Post-Colonial Planning, Global Technology Transfer, and the Cold War

PRL™ Export Architecture and Urbanism from Socialist Poland. Exhibition, October 15 - November 15, 2010, Museum of Technology, Warsaw.

Socialist Competence. Post-Colonial Urbanization and Knowledge Distribution in the Cold War. Symposium, October 16, 2010, Warsaw Museum of Modern Art.

International Fair Accra (Ghana)
International Trade Fair Accra (Ghana), designers: Jacek Chyrosz & Stanisław Rymaszewski , completed in 1967
Socialist Poland was a valued brand during the Cold War - at least in certain markets, which included the global market of intellectual labor. This pertains in particular to the labor of architects, planners and engineers from People's Republic of Poland (PRL) which was widely exported to the countries of the post-colonial South. This exhibition shows the designs of Polish professionals sent by state agencies of foreign trade to Iraq, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Ghana, and Nigeria: countries which were searching for allies among the socialist states after gaining independence since the late 1940s. The architects, planners and engineers transmitted both the heritage of Polish inter-war architecture and the experience of large socialist building sites, such as the reconstruction of Warsaw and the construction of the socialist city of Nowa Huta, which they adapted to local climatic, cultural and technological conditions. The buildings, neighborhoods, urban and regional plans as well as research projects shown in the exhibition not only testify about individual gift, knowledge and engagement of particular designers, but also reveal the political economy of architectural labor in socialism. They became nodes of global networks of distribution of knowledge and technology which at the end of the Cold War reflected less an ideological conflict and more a new global division of labor specific for the post-socialist world.

>>>See the catalogue of the exhibition: Special issue of Piktogram 15/ 2011

>>>Download the cover and the table of contents of the catalogue

InStadium in Lakatia (Syria)
Stadium in Latakia (Syria), architects: Wojciech Zabłocki & Andrzej Ryba engineer: Wiktor Humięcki, realised in 1987

With the former colonies in Africa and Asia gaining independence since the late 1940s, the states of the post-colonial South became increasingly important actors in the confrontation between the socialist East and the capitalist West. Military, economic, and technological modernization were essential means in this confrontation, with the Soviet Union, the United States, their European allies, but also the Non-Aligned Movement and China allocating significant resources in development aid. This resulted in numerous training and education programs, but also in planning and construction of waterworks and irrigation structures; roads and highways; factories in almost all branches of industry; prefabricated housing plants; municipal and cultural buildings; new neighborhoods and new towns.

Polish architects, planners, engineers and, sometimes, artists, were contributing to these processes, contracted by state agencies of foreign trade, such as POLSERVICE. The exhibition will present a range of such engagements, from the fair area in Accra (Ghana) designed and built between 1962 and 1967; the master-plans of Baghdad, Algiers, and the region of Tripoli in the 1960s and 1970s; housing neighborhoods in Iraq, Libya, and Syria (1970s and 1980s); a large research project General Housing Programme for Iraq (1970s); and typical projects of industrial plants exported to the developing countries by state planning offices such as BISTYP (Office for Research and Typical Projects of Industrial Architecture) or CEKOP (Central Export Agency of Complete Industrial Plants). The exhibition will focus on specific buildings, locations, situations, and institutions in which Polish architects, planners, and engineers were cooperating and competing with local professionals and experts coming from other countries.

This exhibition will take place in the Museum of Technology in the Palace of Science and Culture in the center of Warsaw. The design of the show will be made by the Dutch collective Metahaven: Studio for Design and Research. Metahaven engages the field of visual identity and works on the intersection between graphic design and architecture, questioning their political and social conditions and consequences. The design of the show will critically address the persuasive means of representation as an essential part of export of architecture and urban design: from the contributions to architectural competitions, through folders of companies offering turn-key sugar plants or steel mills, to carefully staged photographs of completed buildings as promises of modernity and carriers of identity.

This exhibition will be complemented by the symposium Socialist competence. Post-Colonial Urbanization and Knowledge Distribution in the Cold War . The symposium contextualizes the experience of architects, urbanists and engineers coming from socialist Poland within a more general perspective on the Cold War architecture and urbanism.

18.00 - 18.20 Łukasz Stanek (Zurich)

18.20 - 19.10 Michelle Provoost (Rotterdam)

19.10 - 19.30 break

19.30 - 20.20 Tadeusz Barucki (Warsaw)

20.20 - 21.10 M. Christine Boyer (New York)

The exhibition and the symposium will initiate a long-term research project which aims at examining the technologies and institutions, still conditioning the current urbanization processes in the Global South; but also questions the significance of this experience for architecture practices in post-socialist countries.

Curator: Łukasz Stanek
Cooperation: Piotr Bujas, Tomasz Fudala, Alicja Gzowska
Design: Metahaven

This exhibition was prepared by the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art in the framework of the festival Warsaw under construction.