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Writing the History of Post-war Housing Complexes and Neighborhoods. A Take on Research Strategies and Methodologies


Gaia Caramellino

Filippo De Pieri


Between the 1950s and the 1970s urban middle classes had a central role in the process of growth and transformation of post-war urban environments in Europe. New housing complexes and neighborhoods were built in the outskirts of the city, as a response to their residential aspirations, desires of mobility, housing cultures, and strategies of modernization, contributing to the construction of a quite homogeneous residential landscape.

In the last decade, a multifaceted panorama of studies has dealt with the history of post-war middle-class housing, contributing to understand such changes and their social implications, interweaving different project scales and cultures and adopting different perspectives and methodologies.

The historical investigation of housing complexes and neighborhoods has therefore become a fruitful field of exchange between scholars with difference competences and an exceptional testing ground to experiment with methods and practices of historical research, bringing to the light new fields of work for the history of post-war architecture and urbanism and new lines of methodological investigation. These include micro-historical approaches, comparative and transnational histories, revised approaches to typological studies, fieldwork-based enquiries, ethnographic observations of spatial transformations, visual studies of ordinary built environments, oral histories, experiences with public history, etc.

The session aims at exploring and analyzing the most recent trends in the study of post-war housing complexes and neighborhoods built for the middle classes, paying particular attention to a discussion of research strategies. We encourage papers that address one or more case studies, outlining the methodological choices behind the research work and their implication for an understanding of post-WWII residential landscapes. Questions discussed in the session may include:

- the relation between architectural history and the social sciences;

- the contamination between fieldwork techniques and archival research;

- the public dimension of historical research, through initiatives of collection and conservation of memories and life experiences of the middle classes;

- the evolution of research practices in housing history in relation to the emergence of new fields of investigation.

Short bio

Gaia Caramellino 

Assistant Professor of history and theory of architecture at the Politecnico di Milano. Her research focuses on the transatlantic transfer of architectural and urban knowledge; the history of housing practices, cultures, forms and theories; terminology and the study of the ordinary. She has held several visiting fellowships, amongst others at the Canadian Center for Architecture, the Kyoto University, the Israel Institute of Advanced Studies. She was awarded several research grants (Graham Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies). She is the author of Europe meets America. William Lescaze, Architect of Modern Housing (2016) and Housing the 40.000. Explorations in the Middle-class City (2015, co-authored with F. De Pieri and C. Renzoni). She is the co-editor of the books The Housing Project. Discourses, Ideals, Models and Politics in 20th Century Exhibitions (2019, with Stéphanie Dadour), Post-war Middle-Class Housing. Models, Construction and Change (2015, with Federico Zanfi) and Storie di Case. Abitare l’Italia del boom (2013, with F. De Pieri and others). She co-chairs with Yael Allweil and Susanne Schindler the research group "Retheorizing the Architecture of Housing" and is involved in the COST Action EU_MCMH European Middle-class Mass Housing (chair A. Vaz Milheiro) and in the the MCA ITN program TACK_Communities of Tacit Knowledge (chair Tom Avermaete).

Filippo De Pieri

Associate Professor of architectural and urban history at Politecnico di Torino. His research focuses on the history of contemporary European, North American, and East Asian cities. His publications include the books Il controllo improbabile: progetti urbani, burocrazie, decisioni in una città capitale dell’Ottocento (Milan: Franco Angeli, 2005), Storie di case: abitare l’Italia del boom (Rome: Donzelli, 2013, as a co-editor), Explorations in the Middle-Class City (Siracusa: Lettera 22, 2015, as a co-author) and Beijing Danwei: Industrial Heritage in the Contemporary City (Berlin: Jovis, 2015, as a co-editor), as well as several articles and guest-edited issues for international journals. He has been a visiting scholar at Harvard University (USA) and Tsinghua University (China) and is presently a visiting scholar at the EPFL (Switzerland) where he is leading the international research project “Memory and the city: assessing tools for interdisciplinary research and teaching.

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