(Urban) Landscape: Session at the European Association for Urban History Conference: Cities in Motion 2020

This session aims to explore the specific leisure spaces of urbanized socialist 'summerfolk' -  summer cottage and collective gardening cooperatives – that were extensively built around Eastern European cities from the 1960s onwards. The focus will be on the comparative view of different typologies of settlements and buildings and their specific conditions of production.Session content: Along with the rapid urbanization and the introduction of the five-day workweek, leisure became a vastly discussed theme in socialist countries in the 1960s. The ways of spending free time, its social and spatial factors became a topical research issue that involved listing different categories for leisure activities and detailed typologies of leisure spaces. The postwar decades witnessed a massive spread of second home as a leisure destination as thousands of small summerhouses dotted the areas close to bigger eastern European cities.

The socialist summerhouse (or the Russian dacha, Czech chata, Yugoslavian vikendica, German datsche etc.), or a lot in a cooperatively owned allotment garden has been studied in more detail within cultural history as a practice that reflects the changing relationship between the state and the individual under late-Socialism. It has often been considered as a site for informal relationships (economic, intellectual etc.) defined by the routines and values of its inhabitants. Yet, the architectural story of this ambivalent phenomenon – located in-between emerging consumer culture and self-provisioning economic system – is largely unwritten.

Accordingly, this session seeks papers that address the architectural rather than the cultural within this specific urbanized leisure practice. By this we do not suggest to focus on the formal/stylistic aspects of the summerhouse or to dissolve its cultural complexity by detaching the designed and the built from the context that makes it meaningful as a social practice. Instead, we would like to shift the focus from the (state-mediated) user-experience to the conditions of production and observe the appropriations of the rhetoric of collective leisure on the authoritative level that legitimized forms of urban middle-class vacation practices at times appearing quite similar to its counterparts in Western welfare societies.

We are interested in different typologies of personal summer cottages in state-socialist European countries and their specific political and economic contexts: the legal framework and patterns of ownership and land-use (private to cooperative ownership, subsistence farming to abandoning gardening for other forms of leisure), planning practices, architectural competitions, the applications of standard and individual designs and construction schemes, and various “product marketing” strategies like published catalogues, brochures and different instructive literature for constructing a (pre-fab) personal summerhouse. Also, tracking the reasons of the proliferation of certain types or aesthetic, like influences of the postwar American A-frame cabin, or the modernist Scandinavian summer cottages would make an exciting contribution to the theme. We invite specific case studies as well as comparative papers, or more general accounts that observe specific activities and developments, trajectories and exchange of ideas across countries.

  • Spokesperson: Epp Lankots, Estonian Academy of Arts
  • Co-organizer(s): Marija Dremaite, Vilnius University
  • Keywords: Gardening cooperatives, summerhouses | State-socialist Europe | Post-war architecture
  • Time period: Modern period
  • Topic(s): Architecture and urbanism | Cultural
  • Study area: Europe