To utopia and back again: appropriating the heritage of the avant garde in environmental design in the German Democratic Republic in the 1960s.

Jenkins, Jessica ORCID logoORCID: (2016) To utopia and back again: appropriating the heritage of the avant garde in environmental design in the German Democratic Republic in the 1960s. In: “How We Live, and How we Might Live": Design and the Spirit of Critical Utopianism, Sept 11–13, 2015, California College of the Arts. (Unpublished)

Full text not available from this repository. (Request a copy)
Official URL:

Abstract / Summary

The rhetoric of architectural modernism in the German Democratic Republic in the early 1960s appears at first to be very similar to that of comparable modernist projects in the West, indeed worldwide. In the GDR, the optimization of the urban-industrial, social and economic plan, offered a vision of “happiness for everyone, in which the past would disappear.” This utopian rhetoric sat easily with the societal ambition of communism, but at the same time displaced the socialist realist Leitbild of the architecture of national tradition, opening a space for re-assessments of the definition of socialist urban spaces. The advances of science and space walks offered uncertain rewards, but the present could be anchored in a re-embrace of Germany’s Bauhaus heritage. This apparent simplicity of the communist architectural project retro-fitting its serialized architectural production with modernist rhetoric ¬– already being cast off by the West – has had an enduring appeal amongst critics.

However, a close analysis of both practice, in the architecture and public art of East Germany’s most important building project of the mid 1960s, the “Town of the Chemistry Worker”, Halle Neustadt, and of critical research in the same period, complicate this view that the early modern heritage was merely politically instrumentalized to justify the present. The 1960s saw conflict and ambivalence about the proper course for socialist architecture, and central to these disputes was the understanding of the visual arts and design in public space. This paper will demonstrate how Germany’s interwar avant-garde was selectively adapted within critical and historical thinking for a conception of the socialist urban environment which was analogue to the early Gropiusian ideal of a unity of the arts and technology, and which was to form the basis for a re-conception known as “complex environmental design”. This paper will trace the foundations of this conceptual shift, and by means of a review of the visual artistic conceptions of Halle Neustadt, demonstrate the multiple ways in which early modernism informed the design development of the town’s living complexes.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Architecture / Public Art / Environmental Design / Bauhaus / Modernism / Halle Neustadt / 1960s / Utopian rhetoric
Subjects: Arts > Architecture
Arts > Graphic Arts
Arts > Historical
History > International
Arts > Landscape & Area Planning
Courses by Department: The School of Communication > Graphic Design
Depositing User: Jessica Jenkins
Date Deposited: 03 Mar 2017 09:33
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2017 16:07


View Item View Item (login required)