Cold Panels: From Postcolonial Aluminum to Post-War Architecture

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


Aluminum panels became a common construction component of curtain wall facades in the post-war era. But that these panels stem from a history of colonial trade networks and extractivist exploitation, is entirely obscured in the lightness and use of aluminum. Unfolding the cross-historical geopolitical map of aluminum panels gives insights in how planetary logistic efforts of ores and capital during the post-war era rendered architecture into a geological factor, and served western postcolonial control.

When Hugo Junkers first patented a compound panel of aluminum sheets and honeycomb structure, Germany did not have access to major bauxite deposits, in order to render this aircraft technology into a mass product. Consequently, the aircraft and arms industry during the Third Reich depended largely on coal and steel. Aluminum, instead, was ruled by the patent-based monopolies in France and the US, controlling its inflationary use in the WWII aircraft industry, and the bauxite supply chains from West Africa and Jamaica. Only after the war, prefabricated aluminum panels enabled the conversion in production capacity from the aircraft industry into the construction sector, by bringing major companies such as Alcoa, Reynolds and Kaiser Aluminum on the European market.

Based on archival findings of Marshall Plan funded US-study trips by architects such as Egon Eiermann, Walter Henn, Jean Tschumi, and Konrad Wachsmann, this paper aims to unfold geopolitical relations through a material history of aluminum panels.

Ultimately, this period marks a starting point of a planetary feedback loop: Marshall plan credits were payed off by strategic ores, extracted by major US companies in former colonial territories, and reinvested again into aluminum based post-war reconstruction in Europe. It inscribed obscure colonial trade patterns into material logistic chains that imply the problematic inability until the present day to deal with postcolonial legacies in European post-war architecture and beyond.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventSAH 2023 76th ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE - Hôtel Bonaventure Montréal, Montreal, Canada
Duration: 12 Apr 202315 Apr 2023


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