The Rise and Fall of Post-War Modernism – abridged

March 9th, 2011


Inter-war and post-war housing innovations and urban development plans in Sweden that would come to influence post-WWII rebuilding schemes throughout Europe.

The postwar period in Europe and Scandinavia is particularly interesting in reference to architecture and design. Within the last year of WWII, opposition forces went on a bombing spree, targeting the most cultural and cherished sites of the enemy countries. It seems no parties were innocent of the destructive bullying and only America was spared the damage purely and rationally because of the distance of separation. Gathering up the rubble and clearing away the ashes became a nationalistic symbol of endurance; the rebuilding became a symbol of the strength to move forward. This new architecture, in general, had a language of homogeneity, control and wholeness. Emerging from crisis and the unimaginable horrors of a war unlike any before, architects and planners in war-torn Europe and Britain dreamed of designing a lifestyle, in all its components, capable of uplifting the people and the nation to the seemingly idyllic standards of materialist America and socialist Scandinavia. Utopia and Reality, a book written in collaboration with the Modern Museet of Stockholm and the Bard Graduate Center, opened with the quote, "…every utopia has its nightmare, and every reality its dream…" In reality, the well-intentioned planners found significant difficulty meeting the needs of the people with the limited and rationed resources available after WWII, which lead to an extremely high failure rate. The utopian ideals of these fully planned suburbs and cities of the 1950s relied on the conformity derived from the reduction of people to mere statistics. At first this had been a strength and comfort, engendering a false sense of security, but within a decade, it had become its greatest weakness. The social, cultural and political limits it set stifled the successive generations and the discontent became manifest in revolts, literature and alternative lifestyles. Modern architecture, as an iconic emblem of the post-war idealism and constraints, as well as for the physical or psychological shortcomings, was thus rejected and stigmatized for the remainder of the twentieth century.


Vällingby, Sweden – part of a chain of innovative suburban developments linked to Stockholm centre by railway, built during the 1950s – 1960s.


Park Hill Estates, England – built after WWII, the estate fell into a long period of demise due to poor maintenance and surveillance, Park Hill Estates are undergoing a full exterior restoration and interior rejuvenation to meet current lifestyles and technologies.

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

Get the Latest

Sign up to receive emails about our design inspirations, projects, sales events, and more.

"*" indicates required fields