The Earth that Modernism Built: A Design History of German Colonialism

Book forthcoming in summer 2024

Kenny Cupers

Starting from conflicts over land in colonial Africa and the border regions of imperial Germany, The Earth that Modernism Built explores modernism’s epistemological investment in the project of settlement. It traces how approaches to modern housing, landscape design, and infrastructure planning are indebted to colonial, and thus racialized, understandings of planetary inhabitation.   Drawing from a body of both familiar and unknown primary sources and archives in Namibia, Germany, and Poland, the book rewrites design history as an intellectual history of settler colonialism. It demonstrates how ambitions to root people in the land fuelled—rather than countered—modernist beliefs that the human and planetary environment could be molded by design.   Germany is no longer an unlikely context to examine how colonialism shaped architectural modernism. This book shifts the analytical focus from architectural representation to ecological relations. It situates architecture, urban planning, and related design fields in an expansive imperialist discourse about humanity’s earthly constitution. This recontextualization shows intricate connections between colonial officials planning agricultural hinterlands, landscape designers proselytizing geopolitical theory, soil researchers turning to folklore, and Bauhaus architects designing modern communities according to functionalist principles. These connections reveal the settler colonial logics undergirding reform experiments and modernist visions, and the ways in which design made these logics sensible.

German colonial prison in Swakopmund, Namibia
© K. Cupers 2014