Theory and reality of Czech and Slovak urban and spatial planning since 1945 Cover Image
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Teorie a realita českého a slovenského urbanismu a územního plánování od roku 1945
Theory and reality of Czech and Slovak urban and spatial planning since 1945

Author(s): Karel Maier, Jan Šlemr
Subject(s): Fine Arts / Performing Arts
Published by: Historický ústav SAV, v. v. i.
Keywords: town-planning; regional planning; theory; Czechoslovakia; socialist planning; second half of the 20th Century

Summary/Abstract: Architektúra & urbanizmus, as a journal published quarterly by a scholarly institution and declaratively focused on the theory of architecture, urban design and human environments, has represented from its very outset a well-anchored space for the discussion of contemporary architecture. In contrast to the monthly publications like the Slovak journal Projekt or its Czech counterpart Architektura ČSSR, it had at its disposal a greater chronological distance from the latest realisations, and its focus likewise allowed for more general thematization of current architecture. Nonetheless, it is true that texts addressing contemporary Slovak architecture, analysis of creative principles, architectonic forms, expressions or emerging trends, have appeared on its pages only sporadically and on an individual basis. Often, between individual contributions there could be a gap of up to a decade. In the first years of the journal’s publication, contemporary architecture was discussed mainly in connection with work in a historic environment, while special emphasis was placed on the formation of the city and questions of modern urban planning in the context of historic settlements. In this connection, the journal also published the results of the urban planning competitions of the era, such as the international ideal urban planning competition for the design of the southern district of Bratislava. The higher frequency of urban planning themes at this time was influence on one hand by the general social (and state) demand for the rebuilding and modernisation of cities, yet equally by the individual focus of the journal’s editors and the orientation of the two institutions that published the journal at the time: the Institute for Construction, Architecture and Urban Planning of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (ÚSTARCH SAV) and the ‘Department of Architectural Theory and Creation of the Living Environment’ of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (ČSAV). Texts on contemporary architecture focusing on the analysis of the architectonic form of specific buildings began to appear in the journal only in the 1970s. In the first half of the decade, these were mostly generalized contributions balancing and evaluating the architecture of the past three decades since the end of World War II. Predominantly, the authors consisted of architectural historians from the universities in Bratislava or Prague. By the decade’s later half, attention came to focus on theoretical questions of creativity and architectural criticism, in this case addressed more often by researchers from the SAV and the ČSAV. The 1980s brought along a thematization of postmodern architecture, which persisted in the journal up until the start of the 1990s; here, the authors tended to be affiliated with the Department of Architectural Theory and Creation of the Living Environment (ČSAV). Reflection of postmodernism, in turn, was linked to the broader situation in the humanistic disciplines, in which a pluralism of approaches became the watchword of the Eighties. By the first half of the 1990s, the journal’s pages played host to confrontations between the contradictory standpoints of modernism and postmodernism, or more accurately postmodernism and the ‘new modernism’. Understandably, this period also witnessed a broad expansion of the circle of contributors, and a greater openness to international contributions: logically reflecting the change in society after 1989, one outcome of which was that contemporary architecture emerged as a theme not only for researchers and practitioners, but equally for the general public. Moreover, the fall of the Iron Curtain led to an immediate linking of the Slovak and Czech scenes with the themes of international architectonic discussion. The polarised discussion of this era was, however, the last time that such concentrated attention was turned toward contemporary architecture. As is clearly visible, the selection of themes, their frequency and the method of their treatment within Architektúra & urbanizmus has been conditions by many interior factors emerging from the current state of architectonic thought, yet equally by external ones such as the wider social situation or the personnel composition of the editorial board – or even the simple presence of personalities capable of reflecting contemporary architecture in the Czecho-Slovak context. The study reproduces the form, contents and the course of discussion on contemporary architecture in the journal throughout the past half-century. It also touches upon the personal and social ramifications that influenced the creation and publication of these texts. The focus here, though, is on the period from the 1970s up to the 1990s, and on the line of reflection of contemporary architecture that reacted directly to changes in the architectonic paradigm and assumed a polarising character. The texts addressing this topic are divided into three basic groups: historiographic, theoretical, or architectural criticism. Even here, we find a reflection of the development of writing about contemporary architecture in the journal, leading from history and large theories to critiques and partial theories. From the alternation, concentration or absence of individual genres, it is evident that the attention of the contributors over the past fifty years has moved from summary texts largely encompassing historical periods towards less sweeping texts focusing on selected phenomena. Other changes have been in the tone of contributions and the method through which research results are presented. Generalising texts formulated through abstract concepts, which were prevalent in the first decade, gradually have given way to contributions that address actual works and their real aspects. And a similar trajectory of development can be seen in the architectonic theories presented here. Increasingly, the authors of the texts moved away from the ambition to create and present a unified theory for contemporary architecture. While in 1971, there were still calls for formulation of a still more inclusive theory for all architecture and construction, by 2007 all that remained was a mere statement of such a theory’s absence. This interest in a single all-embracing theory of architecture culminated in the 1980s with the entrance of postmodernism into the Slovak environment, and it was at the same time that theorizing on architectural critique also reached its high point. Moreover, by the 1990s, attention shifted even further to the implementation of a criticism of treating architecture as a genre in itself. However, the general prevailing subject matter of the journal consisted of a retrospective view of contemporary architecture over a prospective one, with the ambition of directly shaping or directing the architecture of the moment. The end of the 1980s and the start of the 1990s could be regarded as the most productive period, at least in terms of the frequency of contributions on contemporary architecture. The articles published here at that time assumed the character of true architectural critique, programmatic statements and anticipatory texts all in one. In connection with the polemical or polarising character of the argumentation, as well as the close ties to active protagonists within Slovak architecture, this period could also be regarded equally as the most relevant in terms of relationships to immediate domestic architectural discussion. Perhaps the most consistent testimony to appear with relation to contemporary architecture was the monothematic double issue ‘Päť rokov po’ [Five Years After], published in 1995 and evaluating the first ‘free half-decade’ of Slovak architecture after 1989. The texts published in this issue were also the closest to direct architectural criticism. At the time, the focal point of discussion was given by the ‘dispute’ between the neo-Modernist and the regionalist-organic wings of Slovak architecture. In turn, the most striking reflection of international discourse on contemporary architecture, in particular its deconstructivist tendency, appeared in the monothematic double issue Berlín – Bratislava, narušené mesto [Disturbed City]. These two special issues of the journal could be regarded as the most complete records of the era’s thoughts on contemporary architecture in Slovakia that ever appeared in the journal – as well as forming two radically different methods of thematising contemporary architecture. While 5 rokov po is the overall original work of two authors and simultaneously the editors of the issue, Berlín – Bratislava, narušené mesto assumes the form of conference proceedings. The contributions addressing contemporary architecture published in the 1990s were also connected by a more or less pressing need to resolve the new social and cultural situation, and the position of Slovakia’s architecture in a European context. A number of authors in their argumentation made use of the conception of ‘centre vs. periphery’ or of the ‘cultural crossroads’. The study also reveals that contemporary architecture may have appeared in the journal without much planning, but never by chance. The texts that discussed contemporary architecture did not assume a fixed genre framework, and were not printed within the previously set rubrics. Their frequency, as well as their form, immediately reflected above all the personal research preferences of the journal’s creators, even as much as these preferences were directly connected to wider Czecho-Slovak as well as international architectural discussion. In these texts, it is possible to identify a significant phenomenological lineage in thinking of architecture drawing upon, or influenced by, the work of Christian Norberg Schulz and Kenneth Frampton, which persisted from the mid-1980s into the mid-1990s. At the same time, the fiftieth anniversary of the journal’s first appearance reflects an increasing concentration in authorial interest on the qualities of architectural form. The method of writing about contemporary architecture has essentially moved from investigating typological and social connections towards and analysis of formal manifestations and a classified direction, which culminated at the start of the 1990s. The rich array of genres and formats in writing about contemporary architecture, as well as their frequent alternation, can be regarded as proof of the journal’s expertise and independence, as well as confirmation of its openness and sensitivity with relation to the contemporary world and its themes. In turn, the shifting of views on contemporary architecture could also be viewed as a seismographic register of the shifts in the Slovak and Czech architectural scenes over time.The article describes the development of the theory of urban and spatial planning for cities and rural areas from the end of World War II. It notes that in the period shortly after the war, as well as the 1960s, the themes and outcomes of the work of Czech and Slovak theoreticians were fully comparable to contemporary work in Europe. After 1968, though, urban research and theory was forced into isolation from true international contact, and placed fully under the direction of political realities. This isolation had the result that urban design failed to reflect major themes connected with the social-scientific themes of the profession, which became clear as well in the subsequent era of post-Communist transformation. Even today, the profession of urban designer or planner finds it hard to define its identity, doctrines and even conceptual support for urban theory.

  • Issue Year: 50/2016
  • Issue No: 3-4
  • Page Range: 164-179
  • Page Count: 16
  • Language: Czech