EVENT: Symposium: Moscow x Detroit: Transnational Modernity in the Built Environment. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, 11–12 October 2019
Department of the History of Art, The University of Michigan
University of Michigan Museum of Art and Horace H. Rackham Building, University of Michigan, in conjunction with Amerikanizm: Russian Architecture in Search of a New New World, The Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal
Organizers: Claire Zimmerman (University of Michigan), Christina Crawford (Emory University), Jean-Louis Cohen (Institute of Fine Arts, New York University)
Between 1928 and 1932 a group of American architects and engineers, many of them affiliated with Albert Kahn Associates, migrated from Detroit to Moscow to build factory campuses as part of Josef Stalin’s First Five Year Plan (FFYP). They set in motion over 500 construction projects and trained over 300 Soviet designers, technicians, and draftsmen in American methods of design and implementation. During the very years in which architects from Detroit helped build Soviet factories (in notable cases with prefabricated components imported from the US), urban theories on linear city morphology as a fitting mode for industrialization blossomed in the USSR. English-language publications such as USSR in Construction featured compelling images of these monumental achievements, depicting Soviet progress in culture as well as technology. “Soviet Detroit,” as the industrial capital Nizhny-Novgorod would be called, was only one of many America-inspired cities developed during the first Five-Year Plan, which also included “Sibirsky Chicago” (Novosibirsk) and “Soviet Gary” (Magnitogorsk).
By the end of 1932, most of the American experts had returned, both to Detroit and to sites spread across the country. Over the years of their stay, American journalists had celebrated their work on a regular basis. As the US economy recovered from the Great Depression and moved inexorably toward war, a small number of architects and engineers who participated in Soviet industrialization performed comparable tasks back in the United States. Linear urbanism grew up around American metropolises, particularly in the Midwest, in new communities such as Livonia, Michigan, strung alongside massive new factory complexes. The impact of Soviet urbanism on these communities remains to be assessed.
Only recently has the complex of industrial developments that unfolded between Moscow and Detroit begun to receive notice in architectural and urban studies scholarship. Groundbreaking research has focused new attention on the larger ramifications of this massive transfer of knowledge in both directions. Looking further into these developments, the symposium is scheduled to coincide with the opening of an exhibition at The Canadian Centre for Architecture, Building a New New World: Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture, in November 2019 (curator: Jean-Louis Cohen).
Moscow x Detroit: Transnational Modernity in the Built Environment will bring together historians of art, architecture, urbanism, and social history, to consider a critical moment in twentieth-century history, one that ramifies outward from the late 1920s to ripple through the later industrialization of the US and the USSR, affecting culture, global politics, and the built environment for decades after. Its focus will be transnational exchange in both directions (initially toward the USSR, but also back to the USA), infrastructure development, and the impact of built environments (factories, housing, green zones) on cities built to serve industry, but surviving long after its evacuation. Participants, including specialists in both the American and the Soviet situation, will consider specific spatial questions, as well as broader analyses of the hidden effects of the “Second Industrial Revolution” on culture, social organization, and the built environment on two continents.
October 11, 2019 5:00 p.m. – UMMA Auditorium: Keynote: “Americanized Bolshevism and its new New Worlds,” Jean-Louis Cohen, New York University
October 12, 2019 – Rackham Amphitheater: Symposium