The Second World War, which set four continents ablaze between 1939 and 1945, affected the military and civilians alike, and drew on every human resource of the warring nations. The field of architecture also entered the fray, and despite what most histories of the discipline still claim, it experienced a concentrated period of research and transformation. Although many architects were active combatants, some of them pursued their professional work in the service of an intensified industrial production or in response to the requirements of the front. The technical modernization that had been undertaken in the 1920s was continued by the Allied powers and the Axis alike – research into lightweight, transportable structures, for example.

More broadly, the war drew upon every aspect of architectural expertise: a knowledge of construction, which was useful for building bunkers and reinforcing shelters; visual skills, which were indispensible for camouflage and relevant to the frenzy of propaganda during that period; and the organizational competence needed to advance industrial and territorial projects unprecedented in their scope. Mobilized as a group, architects were faced with personal choices as well, especially those called upon to take part in the criminal policies of the Nazis. In this sense, the war also tested their moral fibre: some were complicit in the policies of extermination, while others were among their victims. After 1945 the supremacy of modern architecture remained unchallenged, except in the Soviet Union, and there, only for a short time. In the end, the war transformed not only ways of building, but also ways of thinking, and after the six years of conflict, architects would apply broadly the methods developed under the pressures of war to peaceful purposes.  

Architects in uniform

The distance that divides the Nazi minister Albert Speer, sentenced at Nuremberg in 1946 for war crimes, from Szymon Syrkus, a member of the Polish Resistance who was imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp, is an indication of the war’s broad impact on human destinies. Between the extremes of these two figures – on one hand, a government official committed to the suppression of minorities and to extermination, and on the other, a victim of these same policies – are to be found tens of thousands of situations in which architects were borne off by the war.

Mobilized, deployed on the fronts, killed, wounded, or prisoners, Resistance fighters, or refugees – architects shared the fate of all citizens in the warring nations. But the journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects would also call upon its readers in 1939 to “fight as architects in the fullest sense of the word.” They found themselves entrusted with a very wide range of tasks that made them into far more than simple enlisted citizens. Their professional involvement in the war effort would permanently mark the fate of those who escaped a tragic end.

Like all citizens of the warring nations, architects, landscape architects, engineers, and designers were subject to mobilization and assignment to combat or direct support of the war. In uniform, they continued to think in conceptual or even artistic terms, using their specific techniques to observe the front and the territories they went through in their campaigns, leaving us with sketches and notebooks that are as informative as they are moving. They were also susceptible to the melancholy of ruins, as in the case of the Russian Arkady Mordvinov, who drew the devastated landscape of Stalingrad after the battle.

The home front

Much more than the Great War had ever done, the Second World War extended its realm far beyond the combat zones. The German writer Ernst Jünger had expressed his sense of premonition by stressing the “rational structure and mercilessness” of the war of 1914–18. In 1930 he noted, “there is no longer any movement whatsoever – be it that of the homeworker at her sewing machine – without at least indirect use for the battlefield.”1  Mobilization in the armed forces and the factories was redoubled, de facto, by a requisition of every home. In broader terms, all raw materials, mineral or agricultural, as well as all industrial materials, were pressed into service for the nations’ war efforts.

The exclusivity accorded to wartime manufacturing and the disruption of many traditional methods of transportation provided a stimulus to scientific research and the invention of novel forms and processes. The field of synthetics extended from fuels to elastomers, and to vast ranges of products such as plastics. The preoccupation with conserving materials led to a new ethic based on economy. The energy consumption of homes was the object of particular attention and led, in the American case, to launching the first program ever conducted for thermal insulation. Transformed during this period into a manager, the mistress of the house was responsible for “planning,” “conserving,” and “recovering” almost everything in the home or garden. While these phenomena were more visible in the United States, they were equally present in Great Britain, Germany, and Italy, where a policy of self-sufficiency had been launched in 1936, after the Society of Nations (SDN) had imposed sanctions following the Fascist aggression against Ethiopia.

Cultural institutions joined in campaigns of persuasion whose goal was to educate citizens and to guide them towards rational purchases. In 1942 the Museum of Modern Art in New York organized Useful Objects in Wartime, which presented the simplest domestic objects produced with non-strategic materials. The exhibition addressed the prescriptions of the Conservation and Substitution Branch of the War Production Board in Washington and sought to make consumers more vigilant in their choices, avoiding “critical” materials such as nickel, copper, aluminum, tin, or steel, and plastic products such as Lucite, Plexiglas, or nylon, which were used in aviation. But it also sought to give visitors a taste for functional and innovative products. Shortly thereafter, in 1943, the British Board of Trade launched a Utility Scheme, or program of public interest for everyday objects. Headed by the designer Gordon Russell, it promoted the efficient use of materials for furnishings, glassware, clothing, lingerie, and shoes. This program would shape material culture in Britain for over a decade.

War to cities

As early as the 1920s, the writer André Maurois had predicted, “The next war . . . will be so horrible that all who experienced this one will look back on it with regret. The cities in the rear will be completely destroyed by aerial attacks.”2  The growth of aviation in fact completely changed previous distinctions between the military front and civilian targets. As Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Vauthier, a pioneer in thinking about defence against air attacks, pointed out in his book Le Danger aérien et l’avenir du pays (Danger from the Air and the Future of the Country) of 1930, “the airplane has little concern for lines on the ground.” Consequently, “the entire region subject to the attack of enemy aircraft is in fact an aerial border. But the crucial fact is that this border is no longer a line; it is a surface.”3  The chronicle of the war was thus punctuated by bombings whose intent was to terrorize civilian populations, with the first of these launched by the Axis forces: the Japanese flattened Chongqing and Shanghai, the Germans bombed Guernica in the Basque country, then Warsaw and Rotterdam, and during the Blitz of 1940, London. From 1942 on, the Allies engaged in their own aerial offensives, which would devastate German and Japanese cities as well as cities in occupied countries such as France or Italy. These raids on urban centres were no doubt the price that needed to be paid for an Allied victory over the forces of barbarism.

In the face of these attacks, architects participated in the protection of historic monuments, either on the ground, or by drawing up lists for aircraft crews of sensitive sites to avoid. Faraway targets for bombs and long-distance artillery, cities also became battlefields. They were theatres of ferocious fighting, sometimes for years, or for the duration of a violent invasion. Blockades and shortages deeply transformed urban daily life, as hunger and cold added their own victims to those of the bombs, especially in the thirty-one months of the siege of Leningrad. The war on cities was met by propaganda campaigns that sought to boost the morale of their populations. These tactics made use of the cinema for the first time, but posters remained a vehicle of choice for strategies of persuasion.

Producing War Production

The construction of the thousands of factories required for the production of aircraft, vehicles, or munitions called on an army of designers and draftsmen, from the Pacific to the Urals, in which civil engineers and architects played a leading role. Some projects were assigned to innovative architects, such as Auguste Perret and Le Corbusier in France, although the latter was not able to carry out his commissions. A striking phenomenon, continuing the tendencies of the 1930s, was the emergence in almost every country of a new industrial geography that was intended to reduce the risk from aerial attack by removing factories from proximity to national borders. The USSR had started decentralizing its sites of production at the beginning of the 1930s by moving them east of the Urals. Such a centrifugal process was subsequently taken up in France, Great Britain, and Germany. In the United States, there was a significant move away from the East coast to the Midwest and the West coast. California saw the creation of a powerful mining and metals industry, increasing the number of aluminum and magnesium foundries. Los Angeles also took on the features of an “aviation boom town.”

Once established on new sites far from existing towns, factories changed in scale and became complexes that sometimes attained the size of real cities, employing tens of thou sand of workers, especially when they were out of reach of bombs. If the similarities between the steel-framed and glass-roofed factories built in Germany, England, and the United States are sometimes disturbing, it was in the United States that a decisive step would be taken with the invention of an entirely new type, the windowless factory. Made necessary by the strict requirements of the anti-aircraft blackout, and made possible by the combination of lightweight long-span structures, air conditioning, and fluorescent lighting, the windowless factory would give rise after the war to one of the most common building types found today outside urban centres – the big box, adaptable to any use.

In its June 1942 issue, The Architectural Record focused on the activities of the Detroit-based agency Albert Kahn Associates, which it called a “producer of production lines.” The journal described the “magic formula” of the office of 600 employees: the “coordination of experienced experts.” As the architect of Ford and General Motors since the beginning of the century, Kahn constructed steel-framed single-story volumes lit from above and from the sides. Secondary or service spaces were located in the basement in order not to hinder further expansion and to serve as shelters.

Kahn constructed the Chrysler Tank Arsenal in Michigan’s Warren Township between 1940 and 1942. Inside its glazed envelope 400 m long and 100 m wide, the different stages of production were laid out in a linear arrangement. Another project similar in size was the Ford Motors bomber plant, built between 1941 and 1943 at Willow Run, in the same state. This single building of 100,000 m2  was capable of “turning out” one airplane per hour. The aviator Charles Lindberg had no hesitation in calling it “a sort of Grand Canyon of a mechanized world.” While the Austin Company was advocating “windowless” factories, Albert Kahn commented that “they require artificial lighting all the time, as well as mechanical ventilation and air-conditioning”, which he judged unacceptable under future peacetime conditions.

The factories that Kahn built in the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1932 were put to similar use, and his tractor plant in Chelyabinsk became the central unit in the complex known as “Tankograd.”

Housing the Workers

It was in the United States that the broadest program of housing construction during the war was undertaken. Passed in 1940, the Housing Act, which would be named after the representative from Texas Fritz G. Lanham, allowed for the massive allocation of federal funds for the construction of housing. These were placed under the control of the United States Housing Authority, created in 1937 as part of the New Deal. The program was enthusiastically welcomed by architects in general, and modern architects in particular, because it was open to innovative solutions with regard to distribution and construction. Earlier projects had usually deployed a traditional architecture within development plans derived from garden city principles, and the conduct of the war would lead to an important break.

As Dorothy Rosenman, a militant campaigner for social housing, would write in 1942, “Adequate housing for war workers becomes truly a part of our national assembly line. And it must be made progressively available as new war-production plants near completion. It must be timed to mesh with every cog in our gigantic wheel of preparation for victory.”4  In addition to housing built from purely private initiative, 625,000 units would be produced between 1940 and 1944 as a result of the Lanham Act, of which 580,000 were meant to be temporary. According to Richard Neutra, these could be expected to “without fail become permanent slums, adding to the curse under which we have been laboring. But there is a difference. The old slums could be blamed on a few hardy exploiters; these new slums would stand, justly or unjustly, attributed to the incapacity of an administration or a government to engage in housing. Governmental action in this matter, so badly needed, where private enterprise cannot find reward, may be silenced and killed off for a decade.”5 Most of this housing would be destroyed after 1945.

Mobile Architecture

The mobility of the forces engaged in the Second World War far exceeded the levels of previous conflicts. The American Civil War (1861–65) and the Franco-Prussian war (1870– 71) had seen the inaugural use of railroads in warfare, and the war of 1914–18 the first use of automobiles. But the extension of the theatre of operations to four continents would henceforth require the intensive movement of men and equipment, operating thousands of kilometres from their base. It was at this point that the notion of “logistics” came into general use. The inventive energies of architects thus concentrated on lightweight, modular structures, especially ones that could be assembled and then taken apart. Collaborating with the designer and builder Jean Prouvé, Le Corbusier imagined metal-framed “flying schools”, which could follow the movement of populations along their paths of exodus, and be reused once peace had returned.

For his part, the prolific inventor R. Buckminster Fuller used the steel elements of grain silos from the American Midwest to create the Dymaxion Deployment Unit, which would shelter troops sent to the Persian Gulf in 1942–43. The unit would experience a brief moment of fame when it was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The more radical experiments of Konrad Wachsmann and Max Mengeringhausen would remain even more marginal. Wachsmann worked with Walter Gropius in 1941–42 on a “Packaged House” system using modular plywood panels. He focused his energies on developing a highly ingenious universal metal connecting piece, which enabled the easy assembly of vertical and horizontal elements. The Architectural Record noted at the time that this was “one of the  first prefabricated, fully demountable systems that consistently uses the same module for all dimensions, horizontal, vertical and lateral, a truly three-dimensional module.”6 Mengeringhausen imagined a system of construction consisting of nodes and metal bars threaded at both ends. The length of the bars was to be modular and proportional. In 1940, Mengeringhausen formulated the “law of regular spatial structures” and developed a polyhedral node with three principal axes that could be used to join up to eighteen elements, either orthogonal or inclined at 45 degrees. Interrupted in 1945, mass production resumed in 1948 under the name MERO – an acronym for Mengeringhausen Rohrbauweisen (Mengeringhausen’s tubular structures) – and would achieve global success after the war.

The greatest successes were ultimately those projects whose precision and simplicity enabled them to be produced industrially and in massive numbers. In terms of buildings, the Quonset hut, widely used to house troops, was the prime example. As regards infrastructure, two British projects would be remarkably successful. The modular bridges developed by Donald Bailey, built from many possible combinations of a single steel-trussed panel, would ensure the mobility of the Allied troops in Europe, where 1,500 bridges were assembled. But the greatest success of all, which played a decisive role in the Allied strategic victory in the 1944 Normandy landing, was the Mulberry artificial port, whose parts were brought from England by sea. As Albert Speer would later admit, this ingenious device alone rendered the Atlantic Wall irrelevant.

Dugway, or the architect as expert in destruction

In 1943 strange buildings were constructed on the firing range of Dugway, Utah. Lined up side by side, the “German” and “Japanese” villages had only one purpose: to be consumed by fire. They were meant to serve for combustion experiments with bombs filled with naphthalene combined with palmitate, or napalm, that Louis Fieser, a Harvard University and Standard Oil Company chemist had recently invented. Architectural experts were called in to make the experiment realistic. The “German” village was designed by Erich Mendelsohn, the leading figure of the Berlin architects, who studied its exterior volumes and roofing materials, by Konrad Wachsmann, who selected the adequate types of wood, and by the decorator Hans Knoll, who subsequently founded the furniture company of the same name, and by German members of Hollywood’s RKO Pictures Authenticity Division, who selected the furnishings.

Antonin Raymond, who had spent twenty years in Japan, designed the prefabricated wood structure of the “Japanese” village, and furnished it with the relevant domestic equipment and corresponding bedding. In this way, architecture served the destructive purposes of aviators.

Camouflage, or designing invisibility

In 1942 Salvador Dalí, who was in New York at the time, wrote about camouflage: “‘War of Production’ sounds the note of reality for today, and tomorrow. But in our world, magic still has a role to play.”7  This magic, which hid armed forces, factories, and even cities from the eyes of enemy aviators, called on the visual skills of architects and landscape architects, in contrast to the first experiments made between 1914 and 1918, which had been conducted by painters.

Each warring nation set up a camouflage service, which sometimes led to extremely sophisticated research into how landscapes were perceived during the day and at night, and on the effects of sunlight or cloudy skies because of the potentially crucial role of shadows. A truly scientific approach to architecture was emerging, which involved rigorous testing protocols in the field. Part of larger experimental strategies that employed visual, auditory, and even electronic decoys and illusions, their purpose was to keep the enemy ignorant of the true intentions of their inventors. These occurred at every scale, from the concealment of a single gun battery, command post, or bunker, to the apparent displacement of an entire city. The well-known project for a “false Paris”, conceived in 1918 to confuse the German zeppelins, inspired spectacular ventures, such as the apparent creation of a false Kremlin in Moscow, located at a fair distance from the real one. The most talked about example at the time was Hamburg, where a large-scale operation was undertaken in 1941 to visually “relocate” a central part of the city. A section of the Binnenalster, a lake extending to the northwest of the center, was covered with almost 4 hectares of false urban blocks built from floating construction elements, in order to displace visually this expanse of water and to protect an important railway station.

The interaction between the project and its effects would become an essential part of architectural practice in the postwar period, as Hugh Casson predicted. A young British architect Hugh Casson assigned to a camouflage unit of the Royal Air Force based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, he developed schemes for the “planned cultivation” of the land in order to obscure the orthogonal shapes of hangars with vegetation. As opposed to Dalí, in 1944 Casson claimed that “To see a camouflaged building looming through a grey November morning or aflame in the angry light of a June sunset, is to receive a tremendous visual thrill from the flow and flicker of its fantastic patterns and strange colours.”8

Above all, Casson was aware of the paradox of seeing modern architects working to create illusions: “Between the wars … ornament disappeared, form was meticulously, almost anatomically expressed, materials were left unassisted to explain themselves. Buildings, crisp, gleaming, shapely, were designed and placed to contrast rather than merge with their surroundings. War, with its shortages, utility products and general austerity aggravated this rigorous approach. Yet here, in the midst of war, is two-dimensional ornament of the most sensational and boisterous kind, applied not to emphasise structure, but to destroy it. Solid is suggested where there is void, recession hinted at where there is projection. Beneath the rhythm of pattern, form seems to melt away. Here is strangeness indeed.”9

Air raid protection

Although felt on a relatively moderate scale during the First World War, the threat of air strikes took on new dimensions during the 1930s, with the Japanese raids in China and Nazi bombings in Spain, before the assault on Warsaw. It would not be long before modern architects became interested in this new set of architectural and urban issues. As early as 1930, Le Corbusier had raised the spectre of a future air war in order to justify the urban scheme of his “Radiant City”: On the higher levels “the inhabitants [take] refuge above the gas and behind the shielding’, since ‘the entire ground plane of the city is free (pilotis) [and] the winds easily disperse the gases’; and that underground ‘the production of pure air continues to work behind its shielding and to supply the inhabitants.“10 Le Corbusier would constantly refer to the analyses of Paul Vauthier in order to spread his own ideas.  

With war approaching, architects engaged in several types of prospective thinking. Some of them, like Ernö Goldfinger, made studies of camps for the evacuation of civilian populations. They evaluated the strength of existing buildings and their below-ground areas, in order to transform them into shelters, even going so far as to imagine the creation of artificial caves for larger crowds. In particular, they were asked to design structures whose primary purpose would be to shelter thousands of inhabitants.

In London, the issue of civilian protection against air raids became a highly charged political debate towards the end of the 1930s, discussed by politicians, architects, and intellectuals. The policies of the Conservative governments, supported by Winston Churchill up to the end, focused on individual shelters in gardens, leaving workers living in denser blocks without protection. Drawing on the lessons of civil defence in Barcelona, and based on research trips undertaken during the Spanish Civil War,  architects on the left called for the creation of public shelters instead.

With the support of highly respected scientists – such as the physicists C. P. Snow and John Desmond Bernal, the biologist Julian Huxley, and the geneticist J. B. S. Haldane – the architects of the Tecton group, led by Berthold Lubetkin and the engineer Ove Arup, proposed underground shelters for the London borough of Finsbury that could accommodate as many as 7,600 city residents on their spiral ramps. The project would be blocked by the Conservatives, who preferred to distribute the individual Anderson shelter, in metal sheeting, and the Morrison shelter, for use inside the house.

Architectures of occupation

The Nazi occupation of Europe, which reached its high point before the Red Army’s victory at Stalingrad in 1943, included a conscious policy of urban planning and architecture. If the Nazis were content to incorporate local administrations in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands into their own framework, they carried out veritable policies of colonial subjugation in the regions that they intended to Germanize.

Between January 1940 and May 1942, architects, urban planners, and landscape architects contributed to the development of the “Generalplan Ost,” which was to apply to 200,000 km2  of territory that had previously been Polish, Baltic, Ukrainian, Byelorussian, or Russian, and whose inhabitants were to be exterminated or “pushed back.” The lead figure in the conception of the plan was Konrad Meyer, a specialist in rural development who worked on behalf of Heinrich Himmler. His team included geographers such as Walter Christaller, architects such as Josef Umlauf, Erich Böckler, and Walter Bangart, and landscape architects such as Alwin Seifert. Warsaw was to be demolished and reduced to a small town, while Kraków, which had to be racially “cleansed,” would be freed from all signs of Polish culture.

Along with this systematic and traumatic program, competitions were organized in the countries that had been de facto annexed to the Reich. It was in this context that the Luckhardt brothers, well-known modern architects from Berlin, submitted designs for a monumental university housing estate in the Slovak city of Bratislava. This was one of the most ambitious proposals, both in its scale and its prominent location in the city, of all the projects in Europe undertaken under Nazi authority.

Imagining the postwar world

Few moments in history have been as eagerly awaited as the end of the Second World War. Aside from the liberation so hoped for by those the Axis armies had enslaved – which would unfortunately turn out to be only a short reprieve for the inhabitants of territories conquered by the USSR – expectations for a more just and democratic society were shared by millions of civilians and demobilized soldiers.

The postwar period opened with projects for social reform aimed at defining the features of a welfare state that would last several decades. The Labour government in Britain and the new regime in France that emerged out of the Resistance within and outside the country created a powerful public sector and reformed education as well as social security. In the United States, the GI Bill of Rights, signed by Roosevelt in 1944, enabled millions of veterans to attend university and to buy their own homes. In Germany and Italy, an in-depth process of democratization swept away the oppressive structures of Nazism and Fascism, although the beginnings of the cold war limited political change in Japan.

But the world imagined for the postwar period also took on an architectural profile. Projects were soon developed for the devastated cities. These plans not only addressed the demands of reconstruction, but also allowed a complete rebuilding that the clean slate of destruction sometimes makes possible.

The British plans for Coventry, Plymouth, and London went ahead immediately. On the other hand, plans for the reconstruction of Rotterdam developed under the supervision of the occupying forces, and plans for French cities drawn up under the Vichy regime would be revised after 1945. The prospective energy of urban planners and architects was also expressed in extreme conditions: in occupied Warsaw, Helena Syrkus directed a clandestine workshop that prepared plans for reconstruction, while Franco Albini, Pietro Bottoni, and a group of Milanese architects worked in secret in 1944 on the “AR” (Architetti Riuniti) plan for Lombardy’s capital.

From war to peace

With the surrender of Japan on 2 September 1945, the deadliest conflict in human history came to an end. The war left behind millions of dead, countless traumatized survivors, and thousand of cities in ruins, but it also fundamentally transformed human practices, from science and technology to culture.

Architecture was no exception to the transformations that affected all societies. In six years, the scale of projects changed and new materials appeared, accompanied by ideas for the industrial production of housing and public buildings, which had been imagined before 1939 but were now tangible possibilities. Questions previously shrugged off by modern architects, such as issues of monumentality, became unavoidable parts of the debate owing to the necessity of commemorating the war’s sacrifices and victories.

There was also a cultural transformation for all those who had become acquainted with the new technologies: soldiers back in civilian life after using airplanes, Jeeps, and walkie-talkies, women who returned to the household after working in industrial production. They no longer had the same expectations and were ready to accept modern materials and modern architectural solutions to housing issues.

Aside from the plans for reconstruction, which occupied European architects as early as 1941, and their implementation, which would extend to the mid 1950s, studies of housing would rely on the results of research conducted during the war. The British crystallographer John Desmond Bernal referred in 1946 to “science in architecture,” claiming, “When the rate of change in society goes beyond a certain amount, it cannot be left to the individual genius of the architect, though he may be himself a scientist; you have to bring in the scientist, because he is the person who weighs up and assesses the result of any change.”11 This promised a new and more objective form of practice. For their part, architects who had participated in the criminal projects of the Nazis calmly pursued their careers in the service of West German reconstruction.  

Recycling war technologies

In September 1946, the exhibition Britain Can Make It opened its doors in London at the Victoria & Albert Museum, with a message of optimism. Initially called “Swords into Ploughshares; British Goods for the New Age,” it presented more than 5,000 objects to the public, ranging from furniture to textiles, from sports equipment to perfumery, from toys to books. The section titled “War to Peace” formed the prologue, but also acted as a thematic centre. The staging of the event, by the designer and graphic artist James Gardner, a former camouflage officer, played on the metaphor of a blackout being dispersed by the benevolent light of peace.

The exhibition opened with objects floodlit in a way that evoked anti-aircraft searchlights, all developed from the technologies of the aeronautic or armament industries. An air-filled fake cannon lured viewers to inflatable rubber seating. Airplane canopies or plastic grenades led to dishes, lamps, and radio sets made of the same material. This figure of transformation was reprised, for instance, in a publication related to the show, titled “Spitfires to Saucepans.”

Considering his own wartime experience, Richard Neutra wrote from Los Angeles: “New industrial plants and implementation, new useful methods of production and products, improvised substitutes as ancestors of valuable new materials, above all new skills and attitudes have been the best residuum of wars.”12

This statement gives a good account of the many efforts made by American industries after 1942 to open up markets of mass consumption to the materials and products developed for aviation or the navy. Nosepieces for gliders, fuselage parts, and the splints developed by Charles and Ray Eames out of moulded and laminated plywood led to new types of furniture. More broadly, the emerging world of plastics, which had replaced metal parts during the war, became available for everyday use.

Architecture of memory

From the outset of the war, architects had been called upon to contribute to the commemoration of victories. The design of memorials would be an important aspect of professional activity for those who had not been mobilized or integrated into the large offices of industry and the armed forces. Following the battle of Moscow, the first major blow to the Wehrmacht on the Soviet front, the architect Alexei Shchusev built a “War Trophy Hangar” in the capital city’s Gorky Park, with displays of material captured by the Red Army.

In Japan, monumental projects were more removed from the concrete stakes of the war. An architectural competition was held in 1942 at the foot of Mount Fuji for a memorial to be built devoted to the Daitoa, or “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” a euphemism by which the Japanese referred to their expansionist empire. The winner was Kenzo Tange, whose project combined traditional temple forms with a portico whose plan hearkened back to Michelangelo’s designs for the Capitoline Hill. Kunio Maekawa proposed a complex of skyscrapers that, according to him, “in an emergency … could be used for anti-aircraft defence.”13

Modern architects and the critics who supported them had been hostile to the very idea of monuments, but they revised their position. In their “Nine Points on Monumentality” written in New York in 1943, Sigfried Giedion, Fernand Léger, and Josep Lluís Sert imagined new types of memorials. While the megalomaniacal monuments imagined at the same time by the Germans and Russians still relied on a classical understanding of that collaboration, a series of subsequent exchanges between architects and artists made it possible for the symbolic dimension to return to the modernist discourse.