Transition/Zagreb: Urban Condition and Spatial Practice

The seminar is concerned with conceptualizing and examining transition as both a condition and spatial practice of the European post-communist city. A sequel to last semester\'s seminar, Conflict + Modernity, this seminar also focuses on the Croatian capital of Zagreb – a city with a vital and highly sophisticated urban culture and modern architectural fabric, which is currently making the transition (economic and existential) from Eastern Europe and post-communist marginality to Central Europe and full EU membership. This semester builds on the research of the first semester, and expands the parameters – cultural and theoretical – of both the inquiry and critical discourse. The focus in the fall semester was on understanding the evolution and patterns of urban growth in relation to changing political, social, and technological conditions over the course of the 20th century. Starting with a \”naove\” confrontation with the fabric of the city itself, key sites were examined as a means of understanding the spatio-temporal layers of the city, their internal logic and relationships to each other. Building on the foundation of that study, the seminar this semester frames the central problematic of the Zagreb case study in terms of transition and the transitional. In the case of Zagreb, transition and the transitional have been experienced and instrumentalized on many levels. Historically and in geopolitical terms the city has managed a series of transitions from one (supranational structure of) empire to another: from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Soviet Bloc, Titoist Yugoslavia, Nonalignment Movement, to the current negotiations to join the European Union. Zagreb has not only learned to live with change; in an almost permanent state of transition from one condition to another; but has developed a series of architectonic strategies and urban spatial practices for creatively engaging the transitional, conditional, unstable, mutable, and open-ended – for absorbing, accommodating, anticipating, planning, and instrumentalizing the condition of irresolution.One of the working theses of the course is the proposition that the experience and urban architectural strategies of transition developed in Zagreb for dealing with the continuously unresolved in the context of mutable and inherently unstable transnational structures are spatialized and embedded in the fabric of the city, and that examination of distinctive urban conditions in Zagreb will not only yield insights into the urban architectural culture of the city, but might also provide valuable \”urban lessons\” for Zagreb itself as it negotiates the shift from a postsocialist \”transitional economy\” to a globalized market-economy. It also provides a framework for examining the concept of transition more broadly – for considering the \”urban lessons\” of Zagreb in relation to urbanism generally today – and for thinking about urban space in terms of time and event, not only territory, and the city itself as permanently unresolved; as the terrain of transition.In terms of methodology the course combines analysis of ideology and of social, economic, and political conditions of the historical moment with close readings of the architecture and built fabric of the city itself; a methodology that allows for both the operations of ideology and intellection, and the instrumentality of a form of knowledge – spatial, temporal, material – particular to architecture.Structure and Organization: The seminar has been conceived and organized in close collaboration with scholars, city officials, architects, and urban historians in Zagreb. We will be working with documents (maps, plans, photos, films, etc.) from city archives, as well as with Croatian scholars and architects both here and in Zagreb. The seminar involves a site visit to Zagreb and Dubrovnik in March (13-20).As