Exporting architecture and urban planning emerged as a valuable instrument in Cold War politics, the pretence and the means for cultural colonialism, with East and West aiming to carve out their respective spheres of influence in the Middle East.Starting in the 1950s architects and planners were invited to design modern urban developments, landmark buildings and housing projects.
‘… Eight master builders of the modern world – men of many tongues – are creating a new Baghdad. Among them are – by birth – a Frenchman, a Spaniard, two Germans, and American, a Finn, a Greek, and an Italian. Probably never before in history have so many famous architects worked concurrently in one place. The final result, barring possible curtailment by the Iraqi Government, is widely expected to be one of the modern architectural wonders of the world – a new city superimposed on this ancient, sun-baked capital.’
The eight master builders were Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, José Luis Sert, Gio Ponti, Frank Lloyd Wright, Alvar Aalto, Werner March and Constantine Doxiadis, and they were commissioned to produce city masterplans, state buildings, cultural and sports centres and housing projects.
C.A.Doxiadis, a Ford Foundation architect and planner, had already worked for the reconstruction of Athens after the WWII and he had developed theories on housing and urban developments (Ekestics, Dynapolis).
The commissioned housing and community facilities responded to the grave housing shortages in an effort to suppress discontent and prevent growing social unrest. The vast slums of Baghdad were turned into a massive public works known as Revolution City (Naziha al-Dulaimi, C.A. Doxiadis).
The employment of architects and planners from an Eastern Bloc country aimed to apply their experience of post-war reconstructions and redevelopments to the newly formed nations, but nevertheless, they were also political statements reflecting affiliations in Cold War politics. The East employed a different approach in construction commissions, stressing a vision of cooperation and solidarity, that would be mutually beneficial. City planning and social housing were central in bilateral agreements and would promote export material resources and also knowledge and expertise, introducing housing policies, research and education projects. Miastoprojekt, Technoexportstroy, Romconsult, Gorstroiproekt were some of the state-run construction bureaus that produced work not only in socialist and the non-aligned countries but in some occasion also in the West and they that would operate even beyond the end of the Cold War.
Institut français du Proche-Orient
C.A. Doxiadis Archives + Ekistics