Values and Visions for the Working Class: Interpreting Socialist Housing of Interwar Europe
Bryn Mawr College. Department of Growth and Structure of Cities
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1920s Europe had a dire need for new housing after the catastrophic destruction of WWI. Faced with an impoverished continent and a boom in population after family reunification, three governments--those of the newly minted Weimar Republic, of the first socially democratic municipality of "Red Vienna," and of the city of Amsterdam-- launched public housing programs. Armed with new theories of how to structure society and the political capacity to physically manifest those theories, they erected housing estates highly communicative of perceived working-class values. Through an architectural analysis, this paper unpacks the ideological motivations behind the built forms of the three housing estates from the major social housing movements of the era. Welfare governments and their architects sought to control how the working class imagined their socioeconomic and political place in the city by implementing theories of individualism or collectivism that determined how politicized or how personal their home was. Those built forms also enforced patterns of leisure, productivity, hygiene, and activism. With their varying levels of success and ethical standards, the public housing estates of interwar Europe reveal possibilities for constructing highly communicative and impactful homes for low-income populations that respect the inherently ideological nature of public housing.