IN 1909, FILIPPO TOMMASO MARINETTI, founder of Futurism and later supporter of Mussolini, wrote in the Futurist Manifesto, "We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world..." Four years later, urging Italy's entry into World War I, he declared coldly that "war is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages..." Yet the ghastly human and environmental costs of the First World War would pale in comparison to those of World War II, when total estimated military and civilian deaths numbered between 62 and 78 million. Even more incalculable was the war's damage to the environment and to psychological morale. Despite, or because of, such losses, historian Jean-Louis Cohen has little doubt that it was a "just war," given the potential for even greater destruction had Nazi Germany and the Axis powers defeated the Allies and achieved global domination.
The major precipitant of Architecture in Uniform was Cohen's perplexed realization that historians of the subject in the last half of the twentieth century had focused almost exclusively on the war's aftermath of reconstruction and rebuilding and paid almost no attention to the role of architecture in the war years themselves. Though Cohen's necessarily topical approach results in occasional repetition, the book's synchronic structure has allowed him to treat, in depth, the designing and building of massive spaces for industrial production, and variously scaled structures for anti-aircraft defense and for the administration and housing of personnel. In addition to the production of new buildings, architects were employed to reconfigure older ones and to plan the routes and accoutrements of the war's vast transportation needs: rail, air, and automotive. Cohen's richly documented and illustrated study was produced in connection with the exhibition he curated at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, in Montreal.
The two major combatants in the European theater, Germany and the United States, forged the most significant architectural expressions. In designing structures for producing heavy technology, the Detroit-based firm of Albert Kahn (1869-1942) was the undisputed leader. After emigrating as a child from Germany with his parents, Kahn developed his practice in both modernist and traditional modes, but his forte was the large industrial building for the assembly of automobiles for Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. In the twenties and thirties, as his international reputation grew, Kahn also designed some 520 factories in the Soviet Union where his Moscow office numbered over 30 architects. Typical of his efforts for the American army was the gigantic, elegant concrete, steel, and glass Chrysler Tank Arsenal in Warren, Michigan (built in 1941-42). Exemplifying what would come to be called the "technological sublime," the factory was 500 feet wide and 1,300 feet long, with the assembly line on one side fed by parts put together on the other. During the war years, the Arsenal's 5,000 workers assembled over 25,000 tanks. Nearby, at Willow Run, Kahn's 1-million-square-foot Ford Bomber Plant, 100,000 workers produced an average of one plane an hour.
If Kahn's immense factories epitomized the technological face of the American war effort, one of the best examples of domestically scaled wartime housing was the 1942 Channel Heights development for shipyard defense workers by the Austro-American Richard Neutra (189...