To understanding the rise and fall of modernist functionalist urban planning in Yugoslavia is to survey what scholars have written about other contexts. First, these studies can provide hints of what to look for in the Yugoslav case. Second, modernist functionalist planning is fun-damentally an approach that transcends national boundaries, because it was developed collaboratively by an international (if heavily Eurocentric) group of architects; because architects the world over put it into practice; and be-cause its success or failure was bound up with economic, political, and cultural trends that were global in nature.
A variety of thinkers, including social commentators, planning practitioners, and scholars, have sought to explain the rise of this urban planning paradigm and its perceived failure. Many have presumed that it is possible to provide uni-versal explanations.
In his scholarly blockbuster Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, anthropologist James C. Scott ex-plains the formulation and implementation of modernist functionalist town planning as the product of “high modernism.” He argues that high modernism was a global trend that first emerged during the Enlightenment, in which increasingly powerful and authoritarian states, taking advantage of prostrate civil societies, allied with technical specialists to render societies legible in order to better control and perfect them using science and technology. Scott identifies Le Corbusier’s planning ideas and the Athens Charter more broadly as a prime example of authoritarian high modernism. In this way, he provides a simple universal explanation for the adoption of the Athens Charter across different political, cultural, and social contexts.1
Sociologist Mauro F. Guillen provides a similar but somewhat more nu-anced and empirically based explanation for the rise of popularity of modernism across a variety of national contexts. Guillen pays attention to the crucial relationship between the architectural discipline and state power, and his conclusions essentially support Scott’s argument. Guillen defines modernism as an attempt to apply the principles of scientific management (Taylorism) and insights from the engineering profession to the production of decorating and the ways in which architects work, as well as to develop an aesthetic grounded in the machine age.2 His inventory of the reasons offered by various scholars for the takeoff of modernism include the role of industrialization—in pro-viding new materials, imbuing architects with a new sense of their role, and creating a society of mass consumption that may have constrained creativity; sociopolitical upheaval; the emergence of new sponsors or patrons; and the professionalization of decorating.3 He concludes that while the other fac-tors played an important role in some (but not all) cases, the flourishing of modernist decorating was at its root dependent on the support of sponsors, whether state or industrial, combined with a transformation of architectural education that promoted the application of scientific management and engi-neering concepts to decorating.4
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However, neither Scott nor Guillen provides a convincing explanation of the motivations of the state in adopting modernism. It is questionable that diverse states operating in widely diverse cultural contexts—Europe’s social democracies, developing states, European socialist states—had precisely the same motivations in implementing the Athens Charter model. Furthermore, Scott’s argument implies the existence of a single, unified state, pursuing a consistent agenda. But most states, even authoritarian ones, are fragmented, made up of diverse actors, pursuing diverse agendas. Even if we accept that all these actors adopted the same gaze toward their populations, we must ask ourselves what effect the competition between these actors had on policy mak-ing. Finally, how useful is the notion of a “prostrate” society? The most recent scholarship on state socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has established beyond a doubt that, even when communist regimes seemed the most powerful and coercive, individuals and groups had some agency, particularly in areas like housing and consumption, in which they could articulate their demands in the language deployed by the state.5
A universal explanation has also been proposed for the perceived failure of settlements based on the modernist functionalist planning approach. Most simply put, it is as follows: this planning approach was an attempt at social engineering that was fundamentally flawed because it was based on a misunderstanding of human societies. It failed because it forced people to live in ways that were dehumanizing and atomizing. Activist Jane Jacobs was one of the first to formulate this argument in her 1961 polemic The Life and Death of Great American Cities, where she accused modernist designers of having a reductive understanding of the city. The same year, across the Atlantic, Chris-tiane Rochefort published Les petits enfants du siecle, a novel that scathingly attacks life in the French Grands Ensembles. To Rochefort, they represented a vacuous consumerist utopia that led their inhabitants to misbehave out of boredom. Others would level equally damning accusations at modernist proj-ects in other national contexts, such as Alexander Mitscherlich and Wolf Jobst Siedler in West Germany.6