contested modernities

Through an exhibition in Berlin, online events, and a publication, Contested Modernities brings current regional discourses on Southeast Asian modernism into an international dialogue in 2021.


Contested Modernities aims to contribute to (re)illuminating modernism in Southeast Asia and relating it to the architecture and planning of European cities and the urban challenges of the future. The project presents contributions from Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Singapore as well as Germany that critically engage with modernist buildings, open up new perspectives, and promote and develop positive examples of a contemporary approach to them.

Contested Modernities is based on a longstanding exchange between the Berlin curatorial team and academics, architects, artists and curators from Southeast Asia. Research, exhibitions and events in Phnom Penh, Jakarta, Yangon and Singapore in 2019 enabled an intensive examination of postcolonial modern architecture in the respective cities. The extensive findings from the joint work on Encounters with Southeast Asian Modernism and the knowledge developed in the transdisciplinary exchange form the starting point for the 2021 programme in Berlin and online.


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. Local modernities were created, based on an understanding of cultural specifics and the climatic requirements of building in tropical regions.

In Europe, this period of architectural modernism is largely unknown. In the region itself, however, intensive local discourses have been unfolding in recent years. On the one hand, they involve revising what until now has been a strongly western-centric notion of modernism. There is also the concrete question as to whether these buildings should be saved at all. Various initiatives, architects, and artists are engaged in re-evaluating the architectural heritage of an era of great importance for these countries – which is increasingly being lost in the Asian real estate boom. Last but not least, it is also about acknowledging a forward-looking (tropical) modernism, which inspires new approaches to urban design.

see the full programme here

Contested Modernities is funded by the German Capital Cultural Fund (HKF) and the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community.

Partners and supporters:

Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing Berlin, The Governing Mayor of Berlin Senate Chancellery, Goethe Institute Myanmar, Goethe Institute Singapore, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany Singapore, Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia Berlin, National University of Singapore, Department of Architecture, Embassy of the Republic of Singapore in Berlin, ARCH+ Zeitschrift für Architektur und Urbanismus, Haus der Statistik, stadtkultur international ev


Initiators and Artistic Directors
Sally Below, Moritz Henning, Christian Hiller, Eduard Kögel

Curators of the exhibition contributions

Folding Concrete 2.0
Pen Sereypagna, Vuth Lyno / Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Housing Modernities
Ho Puay-Peng with Nikhil Joshi, Johannes Widodo / Singapore

Occupying Modernism
Avianti Armand, Setiadi Sopandi, co-curator: Rifandi Septiawan Nugroho / Jakarta, Indonesia

Poelzig’s Legacy and the Prefab in the Tropics: German influences in Southeast Asia
Sally Below, Moritz Henning, Christian Hiller, Eduard Kögel / Berlin, Germany

Synthesis of Myanmar Modernity
Pwint (†), Win Thant Win Shwin / Yangon, Myanmar

Visualization of the national history: From, by, and for whom? (2)
Grace Samboh, Hyphen –, and GUDSKUL / Jakarta, Indonesia

Visual Identity and Exhibition Design
Constructlab – Peter Zuiderwijk, Alex Römer / Rotterdam/Berlin

Project Management and Communication
sbca – Sarah Reiche, Amelie Schulz, Hanna Köhler, Laura Hermlin-Leder, Vera Stötzer / Berlin

Alisa Kotmair, Claudia Kotte / Berlin
Nyein Chan May, Köln

Production supervision graphics
Heilmeyer und Sernau, Berlin

ARCH+ Contested Modernities
Idea, concept and co-editors: Sally Below, Moritz Henning, Christian Hiller (ARCH+), Eduard Kögel

Thanks to
Ute Meta Bauer, CCA Singapore / Ambassador H. E. Christian Berger, German Embassy Phnom Penh / Dr. Andreas Butter, Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space / Han-Song Hiltmann, Goethe Institute Singapore / Heinrich Hubbe, German Embassy Singapore / Leonard Krüger / Wint Tin Htut Latt / Nyein Chan May / Matthias Müller, German Embassy Jakarta / Aung Soe Myint / Anh-Linh Ngo, ARCH+ editor-in-chief / Chris Chan Nyein, film maker in Yangon / Manuel Oka / Dr. Ulrich A. Sante, former German Ambassador in Singapore / Ingo Schöningh, Goethe Institute Jakarta / Prof. Christina Schwenkel, University of California, Riverside, USA / Dr. Martin Wälde, Goethe Institute Myanmar