From Berlin, to Warsaw and Moscow, and on to Beijing. The Citymorphosis photo book is a story of the architectural transformations of cities of the former Eastern bloc. A documentation of the transformation of the communist-era landscape into contemporary cities in the era of global capitalism. And additionally, a presentation of the similarities of those transformations.
The photographer Marek M. Berezowski has spent close to five years exploring spaces that illustrate the ongoing changes and process of transformation, which with diverse intensity is reflected in the architecture and urban design of the cities of China, Russia, Poland and former East Germany. The photographs were taken in Berlin, Warsaw, Silesia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Beijing, Chongqing, Tianjin, Guangzhou and Wenchang. The choice of location was made primarily on the basis of the Global Cities Index which examines the performance of cities with the swiftest pace of transformation. It might seem that Marek M. Berezowski explored culturally dissimilar locations. Yet the transformations of their landscapes proved to be similar.
There are many parallels in the modern history between these ”Eastern” cities, i.e., Eastern bloc cities. These include the impact – in varying degree – of both world wars and subsequent barbaric urban reconstruction. Although the changes in their urban design to accommodate the “New Man” were inspired by Le Corbusier’s modernist architecture, it was the practices of the Stalinist era and period of real socialism that had a radical effect on their contemporary design. Apartment blocks were built on a mass scale in the years that followed. By the 1970s and 1980s, the urban landscape was dominated by prefabricated buildings. The urban fabric was replete with such concrete structures, and city centres had architecture meant to exemplify the power of the communist authorities and “spirit” of the ruling communist system.
With the political transformations in Eastern bloc countries and radical shift in political direction in China after Mao Zedong’s death, the development of the cities was reoriented according to the principles of global capitalism. Metropolises became the engines of economic growth. These developments were accompanied not only by a change of geographic space but also of symbolic space. Communist-era architecture lost its privileged status to skyscrapers, the glass monuments to capitalism. The best locations were occupied by corporations.
In capturing the process of the change of urban architecture in China, Russia, Poland and former East Germany, Marek M. Berezowski chose to avoid the landmarks of each city. He deliberately took shots void of symbols, signs and human faces, his main focus being the universal nature of the metamorphosis of urban space. The unification which occurs in the transformation process is independent of the location, be it Europe or Asia, or of the political system, whether democratic or authoritarian. It is an outcome of the subordination of the planning of urban space to the logic of growth and profit. The aim of the photographer was not only to have the unified landscape shown in Citymorphosis give the reader more insight into the parallelisms of the transformation process, but also to help him recognize the interrelations between phenomena in the global world and their universality. The photographs in the book have no captions. The reality pictured in Citymorphosis, though composed of images of apparently diverse places, may thus have the appearance of one megacity.