Architecture as a Medium of American Cultural Diplomacy in Germany between the Second World War and the Cold War

Gegenstand des Forschungsvorhabens ist die US-amerikanische Förderung von und Beteiligung an Bauprojekten im Nachkriegsdeutschland, die als Ziel die Entwicklung einer westlich-demokratischen Denkart und den Aufbau des ehemaligen Feindes zum Bollwerk gegen den sowjetischen Osten hatten und damit die geopolitischen Interessen der USA in Europa fördern sollten. Temporärer Rahmen ist die Zeit von 1945 bis etwa 1965.

Die Forschungsarbeit verbindet eine historisch-theoretische Diskussion mit einer detaillierten Analyse ausgewählter Fallbeispiele sowohl aus kulturpolitischer als auch aus kunsthistorischer Sicht. Sie schließt einen Vergleich der amerikanischen Initiativen auf dem Feld der Architektur mit denen der anderen Siegernationen in West- und Ostdeutschland mit ein; gleichzeitig hebt sie die Eigenperspektive der Deutschen besonders hervor.

Ziel des Forschungsvorhabens ist es, einen Beitrag zum Verständnis der Gestaltungsprozesse des modernen Deutschlands sowie zur breiteren aktuellen Diskussion über die Rolle der Architektur als Mittel politischen und sozialen Diskurses und Wandels zu leisten. Darüber hinaus sollte die Arbeit ein Bewusstsein schaffen für die historischen Belange einer Gruppe von Nachkriegsbauten, die zunehmend Schutz vor Umformung oder Abriss benötigen. zum öffentlichen Vortrag im Juni 2014 über das Fallbeispiel "Dominikanerkirche / Kulturraum in Bamberg"

Project Description

At the conclusion of the Second World War, the United States made a decisive shift from its traditional stance of reserve with regard to Continental affairs to full commitment of its energies and resources to the "reconstruction" of Europe and in particular of the defeated enemy at its heart, Germany.

This shift in stance was prompted by various factors:  in addition to humanitarian impulses (which had powerful representation among the American public), there was the sense of responsibility to follow through with the eradication of Fascism in Germany and to help that country recover from the Nazi disaster  by putting it back  on a democratic footing.  Increasingly urgently, however, there was also the need to secure Germany's allegiance in the developing conflict with America's new enemy, the Soviet Union, and to ensure its ability to withstand the growing ideological threat posed by Communism.

American involvement in the reconstruction of (West) Germany after 1945 took place in all areas, from support for the material rebuilding of its destroyed cities to the retooling of its ravaged economy and the complete overhaul of its political system.  These efforts were also accompanied by a broader-based effort of "reconstruction" in the social and cultural spheres:  the "denazification" of German society was to be followed by its "reeducation" and "reorientation" toward the perceived common ideological heritage of the West.

To this end, the American administration in Germany initiated a range of programmes and projects explicitly aimed at instilling (American) democratic values in Germany's citizens, as well as assisting German society in reconnecting with what was seen as its own native democratic tradition.  One important field in which these programmes were pursued was architecture.

In the postwar German context, architecture represented an immediate and highly visible arena for discourses of reform and reorientation.  Just as Germany's destroyed cities were understood as an image of the country's more fundamental collapse under Nazism, their architectural (re)construction was widely viewed and presented as a metaphor for "reconstruction" in the social, political and cultural sense:  new, modern building stood for the making of a new start on new principles, while the repair and restoration of built fabric from the historical past represented the rescue and redemption of what was still valuable in the tradition of "The Other Germany".

America participated in this discourse by actively supporting the creation of a built environment that would be conducive to the cultivation of a Western-democratic mindset in Germany, and would thus further the USA's geopolitical aims in central Europe.  For example, American government authorities sponsored visits of American architects and urban planners to Germany and of Germans to America;  they also promoted the construction of new buildings throughout Germany, many employing a self-consciously modern formal language believed to be expressive of democratic ideals.

The Habilitation project investigates the use of architecture as a vehicle of American cultural diplomacy in Germany between 1945 and c.1965.  It embeds an analysis of selected architectural projects within a discussion of their historical and theoretical context, revealing the kinds of initiatives that were undertaken, the ends they were intended to serve, the institutions and actors involved, and the design means used.  It includes a comparison of American initiatives to analogous efforts by other nations in Germany after World War II, in particular the USSR;  at the same time, it the emphasizes perspective of the (West) Germans themselves, as a nation dependent on new diplomatic partnerships with the West for recovery after the war, and as a primary stakeholder in the project of European integration.

The overall goal of the project is to add new dimension to our understanding of the shaping of modern Germany after the Second World War.  In the process it should also raise awareness of the historical significance of a number of buildings that are currently threatened with demolition or irreparable change, and thus prompt a discussion of possible preservation action.  Finally, the work should contribute to the ongoing contemporary discussion of architecture's role as a vehicle for political and social discourse as well as a tool for political and social change. materials on the case study "Dominikanerkirche / Kulturraum in Bamberg", presented in a public lecture in June 2014 (in German)