Team 10 East 02.07.15

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Eastern Europe’s dissenters against the Corbusian orthodoxy have been unjustly overlooked, finds Agata Pyzik

“Team 10 East” is a name coined by Polish architectural historian Lukasz Stanek for the Eastern European participants in Team 10, the group of international architects formed during the 1950s by dissenters from Le Corbusier’s influential Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne. In contrast to CIAM’s rigid approach, which threatened to become a new orthodoxy for post-war housing projects, Team 10 was characterised by a craving for “openness” in architecture and planning – a term that, for obvious reasons, resonated with architects in Communist countries. The resulting exchange of ideas between East and West was extensive, yet today is hardly known.

This new book on the Eastern members of Team 10 addresses this absence by presenting several essays exploring both the ideas behind the movement and major projects by individual architects or groups. These vary from an extraordinary, unbuilt Polish pavilion for
Expo 58 in Brussels and a Workers’ University in Zagreb right through to the development of an entire district of Belgrade. Familiar names like the Smithsons and Ralph Erskine appear beside those of Hungarian Charles Polónyi, experimental Czechoslovak collective SIAL and Poles Jerzy Sołtan and Oskar Hansen.

“Openness” had different meanings across place and time, and did not always prove achievable in practice. Team 10 managed to meet every two years or so, but often without some or most of the Easterners, who faced financial and visa difficulties. Their involvement was possible only thanks to the so-called “thaw” in Soviet politics, initiated by the Khrushchev regime in Moscow. Yet the conviction remained across Team 10 that the challenges of post-war societies meant that architecture could not continue in the old way, with paternalistic, orderly placing of blocks in greenery. Modern architecture should enable new and freer ways of life that would be less zoned and ordered, encouraging leisure, mobility and community.

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The architects of Team 10 East were not isolated – they were well aware of international developments, and travelled and worked abroad, often in African and Middle Eastern countries associated with the Non-Aligned Movement. Stanek’s employment of the word “East” is intended to challenge the still-popular notion that the tenets of post-war modernity were created in the West and then copied further afield. Team 10 was a genuine collaboration, with the research shared at their meetings including new solutions for housing and an interest in the “softer” aspects of social life: participation, consumer culture, technology.

Architect and planner Oskar Hansen is the quiet hero of the book. Largely unknown in the West, he was one of the most original and influential thinkers on (social) space in post-war Europe, developing theories of “open form” in architecture and the “linear continuous system” in planning. The former was a humanistic idea of space as actively co-created by the architect and the dweller/participant, aimed against the “closedness” common both to CIAM’s modernism and to the Soviet Bloc’s negativity towards ideas from the West. The whole concept of open form – as with Team 10 itself – was aimed at contesting oppositions such as inside/outside, urban/rural and masculine/feminine, as well as East/West. The linear continuous system, in turn, attempted to connect big cities with villages and small towns to facilitate even distribution of welfare, making the social standards of the metropolis available to everyone.

By the late 1970s, socialism as a universal language in which architects in London and Warsaw could understand each other was disappearing, and the collaborative spirit among architects was in decline in favour of self-promotion. It is telling that the last Team 10 meeting happened in 1981, a year that saw the imposition of martial law in Poland and the spread of neoliberalism in Anglo-Saxon countries. Yet Hansen and others were well aware that their projects were only possible with state-sponsored socialism. What is perhaps lacking amid the excellent research contained in this book is a wider post-factum perspective that would tackle such subjects – did the ambitious projects promoted by Team 10 fail, and if so why? We need to know about such outcomes to fully understand what the East and West did – and didn’t – share during those much mythologised years.

 

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Agata Pyzik

 

Team 10 East: Revisionist Architecture in Real Existing Modernism
edited by Lukasz Stanek
University of Chicago Press, £20.50

 

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Stanek’s employment of the word “East” is intended to challenge the still-popular notion that the tenets of post-war modernity were created in the West and then copied further afield

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