International Mass Housing Image Bank

Background to the project

The provision of healthy modern housing ‘for all’ was one of the first and foremost ideals of the Modern Movement, and inspired a vast wave of planning and building across the world during the 20th century. Initially confined, between the wars, to avant garde projects in Europe and America, after 1945 mass housing underwent a dramatic expansion in pace and scale, as countries east and west sought to build for, and mobilise, their ‘people’.

In the last quarter of the century, even as these programmes fell into disrepute and decline in their heartlands, the baton was passed on to other countries, such as Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea, where the narrative of Modern mass housing was reinvigorated for the next century. In sharp contrast to the commodification and debasement of much Modernist ‘form’ by contemporary ‘iconic signature architecture’, this is a unique example of a key Modernist project that actually continues and thrives today, with very little compromise of its original ideals.

As heritage, the built legacies of this diverse and multi-generational adventure are almost always too controversial to qualify for conservation strategies. Instead, therefore, recording and inventorisation must almost entirely represent the heritage interest in this field. In the recognition of that fact, ISC/U+L has launched a multi-strand analysis and database project focused on mass housing, including research in key centres of activity, and pilot database initiatives.

Building on initial pilot studies within Scotland and England, the International Mass Housing Image Bank represents a first stage in that strategy. Using a WordPress blog subdivided under headings corresponding to the constituent working groups of DOCOMOMO (and in a hierarchy of towns and individual projects: see headings and subheadings accessible from this page→), it is intended to provide an open-access, copyright-free library of ‘historic images’, mostly taken c.1970-80, of significant housing projects in each working-group territory.

Initially, the Image Bank will be managed and augmented centrally by ISC/U+L, working from our own photo archive in the first instance, but it is hoped soon to enhance the system to allow the uploading of images supplied by working-groups – perhaps as a part of future DOCOMOMO ‘homework’.