“Boom, Boom, Boom”: Socialist Housing and its Denunciation

“Boom, boom, boom,” reveled Charles Jencks in the opening pages of The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (1977), inaugurating the postmodern age. To architects in the state socialist East, who drew on and departed from Jencks’s potent vignette of Pruitt-Igoe demolition, postmodernism was in every aspect associated with the political and aesthetic ambiguities of collective housing. This talk reviews tensions between the “reformist” and “denunciatory” facets of socialist postmodernism, and examines how by 1990 the latter prevailed through the medium of so-called paper architecture. It surveys drawings, magazine covers and other documents on paper produced in Czechoslovakia, and documents the bleak and often violent depictions of the architecture of collective housing: exploded with dynamite, turned into wastelands, buried under soil, and attacked by nonhuman monsters. Contra the argument that paper architecture was a medium of emancipatory imagination under state socialism, I argue that it was (also) a channel of forthcoming neoliberal rationality—in architecture, housing policy and society at large.

Postmodern Architecture and Political Change – Poland and Beyond
German Historical Institute, Warsaw
12–14 September 2019