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The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) presents 'Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War' Print E-mail
Friday, 15 April 2011 08:20

OL_301_002_cropA team of camouflage artists at work at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, illustration in Robert P. Breckenridge, Modern Camouflage: The New Science of Protective Concealment, 1942.
McGill University Library, Montreal.

An interesting exhibition is currently happening at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montreal. Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War documents the extensive contribution of architecture to the war between the bombings of Guernica in 1937 and Hiroshima in 1945, and considers how this questioned architectural methods and construction technologies, and lead to the supremacy of modernism. The armies of World War Two represented only the tips of colliding icebergs, the belligerent nations which had mobilized and transformed themselves for a global “war of production” of unprecedented scale.

Dates: 13 April to 18 September 2011

Visiting the exhibition, we were quite impressed with the aproach curator Jean-Louis Cohen who brought cohesiveness to an event covering a multitude of topics that don't necessarily relate to each other, but unifying them under the contextual theme of World War 2.

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The well-publicized devastation of Guernica was an attack that announced the new scale of mechanized war and ended the distinction between front and rear as zones of violence and calm. Architects like Alvar Aalto, Normal Bel Geddes, Charles and Ray Eames, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Albert Kahn, Le Corbusier, Erich Mendelson, Richard Neutra, Albert Speer, and Bruno Zevi among others would be involved in the war at home and on the front lines.
HB_06539_CArsenal de chars de Chrysler, Warren Township, Michigan, par Albert Kahn Associates, 1941. Photographie de Hedrich-Blessing.
© Chicago History Museum, HB-06539-C
The intensity of wartime economic development and speed of technical change had profound implications, and issues like food and material rationing, mass civilian mobilization, and concern with energy consumption emerges as entire nations underwent rapid industrial and economic reorganization. Architects continued to work within the new context of total war, but were also implicated in new ways, as designers and artists producing propaganda and applying military technology and approaches to new fields.

An unprecedented construction boom created new industrial landscapes as thousands of factories and accompanying worker housing were built with new techniques and materials that were still consistent with contemporary thought, such as Richard Neutra’s Channel Heights scheme for the US Navy shipyards in San Pedro, California.

Architects also investigated modular construction and prefabrication in attempts to resolve the problem of large-scale movement during wartime. These methods influenced projects such as Fuller’s Dymaxion Deployment Unit and Le Corbusier’s “flying schools” and produced the ubiquitous US Army Quonset hut, manufactured more than 170,000 times.

OL929-1Mandatory credit line: Myron Goldsmith, Quonset Huts, exterior and interior sketches, ca.
1942-45. CCA Collection, Myron Goldsmith fonds.

Housing and production buildings were developed alongside fortifications for the battlefields and for home, such as the German village constructed in Utah by Erich Mendelssohn, Konrad Wachsmann and Hans Knoll to test bomb effectiveness; other experiments were reproduced at different scales, such as designs for camouflage and air raid protection that involved landscape architects as well as Hollywood set designers.

Increased production meant that projects that previously might have been conceptual appeared suddenly necessary. The Pentagon was constructed in a matter of months in 1943 and contained offices for 32,000 employees; the largest building of the war, it was dwarfed by projects like the atomic facilities at Oak Ridge (75,000 workers) and enormous European concentration camps like Auschwitz.

Of similar scale were post-war reconstruction and memorialization projects that anticipated the end of the war and tried to incorporate the better parts of the wartime experience, its technologies and techniques.
PH2000_0393Ford Motor bomber factory, Willow Run, Michigan, by Albert Kahn Associates, view of the drafting room, 1942. Photograph by Hedrich-Blessing. CCA Collection PH2000:0393. Gift of Federico Bucci.
Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. Gift of Federico Bucci. © Chicago History Museum, HB-07074-G.

The exhibition will travel to the NAI, Rotterdam and the MAXXI, Rome, in 2012; its accompanying 450-page publication, a series of film screenings and talks entitled Wartime Cinema and presented in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada, as well as the upcoming exhibition The Good Cause: The Architecture of Peace, are part of a broader CCA project on the natural history of destruction.

Exhibition tours are held Wednesday to Sunday at 2 pm in English and 3:30 pm in French, starting Saturday 16 April, you can see get CCA's address on their web site

About the curator:


Jean-Louis Cohen

Architect and historian Jean-Louis Cohen was born in Paris in 1949. His research has focused on architecture and urban planning in twentieth-century France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States; patterns of internationalization and regional cultures; the modernization of urban form in Paris; and city planning in colonial Algeria and Morocco. Between 1998 and 2003, he led the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine project in Paris’ Palais de Chaillot, serving as director of the French Institute of Architecture (IFA) and the Museum of French Monuments.

Since 1994, he has held the Sheldon H. Solow Chair in the History of Architecture at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. He has curated numerous exhibitions for the Pompidou Centre, the Pavillon de l'Arsenal, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the French Institute of Architecture, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Jean-Louis Cohen has published numerous books, including Le Corbusier and the Mystique of the USSR (1992); Scenes of the World to Come (1995); Casablanca: Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures (1998, with Monique Eleb); and New York (2008).

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