In two publications about post-war reconstruction, How should we rebuild London? and Die Stalinallee Nationales Aufbauprogramme, the planning ferment in London and Berlin becomes a performance in itself, revealed through the choice of the media and subjects which they each adopt for illustration. For London the illustrations were graphic with drawings by 'Batt', Oswald Barrett, who used drawing as a freedom to dream sentimentally about the agency of the planner. For Berlin they were photographic: Gerhard Puhlmann was able to pose his photographs with all the authority of the DDR propaganda machine at his back. Both were of course handicapped by the absence of buildings that were substantial enough to be drawn and photographed.
How should we rebuild London? was written by C. B. Purdom in 1945 in the closing months of the war. To the author’s chagrin it was published after the County of London Plan, which it had sought to influence, had been completed. The text is an undigested mix of planning doctrine and 1930s xenophobia. The author lived all his adult life in Welwyn Garden City, which he helped to create and direct. In the book, he describes the villages of England as ‘neighbourhood-unit conceptions' and the people of Southwark, which he wanted to rebuild from the ground up, as 'real Londoners, with practically no Jews or foreign-born inhabitants'.
Die Stalinallee was published in 1952 but seems to have been reissued under an identical imprint in subsequent years with a new dust jacket and photographs of the buildings as they were topped out, as though the first Five Year Plan had been completed in less than eighteen months.
Each image here is its own careful construction, even as it is presented as enthusiastic argument or innocent reportage. In the illustrations of both books the architectural drawing, at once a stage prop and a leading actor, becomes the powerful stand-in for the yet-to-be-built; and, caught in the limelight, the drawing assumes multiple roles in the drama of reconstruction.
Sometimes it is the act of drawing which itself becomes the literal proxy for the dreams the drawings encapsulate. We are shown technical drawings that are active agents of discussion or execution as they are consulted by politicians, professionals and construction teams; or, as viewed instead by the public, symbols of consensus and inclusion in a destroyed world.
Within these pages the dreams come full circle. Politicians, planners, architects, engineers, construction workers, the homeless and the dispossessed, can march arm in arm down wide new streets that exist only on the sheets of paper they clutch.
The production of this short article involved too many thoughtful collaborators for them to be gratefully acknowledged individually. They know who they are. – Niall Hobhouse
C.B. Purdom, How should we rebuild London? (J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London, 1945)
Gerhard Puhlmann, Die Stalinallee Nationales Aufbauprogramme (Verlag Der Nation Berlin, 1952)