Transatlantic Planning Networks: European Migrants and the Shaping of Urban Spaces in the Postwar Period

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM
Grace Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Andreas Joch, German Historical Institute
The paper examines the role of Central European immigrants to the United States in connecting the two sides of the Atlantic within the field of housing and planning in the postwar decades. It takes a transnational approach towards the history of planned urban development through an analysis of the functionality of transatlantic professional networks on the micro-level. These networks linked national and local planning cultures which were marked by significant differences, especially with regard to the areas of consumption, state intervention and their role for the future of urban regions.

Architects and city planners formed a substantial part of the wave of émigrés who left Europe for America after 1933. They emigrated to an urban environment which began to change rapidly shortly after their arrival as American cities suburbanized and many downtown areas were in crisis. A central element of this trend was the mushrooming of shopping malls, Levittowns and Eichler-homes that reconciled mass consumerism and urban space in a very palpable manner. This scenario was hardly comparable to the urban developments European émigré architects had been confronted with during their professional education and their first years of practice. During the interwar period, Central European states emphasized publicly funded, large-scale housing projects. And this type of project also remained of major importance throughout the years of postwar reconstruction.

The émigrés knew both sides of the story and they were in a favorable position to actively interlink and mediate between planning cultures. The paper argues that they played a crucial role as nodes in transatlantic networks concerned with urban developments. At the same time, their careers illuminate not only close transatlantic connections, but also differences in approaches toward urban development. The challenges they faced can help us understand the transnational frame in which today’s cities exist and develop.