Jadaliyya (J): What made you start the journal Architecture Beyond Europe, and who are the scholars involved in its editorial work?
Mercedes Volait (MV): Several related concerns prompted the launch of the journal in 2012. One is that modern architecture outside the West features poorly in the literature devoted to architectural history, and when it does surface, it is principally for the conspicuous global starchitecture of the last decades or for colonial icons, as if nothing else worth study had been built worldwide during the nineteenth and twentieth century. Another problem is the national or civilizational frames commonly used to analyze modernity. It is assumed that modernity is intrinsically Western, and reached non-Western settings through imperialism.
One lesson I gained from studying the rise of the architectural profession in modern Egypt for my PhD (1993) is that other factors, such as autochthonous aspirations to change and innovation, also paved the way to new architecture. It is time to reverse the lens and focus on the local production of modernity, rather than on its diffusion from the West. That is not to say that “indigenous modernities” grew in isolation: many Egyptian architects were educated in Europe, the US, or the Soviet Union and kept links with their places of training. They joined regional or international professional networks, were exposed to Turkish or Brazilian modernism, and eventually worked out of Egypt or in partnership with non-Egyptian associates. The challenge is to apprehend the diverse, multi-directional, transnational dynamics and conditions that made architecture modern anywhere, and the variety of connections.
One way to achieve this is to provide a specialized forum promoting scholarly exchange and collaborative research. The architectural historians (all based in Europe) involved in the editorial and advisory boards of the journal are all engaged in transnational studies, whether their interest lies in the exile, travel, and migration of architects, the internationalization of building culture, the imperial expansion, postcolonial nation-building processes, the role of international organizations, the architecture of diplomacy, or the intercontinental flux of ideas and concepts. There is still much to excavate on such topics.
J: What particular topics, issues, and areas does the journal address?
MV: Content-wise, the primary interest of the journal is to encourage a historical approach to the interconnected nature of architectural production and practice, broadly understood, through the study of phenomena and situations that cut across national or cultural lines. The core of the journal is a guest-edited section including three to five articles on a given topic, but ABE also welcomes stand-alone articles. Topics addressed so far range from the exportation of Scottish cast iron to Argentina in the nineteenth century to an Indian journal advocating Western modernism on the eve of independence, or the convoluted routes of a hotel design from Montenegro to Iraq during the Cold War.
The emphasis on history explains why the journal has a permanent rubric, entitled “Documents/Sources,” which is specifically devoted to presenting primary material relevant to the journal’s fields of interest, in an effort to point out unknown sources or ways of reading them. Other regular rubrics are “Dissertation Abstracts” and “Book Reviews,” in order to keep pace with new research and increase the circulation of knowledge among the scholarly community concerned.
An important goal of the journal is to complexify our understanding of the forces (including power) that shape architecture and to foment debate among a plurality of academic perspectives. Hence the Debate section, currently guest-edited by Mark Crinson of the University of Manchester, but also the multilingual policy defended by the journal, in order to offer visibility to European research and in return to expose it to other scholarly traditions. Languages of publication are currently English, French, or Italian, but we do hope to be able to include others in the future, for example Spanish or German. In any case, abstracts and keywords are all made available in five languages (French, English, German, Italian, and Spanish).
The concern for outreach led us to publish the journal, with immediate full-text access to its content, on Revues.org, the journals’ platform of OpenEdition (a comprehensive digital publishing infrastructure whose objective is to promote research in the humanities and social sciences) that receives an average of 2.8 million visits per month. Revues.org is supported by prestigious French research organizations and has a critical mass ensuring long-term sustainability. The journal was accepted by Revues.org after an international peer-review process.
J: How does ABE Journal connect to and/or depart from other journals in architecture and urban studies?
MV: ABE Journal connects to other journals of architecture by its historical approach to the making of the built environment, but departs, institutionally speaking, from most of them because it does not emanate from a learned society (like Architectural histories, JSAH, or Histoire urbaine, among others), nor is it linked to heritage-making (for example, the journal InSitu), but originates from scientific research. This allows the journal to work without charging an Article Processing Charge (APC) to authors, or subscriptions to libraries.
Its specific focus on architecture outside the West considered in a transnational perspective also makes the journal unique. There are other journals interested in non-Western architecture, such as the International Journal of Islamic Architecture, but none interested in connecting a variety of world regions.
J: How does ABE Journal, as a non-area studies journal, contribute to renewing architecture and urban studies in the Middle East?
MV: The transnational perspective of the journal allows highlighting, or delving into, aspects of Middle Eastern architecture that would be hardly perceptible or attainable to the area specialist. The making of the Babylon Hotel in Baghdad (1969-82, Edvard Ravnikar, Majda Kregar, Edo Ravnikar Jr., and Miha Kerin, architects), already mentioned above, is a good example of the measure of transnational knowledge (and plurilingual skills) required to properly uncover its full story, from a resort in Eastern Europe to a major site of the Non-Aligned Movement. In this case, a good number of the sources documenting the building lie not in Iraq, but in Ljubljana and Belgrade, among other places. It reveals the crucial involvement of socialist networks in the making of the modern Middle East.
Even during the colonial era, the range of actors involved in the production of architecture was larger than commonly imagined. This is suggested, for instance, by the building activity of an association created in 1886 to assist Italian missions abroad that became a major builder in Egypt and North Africa during the interwar years, promoting a type of “Mediterranean” architecture that distinguished itself from the official architecture produced by British or French colonial powers.
Finally, much insight can be gained by discussing Middle Eastern projects in relation to similar constructions elsewhere, as in the case of the tourism development projects designed for Egypt from the 1960s to the 1980s by architect Hassan Fathy after surveying resort architecture in Tunisia or France—a little-known aspect of the work of the famous advocate of modern vernacular.
Interested readers can consult the geographical index to have an overview of all North Africa and Middle East-related materials published in the journal.
J: Who do you hope will follow the journal, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
MV: I would like the journal to encourage young researchers to embark on the serious study of architecture beyond Europe, and confirmed ones to devote more attention to other geographies than the established ones (that is, the Atlantic world). There is so much to discover out there! I assume indeed that ABE’s readership can extend beyond those with an interest in architecture, as the issues tackled through architecture have a larger relevance, particularly in the interconnected and allegedly global world of today. Gaining background and perspective on global integration through the material culture of architecture can be thought-provoking and instructive.
Excerpt from ABE Journal: Architecture Beyond Europe
From Łukasz Stanek, “Socialist Networks and the Internationalization of Building Culture after 1945,” published in ABE Journal, Issue 6 (2014)
In 1968 the Parisian journal Opus International published on its cover an image of two mirrored supermen, differing only by the acronyms on their chest: that of the United States and that of the Soviet Union (fig. 1). Designed by the Polish artist Roman Cieślewicz, this poster, it has been noted, made the two powers appear as twins, accused them of exercising a destructive influence on the rest of the world, and suggested the impossibility, or futility, of choosing between them.
[Figure 1: Supermen, poster by Roman Cieslewicz, Paris, 1968.]
However, in another way, the use of an essentially American icon suggested a fundamental asymmetry, as if the only visual language in which the conflict could be expressed was provided by just one of its sides. As is well known, the claim about the symmetry between the US and the Soviet Union was part of the Cold War discourse, and it helped the “superpowers” to discipline their populations and their allies, with, for example, the CIA’s Handbook of Economic Statistics consistently overestimating the size of the Soviet economy. Yet it was precisely the economy where the American preponderance was most evident. As economic historians have shown, Cold War rivalries were articulated within a global system of financial and commercial exchange by and large defined by the United States and the former colonial powers in Western Europe, to which the Soviet Union and its allies could hardly present a viable alternative.
It is this entanglement of politics and economy that conditioned the work of architects, planners, and engineers from socialist countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia—the topic of three papers in this issue of ABE. Rather than discussing singular events that seemingly confirmed the symmetrical images of the “Global Cold War,” the three authors look at longer engagements of architects and planners in what was at that time called the “Third World.” Christina Schwenkel studies the transformation of the city of Vinh in central Vietnam, to which architects from socialist countries contributed in two phases, during the wars of independence against France and the United States. Vladimir Kulić shows how a blueprint of a hotel, originally designed in the early 1970s for the Adriatic coast of socialist Yugoslavia, was built in Baghdad a decade later, to be operated by the Indian luxury chain Oberoi. Alicja Gzowska discusses the reconstruction, restoration, and conservation of buildings in North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia by the Polish State Workshops for Conservation of Cultural Heritage (PKZ) from the 1960s until the end of the Cold War.
Together with a small, but growing, body of literature on the work of architects from socialist countries abroad, this issue contributes to the larger debate on the mobility of models, people, images, affects, and norms in twentieth-century architecture, which the recent issues of ABE significantly advanced. The focus on socialist countries extends the discussion about the networks that facilitated the acceleration of this mobility after World War II, including colonial institutions and their postcolonial mutations; economic globalization; international organizations such as the UN, UNESCO, and the institutions of the emerging EU; professional organizations such as the UIA, as well as technical assistance programs of Israel and Scandinavian countries.
 David Crowley, Posters of the Cold War, London: V&A, 2008, p. 50.
 Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of our Times, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.
 Oscar Sanchez Sibony, “Capitalism’s Fellow Traveler: The Soviet Union, Bretton Woods, and the Cold War,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 56, no. 2, 2014, p. 290–319.
 Westad, Global Cold War, op. cit. (note 2).
 See the papers in Łukasz Stanek and Tom Avermaete (eds.), “Cold War Transfer: Architecture and Planning from Socialist Countries in the `Third World`,” theme issue of The Journal of Architecture vol. 17, no. 3, June 2012. For bibliography, see Stephen Ward, “Transnational Planners in a Postcolonial World,” in Patsey Healey and Robert Upton (eds.), Crossing Borders: International Exchange and Planning Practices, London; New York, NY: Routledge, 2010 (RTPI Library series, 19), p. 47–72; and Łukasz Stanek, “Second World’s Architecture and Planning in the Third World,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 17, no. 3, June 2012, p. 299–307. See also Taoufik Souami and Eric Verdeil (eds.), Concevoir et gérer les villes: milieux d’urbanistes du sud de la Méditerranée, Paris: Economica; Anthropos, 2006 (Villes); Péter Borbás, “A vidék építésze. Értekezés a vidéki építészetről Reischl Gábor munkái kapcsán,” PhD dissertation, Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, Budapest, 2014; Jennifer Czysz, “Urban Design as a Tool for Re-imaging a Capital City: Planning Conakry, Guinea after Independence,” MA dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, 2001; Yasser Elsheshtawy, “City interrupted: modernity and architecture in Nasser’s post-1952 Cairo,” Planning Perspectives, vol. 28, no. 3, 2012, p. 1–25; Ákos Moravánszky, “Charles Polónyi and the Art of Sailing with the Wind,” in Łukasz Stanek (ed.), Team 10 East. Revisionist Architecture in Real Existing Modernism, Warsaw: Museum of Modern Art, 2014, p. 34–63; Christina Schwenkel, “Traveling architecture: East German urban designs abroad,” International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity vol. 2, no. 2, 2014, p. 155–74. Accessed 20 January 2015; Łukasz Stanek, Postmodernism is almost all right. Polish architecture after socialist globalization, Warsaw: Fundacja Bęc-Zmiana, 2012; Łukasz Stanek, “Accra, Warsaw, and socialist globalization,” in Benno Albrecht (ed.), Africa. Big change, big chance, Exhibition Catalogue (Milan, Triennale di Milano, 15 october–28 december 2014), Bologna: Editrice Compositori, 2014, p. 162–4; Łukasz Stanek, “Architects from socialist countries in Ghana (1957–1967): Architecture and mondialization,” forthcoming in December 2015 in The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians; Łukasz Stanek, “Architectural globalization in the late Cold War: Techno-cultural transfers between socialist Poland and Kuwait,” forthcoming in 2015 in the International Journal of Islamic Architecture. See also the forthcoming publications by Andreas Butter (presentation with Christoph Bernhardt, “Networking across the iron curtain, competing for the Global South: The International Union of Architects (UIA) and the export of East-German socialist architecture to the Global South (1949–1989)” at the conference “Alternative Encounters: The ‘Second World’ and the ‘Global South’, 1945–1991,” Jena, 3–4 November 2014 ) and Nikolai Brandes (presentation “Concrete utopia. Mozambican housing schemes between cooperative colonialism and afro-socialism,” at the 5th European Conference on African Studies, Lisbon, 27–29 June 2013).
 For an updated overview and bibliography, see Johan Lagae and Kim De Raedt, “Editorial,” ABE Journal, no. 4, 2014, theme issue Global Experts “Off Radar.” Accessed 03 June 2015; recent contributions to this debate include Benno Albrecht (ed.), Africa. Big change, big chance, op. cit. (note 5); Luce Beeckmans, “The adventures of the French architect Michel Ecochard in postindependence Dakar: A transnational development expert drifting between commitment and expediency,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 19, no. 6, 2014, p. 849–71; Kim De Raedt, “Between ‘true believers’ and operational experts: UNESCO architects and school building in post-colonial Africa,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 19, no. 1, 2014, p. 19–42; Neta Feniger and Rachel Kallus, “Building a ‘new Middle East’: Israeli architects in Iran in the 1970s,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 18, no. 3, 2013, p. 381–401; Regina Göckede, “Spätkoloniale Moderne – Vergleichende Studien zur Globalisierung der Architekturmoderne,” ongoing habilitation project at the Technische Universität Cottbus; Rachel Lee, “An architectural link between Masala Dosas and war. The unlikely potentials of Otto Koenigsberger’s shrinking heritage,” ABE Journal, no. 3, 2013, theme issue Colonial Today. Accessed 03 June 2015; Rachel Lee, “Negotiating modernities: Otto Koenigsberger’s works and network in exile (1933–1951),” ABE Journal, no. 5, 2014. Accessed 03 June 2015; Tim Livsey, “‘Suitable lodgings for students’: Modern space, colonial development and decolonization in Nigeria,” Urban History, vol. 41, no. 4, November 2014, p. 664–85; Itohan Osayimwese and David Rifkind (eds.), “Building modern Africa,” theme issue of The Journal of Architectural Education, vol. 68, no. 2, October 2014; Peter Scriver and Amit Srivastava, “Building a new university in Cold War Australia: The Colombo Plan and architecture at UNSW in the 1950s and 60s,” in Antony Moulis and Deborah van der Plaat (eds.), Audience: 28th Annual conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, Brisbane: SAHANZ, 2011. Recent exhibitions include: “Forms of freedom. African independence and Nordic models,” The Nordic Pavilion, Venice, 7 June–23 November 2014; “Africa. Big change, big chance,” Triennale di Milano, 15 October–28 December 2014, Milan, Italy; “Architecture of independence: African modernism,” Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany, 20 February–31 May 2015.
[Excerpted from ABE Journal, Issue 6 (2014), by permission of the editors. For more information on the journal, or to access an archive of issues, click here.]