When I returned to my parents’ home at the end of the year, my family asked me to explain what this book, which was in the process of being proofread, was about. They asked me to explain it simply so that they, who are neither architects nor researchers, could understand it, but it was quite difficult. I thought of the simplest possible way to explain it, and the answer that came to mind was that this book is about the question, “Can architecture change society?”
The reason why it is difficult to explain the content of this book in a simple manner is a bit complicated. First of all, (1) there is the issue of the development of modern architectural movement between World War I and World War II, especially how it was received in the United States, and (2) the SSA (the subject of this book), an organization that has been marginalized in the context of (1) above, is being reevaluated in recent studies, and yet, this book proposes a different point of view from those existing studies. These are interesting issues for specialists in the history of modern architecture, but they could be rather ponderous to explain in a simple manner.
You can refer to the research background, the premise described above, in the introduction section of this book. Here I would like to introduce this book by focusing on the aforementioned question, “Can architecture change society?”
The subject of this book, SSA (Structural Study Associates), is a group of architects that appeared in the American architectural scene for a short period in the early 1930s. This book attempts to clarify how they faced the architectural and social situations of the time and what kind of arguments they made, by examining the articles they published in journals and other publications.
The 1930s in the United States, when they were active, was a time of economic “emergency” caused by the Great Depression that began in 1929, and in terms of architectural history, the wave of modernism was beginning to be introduced full scale, slightly later than in Europe. Simply put, SSA’s ideology was to radicalize an aspect of modernism, namely, the promotion of industrialization and technology (which led, for example, to the idea of emancipation from land through housing that could be easily assembled and disassembled), and thereby to achieve social transformation in a manner different from social and political “revolution” – the Russian Revolution of 1917 was a familiar one at the time.
To draw an analogy with recent debates, the SSA’s ideology is close to (leftist) “accelerationism.” Ultimately it did not always succeed (I will not go into details here), and ended up suffering “setbacks” in a sense. However, if the arguments they made in the course of their activities do not seem like someone else’s business, I believe it is because underneath there is the classic and difficult question, “Can architecture change society?”
(Written by: KANEMAKI Takahiko / March 20, 2023)
The 3rd UTokyo Jiritsu Award for Early Career Academics (The University of Tokyo 2022)