Marzahn, Berlin, 2004. Photograph: Jannes Linders.
Since May 1, 2004 10 new countries have joined the European Union: Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Amongst these, the Eastern European countries have a particular history, having formerly been united within the Eastern Bloc. Because of the Iron Curtain and its subsequent collapse these countries developed in a very different way to most western European countries during the period from the end of the Second World War until the 1990s, including in terms of architecture and urban planning. Collage Europa focuses on the visible heritage and continuing changes in Eastern European cities.
Three important developments
The exhibition Collage Europa examines three important developments in Eastern European architecture and urban planning:
Important contemporary designs that are transforming the urban environment form an additional focus within the exhibition.
During the 1920s and 1930s Modernism spread out from German and Austria over Eastern Europe. The construction on materials employed in buildings were no longer disguised but were now made visible and even celebrated; form was dictated by function. The new aesthetic was also based on a belief in a healthy, optimistic society. Modernist buildings were characterized by simplicity, asymmetry the use of steel and concrete and a lack of ornament.
The 'Magistrales' belong to Socialist Realism, an architectural style exclusive to Eastern Europe. These broad processional boulevards were laid straight through cities by the Communist regimes as visible symbols of the workers' march to power. Magistrales often employed traditional architectural forms that call to mind the Tsarist architecture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
> Magistrale Marszalkowska (1950-1952), Warschau, Polen. Source: C. Wagenaar
Many people will associate Eastern European architecture with the so-called 'Plattenbau'. This industrialized mass housing using prefabricated concrete panels was built extensively in the former DDR and other Eastern European countries from the end of the 1950s. These historical structures still define many Central and Eastern European cities. However, there is much more to the development of Eastern European architecture and urban planning than just the Plattenbau - it also includes Modernist, Socialist and contemporary trends. All these elements coexist, influence one another and create fascinating tensions.
The kiosk deserves particular attention within Eastern-European architecture and urbanism. These objects are a silent witness to history and to current urban transformation. Kiosks and stalls were always a more common feature of the streetscape in Eastern Europe than in Western cities. In 1966 the Slovenian architect Sasha J. Mächtig designed the K67 kiosk, which remains a highly visible feature of most Eastern-European cities.
> K67-kiosk. Photograph: Korrie Besems
Current urban planning in Eastern Europe is a balancing act between the requirements of the built cultural heritage and the reality of the city. Eastern European cities have to attend to their architectural history whilst also dealing with the need to forget all forms of collective housing and the Soviet organization of public space. In addition there has been a renewed general value attached to the status of private property. These elements have created an urban typology unique within Europe, posing the question for Central and Eastern European designers as to how different histories and spaces can coexist, with a diversity of responses.
A small selection of books about subjects that are related to Collage
Europa, Architecture and urban planning in the Eastern European city.
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Various relevant websites about
architecture and urban planning in the changing Eastern European city, related to the exhibition Collage Europa.
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2004, the year in which the Netherlands is honored with chairmanship of the EU and in which the union welcomes the countries of the former Eastern Block: what better moment then for the NAI to focus upon the architecture and urban planning of Central and Eastern Europe. 'Collage Europa' focuses in particular on the way these countries deal with their cultural heritage and the varied solutions for the transformation of their post-war residential neighborhoods. The exhibition is accompanied by symposiums, lectures, book launches and a film program. 'Collage Europa' is part of 'Thinking Forward', the cultural program of the Netherlands' chairmanship of the European Union.
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How has modernist architecture in Africa, often designed by European architects, been repurposed and reinterpreted by Africans? And how can the study of this lived modernism inform contemporary design practices in Africa and Europe? Johannesburg-based architect and researcher Hannah le Roux addressed these issues in the second evening in a series of debates about the informal city. Antoni Folkers introduced Le Roux and joined her in a discussion afterwards.
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Praised for Villa VPRO in Hilversum and renowned for their Expo Pavilion design in Hannover, MVRDV is now making history with their Silodam residential building in Amsterdam and their design for the Brabant Library in Eindhoven. The work of the Rotterdam firm MVRDV is synonymous with experimental architecture in the Netherlands. With their original ideas on density and free space in a crowded country, and by using key terms like compactness and artificial nature, the architects of MVRDV are making a significant contribution to the renewal of architecture in the Netherlands and abroad.
This exhibition is available at the moment and can be shown at other venues.
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