Brokers of Modernity

East Central Europe and the Rise of Modernist Architects, 1910-1950

Martin Kohlrausch

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The story of modernist architects in East Central Europe

The first half of the twentieth century witnessed the rise of modernist architects. Brokers of Modernity reveals how East Central Europe turned into one of the pre-eminent testing grounds of the new belief system of modernism. By combining the internationalism of the CIAM organization and the modernising aspirations of the new states built after 1918, the reach of modernist architects extended far beyond their established fields. Yet, these architects paid a price when Europe’s age of extremes intensified.  Mainly drawing on Polish, but also wider Central and Eastern European cases, this book delivers a pioneering study of the dynamics of modernist architects as a group, including how they became qualified, how they organized, communicated and attempted to live the modernist lifestyle themselves. In doing so, Brokers of Modernity raises questions concerning collective work in general and also invites us to examine the social role of architects today.

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Note on Translation

Introduction Brokers of Modernity 
Why Modernist Architects? 
Modernist Architects and Modernity 
Thematic and Temporal Structures 

1. Modernity in Eastern Europe – East European Modernism? 
The European East – Sketches of a Projection screen 
East Central Europe – A Space of Crisis? 
The Post-Monarchic State and the Legacy of the War 
Eastern Modernity 

2. Architects as Experts of the Social: A new Type entering the European Scene 
New Tasks for Architects 
Architects and the Rise of the Modern Expert 
Training Modern Architects 
The Rise of Scientific Urbanism and the Self-Empowerment of Architects 
The Lure of the Machine 
Themes of Change – Architecture as Technology: Rationalization, Planning, and Technocracy 89

3. Organising New Architectural Goals 
Organising Architects in a New State 
Architecture in a New Key – the CIAM 
Self-empowerment – the CIAM and its Polish Group 
CIAM-Universalism or Eastern Fast-track? The CIAM-Ost 
Realizers – the WSM as Interface 

4. Communicating Social Change through Architecture 
The Spatial Structure of the New Discourse on Architecture 
The Abstract Heritage of the First World War and the Logic of the Media 
Architectural Journals and Books as Architectural Programme 
Travelling, Gathering, Thinking Alike: Architects as Modern Men 
Communicating Problems and Solutions via Language and Exhibitions 

Gallery with Plates 

5. Materialising the International Agenda: Warszawa Funkcjonalna 
The CIAM IV Moment – Politics Coming in 
Realising the Novel: The Functionalist Laboratory of Zlín 
The Idea of the Functional City 
Warszawa Funkcjonalna 

6. Under Pressure: Modernist Architects and the Rise of Political Extremes 
Questioned Loyalties and Strained International Exchange 
Continuity and Rupture – the Onslaught on Warsaw 
Personal Toll and Collaboration 
Windows of Opportunity: Warsaw as a Post-catastrophic City 
Old Bonds and new Attention: Warsaw as a Realized Utopia? 2

Illustration Credits 

Format: Monograph - free ebook - PDF

400 pages

16 colour illustrations

ISBN: 9789461662545

Publication: March 11, 2019

Languages: English


Martin Kohlrausch is professor of European Political History and head of the research unit Modernity and Society at the KU Leuven.
Martin Kohlrausch manages sensibly more than to rewrite the history of Eastern Modernism into the frame of the wider history of modernism. It is his bias and his attachment to the personal narrative of the Syrkus couple, the anecdotes and intimate correspondence between the members of the CIAM, along with the numerous references to cinematography and the literature of the region that turn Brokers of Modernity from an immense research work into a history of Modernism rewritten from an Eastern perspective, proving that not all that is solid melts into air.
Ilinca Pop, studies in History and Theory of Architecture, no. 7 (2019): 251-254.

Martin Kohlrauschs Buch über die „Makler der Moderne“ ist ein wesentlicher Beitrag zur Architekturgeschichte der Zwischenkriegszeit, weil es den weithin unterschätzten Anteil von Architektinnen und Architekten aus dem östlichen Europa an der Verflechtungsgeschichte der Moderne ins Licht rückt. [..] Mit seinem Buch hat K. den hinter dem Eisernen Vorhang „verschwundenen“ östlichen Teil des CIAM-Netzwerks freigelegt. Die Materialfülle und die breite Quellenbasis macht die Lektüre außerordentlich gewinnbringend.
Beate Störtkuhl, ZfO JECES 70 | 2021 | 3

Martin Kohlrausch’s Brokers of Modernity puts forth a solid revision of this narrative and succeeds in shifting it significantly eastward. By inserting the manifold contributions by architects from East Central Europe into the larger history of European modernism, he provides an overdue account of what had been shattered when the trans-European professional networks dissolved in the wake of the Second World War. [...] Kohlrausch presents an immensely informed study, which is based on his research of the past decade. [...] Applying the more recent concept of a ‘multi-speed Europe’ to his period of analysis, the historian masterfully balances institutional history, a history of networks, and a history of modern architecture embedded in its social-historical context.
Sarah M. Schlachetzki, H-Soz-Kult

The book offers a fascinating analysis of the convoluted dynamics of the rise and fall of modernism in the “East”. […] the book is an important and very timely contribution to the history of architecture in Central Europe, and especially Poland, in the first half of the twentieth century. It reveals the transformation of architects from professionals into crucial political actors, whose expertise becomes political capital.
Emanuela Grama, Ab Imperio, 1/2021

In this original study of modernism in interwar east central Europe, Martin Kohlrausch sets an ambitious agenda to study modernist architects as a group of experts. Noting that architects are typically studied individually or in small groups, he brings a fresh perspective to the topic by stepping away from the traditional concerns of architectural history such as style and focuses instead on group formation and the emergence of a shared professional discourse. […] The analysis of CIAM as a group shows how the presence of these architects, especially those from Poland, contributed to and shaped the discourse of CIAM and architectural modernism in ways that an analysis of individual contributions could never uncover.
Zarecor K., Slavic Review, 79(4), 859-860. doi: 10.1017/slr.2020.223


In his truly interdisciplinary book 'Brokers of Modernity', Martin Kohlrausch seeks to rectify this geographical asymmetry in architectural scholarship by placing the new, or significantly reshaped, post-1918 nation-states of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary at the heart of his narrative. Kohlrausch has a larger goal, however: to investigate modernist architecture’s group formation. [….] The book’s final chapter follows the struggles and ultimate fates of Polish, Czechoslovak, and Hungarian architects through World War II and stands out as an example of extraordinary historical scholarship.
Christina E. Crawford, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 79.3, September 2020,

Little-known centers of modernity have long coalesced around Eastern Europe. Over the past three decades, their stories have begun to be rediscovered.
“Due to more than 40 years of the Cold War, it has largely been forgotten—or never fully realized—how formative the eastern perspective has been for the arts and for architecture in the first half of the 20th century, ” historian Martin Kohlrausch observes in his book, Brokers of Modernity.
vc_on, Maria Wiesner, September 4, 2020


Far too little has been published about Polish modernism or urbanism outside the country; Kohlrausch is absolutely right to try to mend the imbalance. What he has produced is a useful look at Polish modernism and urbanism set into its regional context that will, one hopes, begin to shift our shared view a little further to the east.
Christopher Long, Urban History Volume 47, Special Issue 3, August 2020


Martin Kohlrauschs Studie über die ostmitteleuropäischen Architekten und Architektinnen der Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) als Avantgarde sozialer Architektur schließt eine Forschungslücke. Als Historiker betrachtet Kohlrausch vierzig Jahre Professionsgeschichte und ihre historischen Bedingungen in deduktiver Perspektivierung und formt die Untersuchung der Akteure, ihrer Ausbildung, Institutionen und Werte zu einem Spiegel des Nation-building vor allem in Polen. […] Architekten und Architektinnen als Broker zu betrachten heißt, sie innerhalb ihrer Netzwerke als zentrale Akteure zu erforschen.
Regine Heß, sehepunkte, Ausgabe 20 (2020), Nr. 7/8


Martin Kohlrausch setzt in seinen empirischen Kapiteln sein Exposé sehr gekonnt um: Er charakterisiert zunächst den neuen Typ des Architekten als sich selbst so verstehenden, teilweise als solchen anerkannten sozialpolitischen Experten. […] Die Arbeit rückt demnach nicht nur die Gewichte in der Wahrnehmung dessen, was Architekturmoderne überhaupt ist, zurecht, sondern weist die beträchtliche diskursive Kraft von Modernisierungsbewegungen in Zentraleuropa nach. Dass die polnischen Architekten durch den nationalsozialistischen Krieg zu einem Drittel den Tod erlitten, gehört ebenso zum Gesamtbild wie der von Kohlrausch souverän erbrachte Nachweis, wie viele konstruktive Impulse aus dem untersuchten Raum auf die Entstehung der Disziplin Städtebau ausgingen.
Clemens Zimmermann, Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, 27.4.2020

'...insightful sociopolitical study of a generation of modernist architects in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary who came of age during the Interwar Years. [...] Kohlrausch’s thoughtful account makes a significant addition to a full understanding of urbanism. Brokers of Modernity gives new life to previously neglected but no less important contributors to the transnational flows that make cities global.'
Harold L. Platt, Journal of Urban History, October 2019