• Building Socialism: The Afterlife of East German Architecture in Urban Vietnam
    Christina Schwenkel
    Duke University Press, 2020
    Christina Schwenkel

“’Heroic mother’ laying one of the first bricks to rebuild Vinh City in collaboration with East German architects and planners,” 1974. Courtesy Vietnam News Agency

Protracted United States bombing of Vietnam obliterated the small industrial city of Vinh. Building Socialism examines the utopian fantasies of an international group of Vietnamese and East German planners who sought to transform Vinh’s urban ruins into a model socialist city. Drawing on archival and ethnographic research in Vietnam and Germany with architects, engineers, construction workers, and tenants in Vinh’s mass housing complex, the book explores the material and affective dimensions of urban possibility, and the quick fall of Vinh’s newly-built environment into unplanned obsolescence. Design models and practices that traveled between the North and South underwent significant modification to accommodate alternative cultural logics and ideas about urban futurity. By documenting the building of Vietnam’s first planned city and its aftermath of decay and repurposing, the book shows that underlying the ambivalent responses to modernist architectural forms were anxieties about modernity and the future of socialism itself.

Christina Schwenkel is professor of cultural anthropology at the University of California at Riverside and coeditor-in-chief of the Journal of Vietnamese Studies. Over the past two decades, she has conducted ethnographic research in Vietnam on debates over Vietnamese architecture, the materiality of postwar memory, and monumental built forms. She is the author of The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation (Indiana University Press, 2009), a coedited special issue of positions: asia critique (with Ann Marie Leshkowich) on “Neoliberalism in Vietnam” (2012), and the forthcoming Building Socialism: The Afterlife of East German Architecture in Urban Vietnam (Duke University Press, 2020). Schwenkel has published in leading journals on architectural destruction, infrastructural decay, and socialist design transfers. A recipient of a Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin, her work has been supported by grants and fellowships from American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright-Hays Program, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.