EAUH Conference 2018


Session M31. East Meets West: Urban History and the Cold War

Coordinators: Laura Kolbe (, Rosemary Wakeman (

In both eastern and western Europe, post-war urban development took place under similar conditions. The Second World War caused immense physical destruction across the continent. Reconstruction and modernization went hand in hand in cities in both East and West. In the late 1940s and 1950s, housing shortages led cities to subsidize large-scale housing blocks. Other problems in the 1950s and 1960s were urban transportation, new forms of commerce and consumerism, and the planning of new city centers. In East and West, the war fostered large-scale planning and strengthened the power of governments and municipal authorities. The scale of urban growth through the 1960s made the need for renewal obvious. All this provided opportunities to reform architecture and infrastructure. New planning ideals were heavily influenced by the United States and the Soviet Union in the context of the Cold War. This political dimension is often unmentioned in conventional histories of postwar urban planning. Yet the reconstruction and modernization of cities took place through the specific political-economic practices associated with the Cold War divide.

In this session we wish to open up the significant outcomes of the Cold War period, and the ways western and eastern architects, urban planners, policymakers created connections across the Iron Curtain. Our purpose is to understand how post-war urban reconstruction and modernization were invented within the political and economic context of the Cold War and the ideals of urban form in both East and West. Western achievements in housing and transportation were welcomed in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, as was modernist architecture. Western planners worked with their counterparts in the East to develop innovative ideas in urban planning. There was an increasing flow of information across East and West, as well as tourist groups and international delegations passing through the Iron Curtain. Exchanges took place in other spheres of urban cultural and social life. Yet these collaborations were overlaid with the ideological rhetoric of the Cold War. How much did this political dimension impact the way urban planning and modernization were understood and implemented?

This session invites papers on the influence of the post-war political context and Cold War on urban reconstruction and modernization in western and eastern Europe. The flows of professional knowledge and information between East and West and their impact on how urban planning and modernization were imagined and implemented. Comparisons of post-war modernization policies, their impact on urban planning, and how these were politically instrumentalized in both East and West. Case-studies of individual architects, urban planners and policymakers, and their influence across the East-West divide. Examples of cooperation between cities in the East and West. Comparative case-studies of urban reconstruction and renewal projects in East and West.
Keywords: urban planning; reconstruction; eastern Europe; western Europe; Cold War