Dissertation

Dissertation Committee
Prof. Mark Jarzombek, MIT Architecture (chair)
Prof. Caroline Jones, MIT Architecture
Prof. Hiromu Nagahara
, MIT History
Prof. Craig Steven Wilder, MIT History

From Global War to Global Cities:
Planning, Art, and Post-WWII Urban History in New York, Berlin, and Tokyo

Thinking about cities became increasingly global during and after WWII. ‘Global’ here refers to how, in the context of the war, the roles and meanings of cities in the world were beginning to be understood differently. This dissertation investigates urban histories since the 1940s in their connection to changing imaginaries of the world that were shaped by the experience of war, and that have received little attention in historical literature. The dominant narratives of postwar urban history are focused on issues such as destruction and reconstruction, and the ideological divides between East and West. Global history is here employed as a non-hegemonic methodology for going beyond these larger narratives, and to demonstrate that in an age of global war, cities were becoming global long before economic discourses on globalization labeled them as such.

New York City, West Berlin, and Tokyo are used as case studies because they are the principal cities of three industrialized nations that were heavily affected by WWII. New York became a center of the US war industry and beacon of the proclaimed Western values of freedom and democracy. However, the hypocrisy of fighting for freedom and democracy abroad, while racial violence and injustice was experienced at home, led to housing and segregation in New York being seen in global context. Discourses on fighting fascism at home and abroad, and artistic representations of the city illuminate these narratives. In Berlin—especially with the founding of the two German states in 1949 and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961—urban planning and development are most easily understood to be part of East-West ideological divides. Visions for the city of the future that were produced in secluded West Berlin demonstrate, however, that the city was also imagined in ways that transcended its local conflict and positioned it as a democratic tool for a global urban society. Tokyo’s destruction during WWII, and its subsequent reconstruction, dominates the city’s postwar history, but Japan’s experience of war and nuclear bombings led to the creation of urban models that were more global in scope. An analysis of Japanese involvement in world’s fairs and of architectural and urban thought in response to the nuclear bombings connects these threads. In different ways, these case studies substantiate the connection between global war and global cities and introduce global history methodology into the analysis of global thinking in urbanism during and after WWII.