The Socialist City as a Distinct Urban Typology in Postwar Europe

Kimberly Zarecor, Ph.D. (Iowa State University, Architecture)


Socialist cities have most often been studied as manifestations of the socialist system itself, linked to the political fate of the Communist Parties in power during their design, construction, and expansion. Using the qualitative methods of architectural and urban history, this paper revisits the debate about the socialist city and its similarities and differences with other types of urbanity in postwar Europe. The argument is made that the socialist city is distinct, both historically and through its legacies into the present. Two analytical frameworks are presented to support this argument—infrastructural thinking and the socialist scaffold. The core of the analysis shows that the universal aspiration for socialist cities was their continuous operation as synchronized instruments of economic production and social transformation in physical space. Unlike capitalist cities, they had an ideological role in an economic model that instrumentalized cities as nodes in an integrated system, described in this paper using Stephen Kotkin's term, 'single entity.' Shared formal tendencies in architecture and urban form among many European cities are de-emphasized in this analysis, since architects across the East-West divide embraced the postwar international style. Instead, distinctions are made around concepts of material production, professional practices, and spheres of power and ideology in the process of urbanization. These frameworks will be used to discuss aspects of the postwar development of Prague, Ostrava, and Zlín (Gottwaldov).