Universal truths in architectural history are seldom popular suppositions, but one that is likely uncontroversial is that memory is a potent force in public culture. This is the undergirding premise of Modernism as Memory: Building Identity in the Federal Republic of Germany by Kathleen James-Chakraborty, a book that explores the leitmotif as well as experience of memory as a lens for charting a history of architecture in the Federal Republic of Germany, which comprised West Germany from its founding in 1949 and later expanded to include Germany as we know it today from unification in 1990 to the present. The politics of memory are particularly vexed in the Federal Republic, where the legacies of the Holocaust, widespread destruction from World War II, and the Berlin Wall inevitably color so much of its civic space. Addressing these memories has been central to countless scholarly studies including Gavriel Reosenfeld and Paul Jaskot’s volume Beyond Berlin: Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past (2008), Winfried Nerdinger’s Ort und Erinnerung: Nationalsozialismus in München (2006), or popular publications like Hans Wolfgang Hoffmann, Andreas Matschenz, and Philipp Meuser’s Architekturführer Berliner Mauer (2013). What is different, and refreshing, about Modernism as Memory is its recuperation of memory as something more expansive in German culture, necessarily including those traumas but also incorporating memories of modernism in architecture itself, the collective memory of the industrial and migrant worker, and the discursive priorities of architects and historians, from postmodernism and neomodernism to critical reconstruction and adaptive reuse. As such, the book is a welcome addition to the relatively large corpus of literature on architecture in Germany in the twentieth century, one with numerous points of entry and a tone strategically situated somewhere between textbook and monograph that distinguishes it from a publication like Wolfgang Pehnt’s comprehensive survey Deutsche Architektur seit 1900 (2005).
Modernism as Memory is organized into six chapters. The first chapter establishes key paradigms in architecture in pre-Republic Germany to which, James-Chakraborty argues, architects will refer as motifs of memory, not as form per se. This includes well-known works by Bruno Taut, Paul Bonatz, and the architects of the Weissenhof Siedlung, among others. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on West German churches and museums respectively, Chapter 4 on postunification Berlin, Chapter 5 on the industrial legacy of the Ruhr region, and Chapter 6 on the assimilation of new cultures, building types, and discourses into German architectural culture.