Context 162 - November 2019

C O N T E X T 1 6 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 9 15 New towns ANDREW McCLELLAND Socialist realism in a post-war Czechoslovak new town The design of Nová Dubnica was overseen by Jiří Kroha, who emerged as a leading advocate for socialist architecture and was recognised as the only living ‘national artist’ by the state in 1948. Western European perceptions of post-second- world-war architecture in Czechoslovakia, and other central and eastern European countries under Communist control in this era, invariably invoke imagery of prefabricated concrete panel apartment blocks (or paneláks, as they are col- loquially known). Although such structures still dominate urban landscapes outside of historical town centres, for a brief period after the war a contrasting socialist realist, rather than function- alist, style predominated in new developments, until it fell out of political favour in the mid- 1950s. In essence, socialist realism sought to harness neoclassical and vernacular architectural forms to represent a ‘socially optimistic’ future, a philosophy translated in nuanced ways from its Soviet origins into different national contexts. The design of the post-war Czechoslovak new town of Nová Dubnica was overseen by the architect Jiří Kroha, a primary exponent of socialist realism in that country. 1 Kroha’s career successively embraced cubism, expressionism and then modernism, before his emergence as a leading advocate for ‘socialist’ architecture in the mid-1940s. Although Nová Dubnica was his first new town commission, he was well positioned to oversee the project, having been active in the Communist Party between the wars, and close to several government ministers. Indeed, his standing was such that he was recognised as the only living ‘national artist’ by the state in 1948. War damage in Czechoslovakia was less severe than in neighbouring countries like Poland, with no cities devastated in the manner of Warsaw and Gdańsk. However, acute short- ages, coupled with the expansion of nationalised industries, generated significant demand for housing in several regions. Agricultural land was therefore set aside between Trenčianske Teplá and Dubnica nad Váhom, in present- day north-western Slovakia, to build the ‘new socialist town’ of Nová Dubnica. The initial target population of 15–20,000 rose within early iterations of the master plan to accommodate some 25,000 inhabitants. Much of the proposed housing was intended for an influx of workers and their families, attracted by the construction of a new locomotive plant nearby. Nová Dubnicare presented an opportunity for Kroha to translate his ideas practically on a larger scale than previously afforded. He also worked in parallel on the second phase of the Ostrava Model Housing Development. The project was initially developed under the auspices of the Czechoslovak Building Works, the state organisation responsible for centralis- ing the country’s construction and architectural industry from 1948. The town was conceived A view of the main shopping arcade and one of the six- storey ‘T20 blocks’ with tower/spire combination References 1 Monika Platzer and Klaus Spechtenhauser (eds) (1998), Jiří Kroha: Kubist, Expressionist, Funktionalist, Realist , Architektur Zentrum Wien and Sonderzahl Verlagsges, Vienna