Architecture Design Option Studio — COLLECTIVE ARCHITECTURE STUDIO: (Retro)Utopian Alternatives For Belgrade (Miljacki)

Required of: 

Consider 1989, the annus mirabilis of Eastern European peoples, the triumph of democracy, at least west of Moscow and east of the Elbe. Philosopher Francis Fukuyama thought the events of 1989, also known as the fall of the wall, or the fall of communism, marked the end of history. From then on, there would simply be nothing to motivate history’s forward movement, just perpetual present and no alternatives to it. Another philosopher, Jürgen Habermas thought the historical events of 1989 had finally placed Eastern Europe on the right path, back on track to becoming proper liberal democracies. In his view, the events of 1989 were a form of “compensatory revolution.” He was not the only one, of course, his position represented the overwhelming colloquial understanding of the historical implications of efforts by Eastern European people to rid themselves of their oppressive regimes.

More recently, Croatian philosopher Boris Buden, one of the most important commentators on the post-socialist transitions in ex-Yugoslavian countries, proposed that this conception of Eastern European revolutions of 1989 as “revolutions in reverse” infantilized the subjects of post-socialism everywhere. It also decisively and swiftly sent all of the then “freed” countries straight into transitions towards global capitalism without any assessment of what their socialisms had achieved, or what might happen if the link between centralized planning and important and functioning public services was severed. Imagining 1989 to have been in the service of Eastern Europe’s catching up to the West also allowed the West not to question its own historical moment and trajectory.

This studio will begin by rethinking the archives of Yugoslavian socialism and architecture from the opposite posture. We will look to those archives—equipped with important historical hindsight and in light of dire future prospects—as a resource of tests and lessons of vital importance today. This project of radical retro-utopia, is enabled by the fact that there is suddenly (and in large part thanks to Toward A Concrete Utopia at MoMA) much more material we can access in English.  More importantly, both in the ex-Yugoslavian states and in the context in which we work here at MIT, it now seems significant to contemplate what democracy might have looked like to those who fought for it from the other side of the iron curtain, as well as what role architecture might have had to play.

The studio hypothesizes that by engaging in retelling the pertinent aspects of historical (architectural and political) heritage and by offering urban and architectural alternatives from the position that values socialist heritage in the context of Belgrade (ex-Yugoslavia’s capital), the fruits of its labor will have a critical function on both sides of the former Cold War divide.

The studio will foreground and explore two key registers on which the concept of the common, collective good played out in Yugoslavian, and specifically Belgrade, architecture: first, the production and conception of urban and architectural space for the common good (with an emphasis on the historical “right to housing”), and the second, the conception of self-managed, group, or perhaps “common authorship” that was implemented and performed through self-managed architectural enterprises.

The studio will begin by constituting a collective archive of historical knowledge, tools, methods, and stories about architecture in this context, while experimenting with forms of group authorship.  

We will travel to Belgrade over Spring Break in March. There, we will interface with historians of architecture and urbanism, and contemporary actors engaged precisely in trying to revive and understand the links between their socialist heritage and contemporary forms of commoning.

After these visits, we will take on the issue of housing, and offer alternatives to Belgrade’s contemporary (global/crony capitalist) models and modes of housing production.

Every student will participate in the constitution of our studio’s archives, will participate in the production of competition entries for a park and two museums in Ušće, and will participate in the production of housing architecture and logics. Everything we make will also function as a critical statement, a catalyst for discussion and/or revelation among its projected audiences. Commitment to the collective (in the studio organization and as a topic of investigation) and architectural follow through are critical components of each individual student’s and the studio’s success.