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Mass-housing, urban space, and conflict: 1968 in West Berlin

Bowie, Laura 2017. Mass-housing, urban space, and conflict: 1968 in West Berlin. Presented at: Society of Architectural Historians 70th Annual International Conference, Glasgow, UK, 7-11 June 2017.

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In 1968, a group of architecture students at West Berlin’s Technical University formed Aktion 507 in order to critique post-war planning policies within the city. Following modernist principles, post-war policy makers began separating the city by function, with residential developments relocated to the suburbs. The general belief was that nineteenth century tenements were responsible for the ‘undemocratic spirit in the city’ and not suitable for the new ‘democratic’ Germany. Thus, the action taken was to demolish tenements and replace them with prefabricated satellite housing developments. In reaction, Aktion 507 curated an exhibition, ‘Diagnosis on Building in West Berlin’, focusing on the ‘critical analysis of current construction activities’. The exhibition centred on the Märkisches Viertel, a development containing 17,000 apartments, jutting the Berlin Wall to the north of the city. Aktion 507 argued that architects, speculators, the senate, and construction companies exerted a ‘totalitarian rule over the city’. I intend to argue that the ideology of the student movement in Berlin was in a symbiotic relationship with the post-war cityscape whereby readings of urban planners, Marxists, sociologists and others were translated through the lens of Berlin’s unique character and position in the post-war world. For example, Marcuse’s theory on the repressive mechanisms of society held special significance in a post-fascist era where former National Socialists still held positions of power, and where left-wing intellectuals flocked due to exemption from military service. Likewise, the Märkisches Viertel, with its ‘intolerable defects in social infrastructure’, highlighted the wider social implications of relocating inhabitants from the inner city under the guise of social housing. This paper documents the use of architecture as a vessel through which political, cultural and social conflicts were argued and contested which, through involvement with residents, Aktion 507 irreversibly changed West Berlin, both as a physical and political space.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Architecture
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II
D History General and Old World > DD Germany
N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
Last Modified: 15 Jul 2020 10:45

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