Building Modernities
+ Pre-Launch of the ARCH+ 243

16 April 2021

Introduction and presentation of ARCH+ 243 Anh-Linh Ngo

“Architecture and urban planning have always been instrumental in constructing identities. Not only does this apply to the reconstruction of historical buildings and complexes that we are currently witnessing as a manifestation of metapolitical right-wing backlash in Europe, but also to the modernist movement as a whole. The imagination of an idealized past, as well as that of a better future, are per se political. The encounters with Southeast Asian modernisms – understood as an expression of the struggle by the societies in this region for a postcolonial future – remind us of this ideological implication of architecture. Furthermore, these encounters prove once again that modernist architecture was not an exclusively western development, but polyphonic and multilayered, and globally integrated. This insight also highlights the task we still face balancing the tension between universalist aspirations and specific societal contexts. Only then can we call modernity our home.”
Anh-Linh Ngo,

Anh-Linh Ngo
architect, author and ARCH+ editor-in-chief, Berlin, Germany

Anh-Linh Ngo is an architect, author and ARCH+ editor-in-chief and co-publisher. He cofounded the international initiative project bauhaus, which critically examined the ideas of the Bauhaus through symposiums, workshops, pop-up exhibitions, and performances (2015–19). He served as a member of the Art Advisory Board of ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) (2010–16), and co-curated the touring exhibition Post-Oil City (2009). In 2018, he co-initiated and co-curated the ifa exhibition An Atlas of Commoning, which is now touring worldwide. He is a member of the curatorial board for IBA 2027 Stadtregion Stuttgart and co-initiated the project Cohabitation.

Anticolonial Solidarity and Decolonial Planning in Vietnam Christina Schwenkel

Place annihilation in northern Vietnam offered new international opportunities for experimental planning to recover and rebuild cities. This talk considers the models of modernist planning that were applied to achieve decolonization, that is, to undo the history of colonial dispossession and imperial destruction. Anticolonial solidarities with allied socialist countries, especially with East Germany, offered persuasive visions of socialist prosperity and urban futurity. And yet these models often proved unattainable or incompatible with local dwelling practices. Moreover, addressing inequality often produced new forms of inequalities and power asymmetries that underpinned these collaborations.

Christina Schwenkel
Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Riverside, USA

Christina Schwenkel is professor of cultural anthropology at the University of California at Riverside and co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Vietnamese Studies. Over the past two decades, she has conducted ethnographic research in Vietnam on postcolonial debates over Vietnamese architecture, the materiality of postwar memory, and monumental built forms. She is the author of The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation (Indiana University Press, 2009), and, most recently, Building Socialism: The Afterlife of East German Architecture in Urban Vietnam (Duke University Press, 2020). She was a recipient of the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in 2015.

Julius Posener and Lim Chong Keat: “The Malayan Architect on Trial” Eduard Kögel

In July 1960, the architect and writer Julius Posener wrote an article in the British Architectural Review on architecture in the Federation of Malaya, which had become an independent sovereign country in 1957. In his article, Posener included images of projects by British architects in Malaysia that he considered successful. But he did not show images of projects by Malay and Chinese architects, whom he criticized. The architect Lim Chong Keat, who had just returned from his training abroad, was critical of Posener’s article. Replying to it in a local magazine, he pointed out the working conditions faced by Malay architects and their “guided education” under the colonial rule of Great Britain.
Eduard Kögel introduces the background and this “dialogue” between the two architects, which can be seen as emblematic of the attempt by planners in Southeast Asia to regain control over the narrative of their own country’s history.

Eduard Kögel
Curator, architectural scholar, lecturer, Berlin, Germany

Eduard Kögel studied urban and landscape planning at University of Kassel (GhK) and received his doctorate from Bauhaus University in Weimar. He has written widely on the history of architecture; his books include The Chinese City (2000) and The Grand Documentation: Ernst Boerschmann and Chinese Religious Architecture (2015), and EXH Design: Swiss quality – Chinese Speed (2017). Eduard Kögel is also a research consultant and programme curator for ANCB The Aedes Metropolitan Laboratory Berlin, and curated several exhibitions on contemporary Chinese architecture at Aedes Architecture Forum in Berlin. Since 2006, he has curated the website He teaches regularly at Technical University Berlin and Bauhaus University Weimar and is a member of the board of stadtkultur international eV.

An Emergent Asian Modernism Wee H. Koon

In the 1960s-80s, there were critical intellectual projects summoned through the formations of think tanks such as the Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group (SPUR) and the Asian Planning and Architectural Collaborative (APAC). The dissemination of the research and professional work of intelligentsia from the private sector was advocated by technical aid teams sent by the United Nations to post-war Asia, in an effort to encourage industrialization and the adoption of the modern economy and the modern city in the developing world. This transmission of technical aid not only served as a form of soft political power in the global transmission of modernism, it would also keep the business of city-making within the market economy, reducing national control by the planning instruments of the state, and keeping socialism and communism at bay. But more importantly, the professional and cultural exchanges among members of such think tanks would generate powerful ideas and urban forms that would shape the discourse in Asia.

Wee H. Koon
Architect, researcher, educator, Hong Kong, PR China

Koon Wee’s research focuses on the sociopolitical and urban effects of industrialization and modernization in Asian cities in the 20th century, and the transnational formation of Asian modernism in architecture and urbanism. This knowledge connects with the experimental architectural practice SKEW Collaborative, with whom Koon had received a number of international architecture awards and accolades for the design of industrial buildings and campuses, such as Blueprint, Green Dot, LEAF, and the Chicago Athenaeum Awards. His recently authored and edited books include “Singapore Dreaming: Managing Utopia,” and “The Social Imperative in China: Architecture & the City.” Koon is the founding director of the HKU Cities in Asia Summer Program, and Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture. He teaches core classes in urban history, globalization, politics of memory and identity, and architectural design.

On transdisciplinary networks farid rakun

Against the backdrop of the previous contributions farid rakun and Anh-Linh Ngo discuss transdisciplinary and transnational networks and knowledge exchange between art and architecture.

farid rakun
Artist, writer, instigator, ruangrupa/Gudskul, Jakarta, Indonesia

farid rakun is an artist, writer and instigator. He trained as an architect (B.Arch) at the University of Indonesia (UI) in Jakarta and at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan (M.Arch), and is a visiting lecturer at UI’s Department of Architecture.

He is part of the artists’ collective ruangrupa, with whom he co-curated transACTION: Sonsbeek 2016 in Arnhem, NL. As a nonprofit organization, ruangrupa is active in promoting the advancement of art ideas in the urban context and the broad scope of culture through exhibitions, festivals, art laboratories, workshops, research, and by publishing books, magazines and online journals. ruangrupa holds the collective Artistic Direction for the upcoming documenta 15 (Kassel, 2022).

As an instigator, farid rakun has permeated various global institutions such as Centre Pompidou, La Biennale di Venezia, MMCA Seoul, Sharjah Biennial, Bienal de Sao Paulo, Harun Farocki Institut, Dutch Art Institute (DAI), Creative Time, Haute école d’art et de design (HEAD) Genève, and basis voor actuele kunst (BAK). He has worked for the Jakarta Biennale in different capacities since 2013 and currently serves as its interim director.

Q & A

Online Symposium
Friday, 16 April 2021, 2 – 5 pm CEST (CET+1 / UCT+2)

Upon gaining independence in the mid-20th century, many cities in Southeast Asia also changed dramatically in terms of their physical appearance as well. The task of becoming an independent nation was accompanied by the desire for a symbolic new beginning in architecture and urban planning. International modernism not only offered an aesthetic programme that reflected expectations of progress and prosperity, but also served as a means of emancipation from the colonial powers.

While planners of the former colonial powers continued to work in these countries even after they became independent, young local architects, some of whom had trained in Europe, the United States, or the Soviet Union, began searching for an architectural style that, informed by their local climate and culture, would catalyse a new sense of identity. Some of these architects created informal networks that transcended national borders, and together looked for ideas to shape the city in the tropics. Furthermore, as part of the political reorientation process taking place in these young nations, new, transnational alliances emerged, and with them, new paths of knowledge and architecture transfer.

How did these international networks work? Who initiated them? Did conflicts arise during their collaboration, and if so, how were they handled? What were the geopolitical ambitions that motivated this engagement?

The symposium is over. You can view the documentation here.