION OF HOUSING: Zlín and the Evolution of the Panelák
    (pp. 224-294)

    At the same time that socialist realism was the public face of Czechoslovakia’s cultural sphere, there was a second, less visible trajectory that moved forward within Stavoprojekt: experimentation with new industrial building technologies and housing prototypes. With the end of the Czechoslovak Building Works in September 1951 and the establishment of Stavoprojekt as an independent national enterprise within the new Ministry of Building Industry (Ministerstvo stavebního průmyslu), the loci of these investigations remained in the Stavoprojekt research institutes, which proliferated in the early 1950s to include theoretical, technical, and operational aspects of architecture. Their work included producing additional designs for...

    (pp. 295-298)

    By May 1961, when a twenty-two-member delegation from Britain arrived in Czechoslovakia to view the country’s achievements in architecture and urban planning, it had been more than fifteen years since the establishment of the Block of Progressive Architectural Associations (BAPS) and the creation of a broad coalition of architects who saw their future in collective work.¹ There had been surprises and disappointments that few had anticipated. The personal and professional difficulties faced by many should also not be forgotten. Yet in the terms set out in 1945 by the initial leaders of BAPS, the building industry in 1961 looked remarkably...