European Association for Urban History

Urban design played a central role for the European dictatorships during the 20th century, it served to legitimate the regime, to produce agreement, to demonstrate power, efficiency and speed, it communicated the social, as well as design projects, of the dictatorial regimes domestically and internationally, it tied old experts, as well as new, to the regime. Dictatorial urban design also played an important role after the fall of the dictatorships: It became the object of structural and verbal handling strategies: of demolition, of transformation, of reconstruction, of forgetting, of suppressing, of re-interpretation and of glorification. The topic area is, therefore, both historical and relevant to the present day. The discussion of the topic area is, like it or not, always embedded in the present state of societal engagement with dictatorships.

In order to even be able to discuss all of these aspects, different conceptual decisions are necessary. In retrospect, these may seem to many as self-evident, although they are anything but. Our thesis is that there are three methodological imperatives, especially, which allow an expanded approach to the topic area “urban design and dictatorship”. First and above all, the tunnel view, focused on individual dictatorships and neglecting the international dimension, must be overcome. Second, the differences in urban design over the course of a dictatorship, through an appropriate periodisation, should be emphasised. Third, we must strive for an open, flexible, but complex concept of urban design. The main focus lies on the urban design of the most influential dictatorships of the first half of the 20th century: Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, including the urban design of the autarky periods in Portugal and Spain.

After all, urban design is not just a product of specific historic circumstances. It is a form that continues to have long-term effects, which demonstrates its usefulness and adaptability throughout this process. The urban design products undoubtedly still recall the dictatorial rule under which they were created. However, they are more than a memory space. They are also a living space of the present. They can and should be discussed with respect to their spatial and functional utility for today and tomorrow. Such a perspective is a given for the citizens of a city, but also for city marketing, having marvellous consequences. Only when we do not exclude this dimension a priori, even in academic discussions, can we do justice to the products of dictatorships.

And finally, the view of the urban design of dictatorships can and must contribute to the questioning of simplified and naive conceptions of dictatorships. With urban design in mind, we can observe how dictatorships work and how they were able to prevail. In Europe, these questions are of the highest actuality.

The session will focus on the following questions:
How is a dictatorial system of urban design established?
Which forms of urban design are produced?
Which relevance has the urban design for the dictatorships?
How is the dictatorial urban design influenced by the international processes?
Which part do the national and international experts play?
How do awareness and judgment of the built urban evidence of the dictatorships change over time?   

We happily look forward to receive you paper proposals.

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