Architecture and Democratization: Overlooked witnesses to Allied intervention in occupied Germany after 1945
In the reform and reconstruction of Germany after World War II, architecture was assigned a key role: both the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic represented visions of a new and democratic society of the future which was to be realized in part through planning and building.
While this work was largely accomplished by Germans themselves, it was also very much an international project, one promoted and supervised by the occupying Allied powers. By supporting certain German initiatives in the area of building, by offering their own cities and structures as models and providing opportunities for knowledge exchange, and by committing significant financial, material and intellectual resources to democracy-promoting projects and programs that included a building or planning dimension, the military and civilian authorities of the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union sought to shape the character of German reconstruction in line with their respective ideological and political goals.
The legacy of this effort endures in the landscape of post-reunification Germany today. Events such as the 2009 Berlin exhibition Geschenke der Amerikaner (Gifts from the Americans) periodically recall them to mind; in that context as in others, however, it is only the most overt expressions of ideology and the acknowledged design highlights that receive attention. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Allied interventions in Germany's built environment – those that accomplished the "heavy lifting" of the democratization effort – continue to be overlooked. In fact, the country's built landscape on both sides of its internal border and well beyond the confines of Berlin is punctuated with structures bearing witness in both more and less immediately visible ways to the occupation powers' attempts to forge durable, supranational communities of value and interest around the malleable concept of democracy.
The conference Architecture and Democratization aims to address this oversight. Its first goal will be to call attention to forgotten or neglected artefacts of Western and Soviet cultural-political intervention in Germany's built environment, with a view to creating a broader as well as a more detailed picture of this activity.
Second, the conference will aim at generating analyses of the thinking behind these interventions and the ways in which building and planning were envisaged as serving the ends of German democratization in the post-war and Cold War context. Contributors are encouraged to consider the following questions:
- What modalities of cultural-political influence did the different occupying authorities ascribe to building, planning and design?
- What do the examples identified reveal about the concepts of "democracy" promoted by each of the occupying powers?
- Given that the intentions of the American, British, French or Soviet authorities were often realized by Germans themselves, how did the latter receive, interpret and fulfill these intentions?
- What role was played in the democratization effort by other channels of architectural discourse between occupiers and the occupied, such as design and planning exhibitions, conferences, or exchanges of professionals?
- What evidence exists of interaction and exchange among the four occupying powers on questions of architecture and democratization, and what was its character and effect?
- What lasting impacts, if any, did the interventions made during the period of Allied occupation have on German patterns of planning and building during the decades that followed? Conversely, what lessons or insights did the occupiers take away with them from their experiments in Germany, and how were these applied in their own countries?