In many respects, architecture is the most evident and palpable reminder of any past time or society. Even thousands of years after empires have crumbled and civilizations have changed, buildings and monuments continue to stand as a reminder of the spirit and character of a place and its inhabitants. By deliberately or unconsciously incorporating the viewpoint and substance of their civilization into their structures, the architects of any given time have a profound method of immortalising the spirit of their culture. Both historical and contemporary regimes have used architecture to communicate strength and authority to their populations, whether to oppress their own or scare their foes. 

Totalitarian architecture and urban planning first appeared in the literature as a comparison between Soviet and German architecture. This style encompasses Nazi, Fascist, and Stalinist building designs, and was referred to as the “legacy of dictatorships.” Redevelopment of entire cities, including the extensive demolishing of historic buildings, was planned and carried out to represent the greatness and superiority of totalitarian nations and their rulers. Examples of these cities include Moscow, Rome, Berlin, and Bucharest. Although there are many examples of totalitarian architecture in Europe, mainly from the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany eras, it has also been explored in other regions worldwide, such as North Korean architecture or Communist China’s architecture. 

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1950-1980s flats in a residential area in Haidian, Beijing_@Ahen0barbus

Features of Totalitarian Architecture

Totalitarian architecture and urban planning favour opulent shapes that connect to megalomania. Massive structures with rigorously standardised exterior decorations, colours, and design elements frequently indicate rule over man. It was popular to include imagery from the Roman and Byzantine empires and ancient Greece to stress the connection with old predecessors. Architects were restricted to reproducing pre-existing styles since a totalitarian state banned them from expressing artistic innovation. After World War I, severe architecture from American Art Deco made its way to Europe, where it coexisted naturally and amicably with the avant-garde. 

Totalitarian architecture and urban planning’s intimidating scale make it the ideal medium for expressing the superiority of the group over the individual and for meeting the imperial aspirations of tyrants. However, grandiose ideas frequently contained buildings whose scale was incomparable to reality. For instance, there was a plan to create Berlin’s Volkshalle, a massive dome structure 250 metres high with space for 180 000 people. A building with the same height as American skyscrapers was planned for Hamburg. The Moscow Palace of Soviets, a monument to the triumph of socialism, was slated to be the tallest structure in the world. It was intended to be a 300-metre castle having a 100-metre-tall statue of Lenin. These projects were unfinished because of the scale, complexity, and high cost.

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Palace of the Soviets was an unrealized project of the Soviet Union_@Alexander Koyagin
Fascist Architecture

By removing the ostentatious and emphasising simplicity and symmetry, fascist architecture, of the early 20th century by the Italian and German regimes of the time, borrowed heavily from neo-classical and ancient roman architecture. These buildings were designed to resemble a dominance over the regime’s populace and are cold and intimidating in appearance.

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Piazza Guglielmo Marconi_@Blackcat
Nazi Architecture

Romanesque and Doric classicism, as well as native styles from different regions of Germany, are the roots of Nazi totalitarian architecture and urban planning. It intended to persuade the populace through subliminal propaganda built into its structures. To intimidate, its architectural influences helped to create a symbolic depiction of power, size, and strength. In addition, they encode an implicit message of “race supremacy.” Hitler believed that the historical structures were replicas of the cultures. In this way, he thought that man could utilize architecture to pass down his dictatorship and its tenets to future generations.

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Lower Silesian Province Office in Wrocław_@Jaroslaw Ciurus
North Korea Totalitarian Architecture

One of the design tenets of North Korean architecture is to create symmetrically aligned areas with a central axis drawing attention to a statue or portrait of the nation’s leaders. North Korea’s totalitarian architecture and urban planning base its design on authoritarian ideology, guaranteeing that the buildings and environments people live in constantly reinforce their commitment to the government. Pastel colours are used, both inside and out, to convey a sense of warmth and wealth in contrast to the extreme poverty and oppression and disguise the people’s harsh living and working situations.

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A North Korean city_@ Alex Davidson
Italian Fascist Architecture

The structures were planned with minimum ostentation in mind, relying on a neoclassical approach. This so-called rationalist architecture mixed the exaggerated proportions of a vast, authoritarian scale that enforced power and absolution with the classical aesthetic of Ancient Rome. Some structures, like the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, are notably anti-baroque, harsh, and basic in their attempt to express “truth and reason” above all else.

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Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana_@Katalin Bán

One could believe that authoritarian and fascist rule and thought are untouchable in the contemporary west. But given that fallen totalitarian dictators’ symbol is now commonplace in the streets during the Trump administration, it’s possible that the design of the 45th POTUS’ hotels and casinos can reveal a subliminal connection between previous and present regimes. Nazi construction methods encoded white supremacy symbolism, strength, and power into their structures. Trump, on the other hand, is communicating egotism, which is much less subtle. Not merely classic egotism, but also egotism based on a capitalist system. 

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Trump Tower in Las Vegas_@Bin im Garten


In conclusion, Totalitarian Architecture and urban planning are a reflection of the political ideologies of the regimes that commissioned them. The distinctive features include grandiose structures, the use of symbolism, and the emphasis on showcasing the power of the state. Brutalism often overlaps with Totalitarian Architecture, but it’s not inherently associated with any specific political ideology. Fascist Architecture in Italy was heavily influenced by classical architecture to evoke Roman glory, while Nazi Architecture focused on monumental and intimidating structures. North Korea Totalitarian Design showcases a unique blend of traditional Korean design with Soviet-style buildings. Trumpitecture, although not necessarily associated with a specific political ideology, does exhibit characteristics of grandiosity and a focus on showcasing power, much like Totalitarian Architecture. Overall, Totalitarian Architecture and urban planning are a reminder of the impact political ideologies can have on the built environment.

Aerial view of EUR_@Marten253


Fascist architecture,Wikipedia. Available at:  [Accessed January 30, 2023].

Totalitarian Architecture: Designing Fascism,Glossi Mag. Available at:  [Accessed January 30, 2023].

Totalitarian architecture,Wikipedia. Available at:  [Accessed January 30, 2023].


Currently in her 4th year of Architecture at IIT Roorkee, Avantika believes that architecture is a tool for meeting people’s aspirations and providing them with better experiences. When coupled with design thinking, architecture and research have the potential to enrich our societies and have a constructive impact. Creating socially, culturally, and environmentally sustainable spaces is what architecture means to her. Her experience as an architecture student has shifted her world view and taught her to be more observant and empathetic.