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Ideals in Concrete: Exploring Central and Eastern Europe Edited by Cor Wagenaar and Mieke Dings.NAi Publishers, 2004. 180pp. £25


The essays in Ideals in Concrete focus primarily on the plattenbau: the system-built, concrete-slab housing estates that proliferated beyond the one-time 'Iron Curtain' after the Second World War - all largely in line with CIAM's principles for mass housing formulated in 1928, writes Andrew Mead. But they are written from a perspective that acknowledges the West's own problematic high-rise housing, so the authors are looking for lessons from the East as well as documenting these schemes as they are today.

'It is fascinating to see just how much quality there is in the new housing estates that were built en masse in Central and Eastern Europe, ' writes Cor Wagenaar; while Vincent van Rossem concludes that the Titan in Bucharest, with 70,000 dwellings, 'is quite definitely a work of art, different but every bit as impressive as the Bauhaus. In Titan life is truly lived.' Such system building proves flexible at a time when some cities in the East are 'shrinking' (for example, the high-rise block in Cottbus which has been dismantled and rebuilt as six 'town houses'). But the book pays more attention to the blocks that survive intact, and to what makes them 'work' or not; top-down management versus residents' initiatives, for example.

In Berlin's largest plattenbau estate, Marzahn, 'everything is being done to give high-rise living a positive image, ' says Jannie Vinke, contrasting that with attitudes in the Netherlands. Jannes Linders' excellent photographs help to bring the book alive.

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