Architecture of Surveillance and Control: The Critical Socio-Political History of Postwar Modernist Architecture and Urban Planning

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Ponpassorn Sirisornpattapon


This paper tries to explore many aspects of Michel Foucault’s in an attempt to see if his idea of ‘panopticism’ is a practical image for understanding power relationships and the evolving technologies of surveillance and society’s optical and spatial anxieties in the post-Second-World-Was European world. It focuses on examining the connections between the hidden mechanism of surveillance and control within architecture and design in two systems of governance in post-war European societies: Western European democracy and Eastern European socialism. Despite different political trajectories, these two political systems manifested some shared characteristics with regard to the idea of “modernism” and its essence in the aspect related to transparency. This paper argues that the kind of societal control does not only operate through the wide use of surveillance devices like telescreens or CCTV, but could exist under the guise of innovative modernist architecture and urban planning with the apparent applications of modernist values that reflect liberal, progressive, and reformist endeavors. For this, some interesting remarks, both differences and similarities, can be found between the popularity of modernist architecture of the post-war Western liberal democracy, and the design of modern separated prefabricated apartment blocks in socialist Eastern Europe, both of which applied their own notions of “modernism” to suit their respective societal realms, yet with the same goal of social reconstruction and modernization.

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