1st Edition

The Optimum Imperative: Czech Architecture for the Socialist Lifestyle, 1938–1968

By Ana Miljacki Copyright 2017
    326 Pages
    by Routledge

    326 Pages
    by Routledge

    The Optimum Imperative examines architecture’s multiple entanglements within the problematics of Socialist lifestyle in postwar Czechoslovakia.

    Situated in the period loosely bracketed by the signing of the Munich accords in 1938, which affected Czechoslovakia’s entrance into World War II, and the Warsaw Pact troops’ occupation of Prague in 1968, the book investigates three decades of Czech architecture, highlighting a diverse cast of protagonists. Key among them are the theorist and architect Karel Honzík and a small group of his colleagues in the Club for the Study of Consumption; the award-winning Czechoslovak Pavilion at the 1958 World Expo in Brussels; and SIAL, a group of architects from Liberec that emerged from the national network of Stavoprojekt offices during the reform years, only to be subsumed back into it in the wake of Czechoslovak normalization. This episodic approach enables a long view of the way that the project of constructing Socialism was made disciplinarily specific for architecture, through the constant interpretation of Socialist lifestyle, both as a narrative framework and as a historical goal.

    Without sanitizing history of its absurd contortions in discourse and in daily life, the book takes as its subject the complex and dynamic relationships between Cold War politics, state power, disciplinary legitimating narratives, and Czech architects’ optimism for Socialism. It proposes that these key dimensions of practicing architecture and building Socialism were intertwined, and even commensurate at times, through the framework of Socialist lifestyle.


    Introduction: Optimizing Optimism

    Part I: Projection

    Historical Introduction 1938-1948: The Socialist Prospective 1. Socialism and Lifestyle: The Intellectual Road to the Optimum Dwelling 2. Reasonable Consumption: The Necessism Group and the Rationalizing of Needs

    Part II: Production Historical Introduction 1948-1958: Drawing the Curtain 3. Architecture for All: Nationalization of Czechoslovakia’s Architecture 4. All for Architecture: Determinants of Architecture and of Architectural Authors 5. One Building for All: The Czechoslovak Brussels Pavilion

    Part III: Experimentation Historical Introduction 1958-1968: Reform from Within 6. An Avant-Garde for All: "Without Legends and Myths" 7. Not an Avant-Garde: The Emergence of SIAL from Stavoprojekt Liberec 8. Experiments in Free Time and Play: Liberec, circa 1966

    Postscript: Turning "Máj" Into "My"  Bibliography  Index


    Ana Miljački is Associate Professor of Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, where she teaches history, theory, and design. She holds a PhD (2007) in history and theory of architecture from Harvard University, USA, and her work focuses on the relationship between politics and the products and circumstances of architectural labor.

    'Original and engaging, Miljacki’s rigorous study of Czech coldwar buildings, projects and texts is a cogently argued case for ‘lifestyle’ as the means by which to frame our understanding of Socialist architecture. Parsing coldwar ideology from reality, The Optimum Imperative not only gives fresh insight into this fascinating period in Czech architecture and its ideas of lifestyle, but this essential text will significantly revise our wider understanding of Socialist architectural production, history and theory. Grounding the projects in their time and place, Miljacki offers the reader remarkable insight into a set of ideas and a body of architectural work otherwise not available to an English-speaking audience.' - Robin Schuldenfrei, The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London

    "The Optimum Imperative makes an absolutely vital contribution to understanding the historical arc of the twentieth century. With her vivid excavation of the imaginings, the practicalities, and the achievements of the architectural profession in Czechoslovakia, Miljacki has revealed the defining role of a longed-for socialist lifestyle. The architectural optimism toward the socialist project that this rigorous theoretical inquiry brings into view captivates the reader with a sense of rediscovering the dormant narratives of twentieth-century experience."- Timothy Hyde, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    "Crafted with conceptual sophistication and an impressive empirical knowledge, Miljacki’s three phase discussion of Czech architectural discourses on socialist lifestyle between Munich and Normalization is a major contribution. Of true interest far beyond the narrow circle of "Bohemists" and/or historians of architecture, this book demonstrates not only that it is important and intellectually rewarding to study the history of socialist ideas but also that socialist thought is a rich a