Critical Perspectives on the Legacy of Reform and Revolt in Architecture, Planning and Urbanism

The year 1968 has marked a turning point for an array of different social, cultural and political movements and actions, which have had a lasting effect on the way we live together. Global political topics became closely intertwined with the personal, dominant systems and power relations were increasingly questioned and contested. Demands for participation, openness and pluralism in society prevailed and challenged the establishment and existing societal institutions. This predisposition manifested itself also in the politics of urban development, housing and real estate as well as in the unlikely contexts of design and planning practices. Architecture and planning were confronted with fundamental criticism and pressing conflicts developed in 1960s and 70s. In architecture and planning – contexts that are otherwise not known for wide-ranging internal disputes – these contestations have led to a process of introspection, fundamental questioning and radical experimentation, some traces of which remain present until today. This conference aims to revisit reforms and revolts of 1968 and their impact on architecture, planning and urbanism aiming to critically examine their continuous influence up until today.

In Germany, the 1968 ‘Diagnose’ exhibition at the Technical University Berlin marked the beginning of alternative architectural and planning approaches. It was designed to criticise processes of planning and the production of the built environment in Berlin at the time. A range of issues were addressed, including corruption in the construction of mass housing, the demolition of entire urban quarters and the involvement of architects in this process, as well as the perceived bias in architectural competitions. Similarly, the very principles of traditional architectural practice and education were critically examined. An integration of contemporary theories from different disciplines was prompted. Students, young graduates, and teaching assistants not only organised the ‘Diagnose’ exhibition, they also experimented with collective teaching formats, developed ideas for educational reforms, and started getting involved in communal social and political work in local districts. In the years to follow, their demands and approaches increasingly shaped more critical educational and planning practices.

The ‘Diagnose’ exhibition in Berlin is representative for a range of reform initiatives in architecture faculties and planning approaches across European cities at the time. More and more, especially urban conflicts became an important issue in architecture and planning discourses: from housing shortages in Prague, the car-friendly remodelling of London, to the mass demolitions and ensuing monotony of standardised housing in Belgrade and Paris. The politics of urban development and increasingly also the implicit role of architects and planners were questioned. New and more critical practices were developed.

This symposium will take place at the birthplace of the ‘Diagnose’ exhibition at the Institute of Architecture at TU Berlin. Today, 50 years after, the symposium aims to revisit and reflect on the development of urban practices in Europe since 1968, when Berlin’s planning and building development was denounced as a ‘public assassination of a city’. Besides a retrospect, the symposium follows three main topics, which were central for the formulated critique in 1968 and still urgently need to be addressed in 2018: Housing, Land, and Critical Practice.