Changing Society through Technology

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The Hague under construction

Industrialized housing construction, that is, the use of prefabricated building modules, was more than a technological approach to building; rather, it was envisioned as the key to realizing a better world.

With remarkable advances in concrete technology, as well as the use of steel and glass, cheap, fast, and large-scale building seemed to be realistic in the 1920s. Backed by a belief in planning, industrialized building merged into the powerful idea of the functional city, especially after the Second World War.

Strikingly, the destruction wrought by the disastrous efficiency of new modes of aerial warfare brought about shared problems for large parts of Europe after 1945. Planners in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the newly emerging West Germany often regarded this destruction as something positive: there would be a chance to build more efficient and social cities.

The Western countries chose ostensibly modernist solutions, frequently employing the idea of the functional city, to rebuild their war-torn cities after 1945. The Lijnbaan in Rotterdam, for instance, was built only for shopping, a new idea at the time.

In Eastern Europe, Socialist Realism, a style and urban program much more devoted to traditional building styles, was often enforced by Stalin, and dominated the field until in the 1950s. Ironically, just as modernism began to lose popularity in the West, huge concrete and functionalist settlements started in the East. These were extreme versions of the functional city.

How to cite this page


Martin Kohlrausch, 'Changing Society through Technology', Inventing Europe,



Gold, J.R. (1997) The Experience of Modernism: modern architects and the future city, 1928‑53, London, E. & F.N. Spon/Routledge,

Mauro F. Guillén, The Taylorized Beauty of the Mechanical: Scientific Management and the Rise of Modernist Architecture, Princeton: PUP; 2009.

Miikael Hård / Thomas J. Misa (eds.): Urban Machinery. Inside Modern European Cities, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press 2008,

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Building a Better World

After the First World War, experts cooperated to build a better world. Within the international organization Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), architects aimed to improve society by creating efficient cities. While a common cause could dynamically unite a diverse array of experts, the organization’s goal of improving the world through technological progress for social ends would not withstand the test of reality.

What's like this?

'Het Nieuwe Bouwen', the Functional City in the Netherlands

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