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Manufacturing a Socialist Modernity

Housing in Czechoslovakia, 1945-1960

Kimberly Elman Zarecor

Publication Year: 2011

Eastern European prefabricated housing blocks are often vilified as the visible manifestations of everything that was wrong with state socialism. For many inside and outside the region, the uniformity of these buildings became symbols of the dullness and drudgery of everyday life. Manufacturing a Socialist Modernity complicates this common perception. Analyzing the cultural, intellectual, and professional debates surrounding the construction of mass housing in early postwar Czechoslovakia, Zarecor shows that these housing blocks served an essential function in the planned economy and reflected an interwar aesthetic, derived from constructivism and functionalism, that carried forward into the 1950s. With a focus on prefabricated and standardized housing built from 1945 to 1960, Zarecor offers broad and innovative insights into the country’s transition from capitalism to state socialism. She demonstrates that during this shift, architects and engineers consistently strove to meet the needs of Czechs and Slovaks despite challenging economic conditions, a lack of material resources, and manufacturing and technological limitations. In the process, architects were asked to put aside their individual creative aspirations and transform themselves into technicians and industrial producers. Manufacturing a Socialist Modernity is the first comprehensive history of architectural practice and the emergence of prefabricated housing in the Eastern Bloc. Through discussions of individual architects and projects, as well as building typologies, professional associations, and institutional organization, it opens a rare window into the cultural and economic life of Eastern Europe during the early postwar period.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Front Cover

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Front Flap

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p. iv


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

There are many people to thank for their help and support with this project. Kenneth Frampton showed me the many ways that an architect can be a designer—through buildings, words, and texts. His passion for architecture inspired me to be a better scholar and teacher, and for his guidance, support, and patience I will always be grateful. Bradley F. Abrams has been a won-...

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pp. 1-11

Few building types are as vilified as the socialist housing block. Built by the thousands in Eastern Europe in the decades after World War II, the apartment buildings of the planned economy are notorious for problems such as faulty construction methods, lack of space, nonexistent landscaping, long-term maintenance lapses, and general ugliness. The typical narrative of the...

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Chapter 1: Phoenix Rising

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pp. 13-68

On the night of July 17, 1945, just two months after Czechoslovakia’s liberation from Nazi occupation, architects gathered in the main hall of the Central Library in Prague for the first public meeting of the newly established Block of Progressive Architectural Associations...

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Chapter 2: Typification and Standardization

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pp. 69-112

Immediately after the Communist Party took control of the Czechoslovak government on February 25, 1948, action committees were formed in all professional and educational organizations to purge them of politically undesirable members. As historian John Connelly describes in his book on higher education in postwar Central Europe, within days of the February 25 takeover...

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Chapter 3: National in Form, Socialist in Content

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pp. 113-176

Czech and Slovak architects were slow to accept the changing cultural climate of the late 1940s. In the first years of Communist rule, designers were brought into a state-run system of architecture and engineering offices with a mandate to standardize the design and delivery of buildings through the widespread implementation of industrial methods. The architectural...

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Chapter 4: A Vision of Socialist Architecture

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pp. 177-223

Jiří Kroha was the most prolific and high-profile architect of the socialist realist period in Czechoslovakia. He is primarily remembered as a left-wing interwar modernist whose buildings can be found in Mladá Boleslav and the villa districts around Brno.1 Many people do not know that the most active period of his career was between 1948 and 1956, when he was a prominent...

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Chapter 5: The Industrialization of Housing

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pp. 224-294

At the same time that socialist realism was the public face of Czechoslovakia’s cultural sphere, there was a second, less visible trajectory that moved forward within Stavoprojekt: experimentation with new industrial building technologies and housing prototypes. With the end of the Czechoslovak Building Works in September 1951 and the establishment of Stavoprojekt...

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pp. 295-297

By May 1961, when a twenty-two-member delegation from Britain arrived in Czechoslovakia to view the country’s achievements in architecture and urban planning, it had been more than fifteen years since the establishment of the Block of Progressive Architectural Associations (BAPS) and the creation of a broad coalition of architects who saw their future in collective work.1 There...


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pp. 299-359

Bibliography and Illustration Credits

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pp. 361-370


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pp. 371-383

E-ISBN-13: 9780822977803
E-ISBN-10: 082297780X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822944041
Print-ISBN-10: 0822944049

Page Count: 480
Illustrations: 292 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 794925541
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Manufacturing a Socialist Modernity

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Architecture and state -- Czechoslovakia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Architecture, Domestic -- Political aspects -- Czechoslovakia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Architecture, Domestic -- Czechoslovakia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Housing -- Czechoslovakia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Dwellings -- Czechoslovakia -- Design and construction -- History -- 20th century.
  • Czechoslovakia -- Social conditions -- 1945-1992.
  • Socialism -- Czechoslovakia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social change -- Czechoslovakia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Modern movement (Architecture) -- Czechoslovakia -- History -- 20th century.
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