EAUH Conference 2018


Session SS43. Demolishing Mass Housing in Contemporary European Cities (20th-21st centuries)

Coordinators: Bruno Bonomo (, Alice Sotgia (

Demolition has always been an integral part of urban renewal throughout history. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, demolition of mass housing became a recurrent and heated topic in debates about urban governance in Europe and beyond, being presented as the necessary outcome of the failure of ill-conceived ideas of the city (and society) that should be systematically obliterated. State agencies, local authorities and political parties promoted plans for knocking down housing estates that were seen as embodying urban policies, political agendas, world views and systems of value that appeared seriously outdated just a few decades after their construction, if not inherently flawed. Usually it was modernist high-rise social housing estates for low-income tenants that had been built during the ‘Golden Age’ (but also in the late 1970s and 1980s in Eastern European and Mediterranean countries), had then suffered rapid decay and become the object of processes of ghettoization and stigmatization.
Historiography has mostly concentrated on the planning, design, construction and (often complicated) management of mass housing estates, and to a lesser extent on the lived experience of residents. This session focuses instead on the under-researched issue of the public discourses that underpinned demolition plans, whether they were actually implemented or destined to remain on paper. The session aims to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the demolition of mass housing as a key issue of political confrontation over urban renewal and governance in Europe in the recent past.
Key questions include:
• What social and political actors did mobilize in favour of demolition?
• What political cultures (e.g. conservatism, neoliberalism, etc.) fostered pro-demolition discourses?
• What were the main arguments, tropes and recurrent themes of these discourses (e.g. unlivability, inhumanity, failed utopia of collective living, need for mixed communities, preference for home ownership, etc.)?
• What counter-narratives were constructed by those (architects, planners, activists, etc.) who opposed demolition plans and/or advocated less drastic solutions such as renovation and upgrading?
• What was the viewpoint of residents on demolition plans, and what role did they play in these debates?
Both papers focusing on one city and/or a specific housing estate and papers that draw comparisons across European cities and countries are welcome. We particularly encourage reflection on similarities and differences at the European level, including different chronologies across the continent. We are also interested in the circulation of discourses from and to Europe, including the resonance and influence of landmark demolitions in other continents. Papers in English or French are welcome.
Keywords: mass housing ; demolition; urban governance; public discourse; political cultures