In January 1941, during World War II, the nascent American Society of Architectural Historians published the inaugural issue of its journal, edited by Turpin C. Bannister.1 The society created the journal to allow members to keep in touch and to disseminate research in the field of architectural history, a purpose it filled with an “unpretentious” bulletin that was typed and mimeographed for the first several years of its existence (Figure 1). The first issue contained an introduction to the society, a scholarly article on the Roman brick industry, a bibliography of current works in architectural history, an account of the founding of the society, and a short note on next steps for the ASAH. The journal also registered the violence and destruction in the European theater of war with a short piece, “In Memoriam Monumentorum,” that reported on buildings and districts that had been damaged or destroyed in the fighting. Noting that it would be some time before the final toll of European monuments could be compiled, the editors decried the loss of significant and everyday structures alike:
The mutilation and destruction of the great architectural masterpieces which form one of our most priceless cultural heritages, is to many only a degree less inhuman than the wanton bombing of civilian populations. It is not only the important, large structures that are to be regretted, but also numerous minor works, often forming ensembles that evoked authentic pictures of the past.2
Through the war years, “In Memoriam Monumentorum” appeared in JASAH intermittently. The most detailed of these reports, in the April 1944 issue, extended to three pages and included a lengthy list compiled from British dispatches.3 While the architecture that would follow the war was the subject of considerable speculation in other venues, and JASAH participated in the debates marginally, the journal focused primarily on its mission of furthering the study of past architecture.4
Near the end of the war, in 1944, Carroll Meeks reported on a survey of ASAH members’ research projects, which disclosed that “nineteenth-century architecture is the dominant field of research.”5 More than half of the seventy-five reported projects studied nineteenth-century architecture, and a majority examined American subjects, with Latin American topics a distant second area of research. Meeks attributed the attraction to the previous century to historical distance from the present: “Almost half a century has now passed since the close of that great period of innovation, and it is reasonable to assume that an objective evaluation of its achievements is now possible.”6 The article also surveyed the members’ “wants” for further research and source material held by members that could be used by others. Using the journal to create an information exchange that existed nowhere else, Meeks envisaged a program for the discipline, a “campaign of research,” born of greater cooperation among architectural historians. In the postwar years and beyond, however, the provincialism exposed by Meeks’s survey persisted; the discipline and the journal did not begin to expand in geographic and methodological range until the 1990s.7
This anniversary issue contains articles by emerging scholars working on architecture created after SAH’s founding—that is, in the postwar period. As the nineteenth century was for the early ASAH members, the postwar era is an increasingly crucial (and ubiquitous) period for current architectural history, the recent past from which we have some seventy years of historical distance. Anxious, atomic, governing, neo-avant-garde, or simply midcentury, postwar architecture developed in a world of commodity culture, Cold War political alignments, nuclear proliferation, and late capitalist political economy.8
Postwar is as elusive a term as contemporary or postmodern. The postwar period can be seen as a mere interregnum between the modern and the postmodern or as a rich and dynamic time of innovation. While the end of World War II provides a convenient start date, the end of the postwar period is contested and differentiated by context. The postwar period coincided with the Cold War, anticolonial independence movements and decolonization, the Western political consensus on anticommunism, and solidification of the Soviet bloc, yet none of these phenomena is sufficient to defining it. The history of “postwar architecture” as a subfield suffers from a lack of an accepted time line, definition, or established body of scholarship. Does it end in 1968 with les évenements de mai, in 1972 with the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe, or in 1979 with the ascension of Margaret Thatcher and neoliberalism’s dominance?9
In 1957, James Stirling argued that the diffused state of postwar architecture was a result of the global spread of modernism, which encountered “the infinite idiosyncrasies of locality” and prompted architects to embark on “a process of diffusion, assimilation, and personalization.”10 The divergence of the styles of iconic figures like Walter Gropius and Alvar Aalto, whose work had taken a more or less common form in the interwar period, resulted from this dispersal. What Stirling diagnosed as diffusion was symptomatic of a turn to the “indigenous and usually anonymous” that he read as a dominant trend in postwar Britain and everywhere modernism had penetrated. Following the tendency to its extreme, Stirling concluded, “Today Stonehenge is more significant than the architecture of Sir Christopher Wren.”11
The articles in this issue present case studies in the global diffusion of modernism during and after World War II. They participate in an expanded field engaged with globalization, world markets, transnational media, governance, immigration, normative standards, expertise, biopolitics, bureaucracies, consumption, and other systems that produce and regulate modern architecture. Shaped by Cold War ideologies, the history of postwar architecture has often been written as corporate modernism’s triumph in the developed cultural centers, its defeat behind the Iron Curtain after Stalin’s socialist realist coup, and its centrifugal movement to previously backward places. Here, we read alternative narratives of architecture after the war that leave aside the “masters” and their “masterpieces” and trace the associations, institutions, and agents that produced these instances of postwar architecture.
Following a distinction developed in the work of Henri Lefebvre and Jean-Luc Nancy, Łukasz Stanek employs the term mondialisation, rather than globalization, to signify alternative, often competing, visions of worldwide practice. Stanek applies this concept to an instance of global exchange in postindependence Ghana. The architects of the Ghana National Construction Corporation worked with architects from socialist Eastern Europe who brought technical and design expertise to further the modernizing ambitions of the new nation. Stanek traces a web of local and global networks that shaped postcolonial modernization in Ghana.
Articles published during the 1940s and 1950s in the South African Architectural Record and the Architectural Review displayed the widespread interest in indigenous architecture identified by Stirling. In her account of these journals’ depictions of indigenous South African architecture, Elisa Dainese demonstrates the persistence of primitivism in South African and British architects’ reception of native building and their appropriation of local forms in housing for native workers.
Challenging standard Cold War divisions, Kenny Cupers uncovers similar policies and functions for postwar cultural centers built by opposing European state formations. The maisons de la culture in left-wing France and the Kulturpaläste in socialist East Germany occupied central roles in furthering state policies on culture, which manufactured consent for state intervention at a quotidian level.
Louis Kahn’s unrealized project for a new civic center in Tehran provides Shima Mohajeri an opportunity to dissect the competing visions of modernity endorsed by the shah and queen of Iran. Rather than a capitulation to the technocratic modernism promoted by the shah or the culturalist, nostalgic modernism of the queen, Kahn’s scheme, Mohajeri argues, functioned as a silent refusal of both types of modernity and an attempt to offer an ethical approach to architecture for a non-Western state.
In her Field Note, Swati Chattopadhyay considers architectural history’s relation to the global and JSAH’s legacy in reflecting, sponsoring, and shaping “the discipline’s global vision.” Drawing on the writings of an array of insiders and critics who have attempted to define the field and its subjects, she asks why the global has been largely absent from the journal, even as references to the global have proliferated in faculty job descriptions and survey texts. At its founding moment and at the turn of the millennium, in Chattopadhyay’s account, JSAH provided a forum for querying fundamental methodological issues in architectural history, but it contained little explicit reference to the global at either moment. She cites Dell Upton’s proposition that architectural history tell a “story of webs and flows” as a method for writing what she calls “global microhistories of architecture.”
This issue of JSAH contributes to the discourse on the global and architectural history, not as the last word or even the latest word. These accounts of complex exchanges, coincidences, and discontinuities disorder the accepted trajectory of modernism’s teleology and the outdated center–periphery narrative of its dissemination. Examining moments when architecture, techniques, institutions, urban administration, ideologies, and utopias converge, the authors have written histories of global postwar architecture that provide new directions in the current “campaign of research” on the recent past.
This issue is the last on which Mary Byers will have served as managing editor of JSAH. I would like to thank her for the rigor, professionalism, and good humor that she brought to the often vexing process of producing the journal and to wish her all the best for the future.
“Introducing A.S.A.H.,” Journal of the American Society of Architectural Historians (JASAH) 1, no. 1 (Jan. 1941), 2.
“In Memoriam Monumentorum,” JASAH 1, no. 1 (Jan. 1941), 22.
“In Memoriam Monumentorum,” JASAH 4, no. 2 (Apr. 1944), 42–43, 52.
See Kenneth John Conant, “The Artist in Wartime,” JASAH 3, no. 4 (Oct. 1943), 3–6.
Carroll L. V. Meeks, “Current Research in Architectural History, 1944,” JASAH 4, nos. 3–4 (July–Oct. 1944), 47–51, 54.
See Osmund Overby, “From 1947: The Society of Architectural Historians,” JSAH 49, no. 1 (Mar. 1990), 9–14.
Among the many recent works on postwar architecture, see Sarah Williams Goldhagen and Réjean Legault, eds., Anxious Modernisms: Experimentation in Postwar Architectural Culture (Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2000); Mark Crinson and Claire Zimmerman, eds., Neo-avant-garde and Postmodern: Postwar Architecture in Britain and Beyond (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Center for British Art, 2010); Robin Schuldenfrei, ed., Atomic Dwelling: Anxiety, Domesticity, and Postwar Architecture (New York: Routledge, 2012); Aggregate, Governing by Design: Architecture, Economy, and Politics in the Twentieth Century (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012); Vladimir Kulić, Timothy Parker, and Monica Penick, eds., Sanctioning Modernism: Architecture and the Making of Postwar Identities (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014); Richard W. Longstreth, Looking beyond the Icons: Midcentury Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015).
For one chronology, see Joan Ockman, ed., Architecture Culture 1943–1968: A Documentary Anthology (New York: Rizzoli, 1993).
Stirling also identified a “neo-Palladian” style that peaked in the years 1950–54. James Stirling, “Regionalism and Modern Architecture,” in Ockman, Architecture Culture 1943–1968, 243, 248. Originally published in Architects’ Year Book 7 (1957), 62–68.