If not politicized, it is simply not designed!

Architecture is seen in every aspect of life practically and functionally through efforts to achieve betterment and dignified existence. It is both concrete and visionary and capable of pinning our aspirations and activities to solidification, hence adopting a long-term approach and effective physical surroundings. Architecture is based on design, design is based on thinking and thinking is a political act in all its dimensions. The definition or concept of this subject must first be understood clearly. We all agree that design and architecture are not just a collection of structures; neither are they just objects nor attractive patterns.

The intersection of Politics and Architecture - Sheet1
Pedestrian walks during apartheid South Africa _©Wikimedia

Politics has been primitively defined as power over or on people through constitutions set but if traced back to date, it has been proved by philosophers like Minkenberg, who agrees with Foucault 1998(power in architecture) that the shift might not be visible but it is seen echoing through historical buildings, the constant link between architecture, public spaces and buildings, and the political powers, its operation and consequences.

The physical political manifestation of power through architecture was theorized by modern architects in the 18th century. Theorizing the politics within the public buildings from the different historical regimes till then through circumstances and influences at the time of initiating those buildings. Minkenberg also argued that architecture has been seen as an outcome of interconnecting with political and societal issues that are hidden, it spatially establishes social relations giving greater agency in negotiations anonymously through the built environment. 

Despite denials, the tangled relationship between politics and architecture is traced back to the 18th century, a time at which discussions of urbanism and public buildings were politicized though it wasn’t visible to the architects. A visible example to date is the US capitol which is one of the widely recognized cherished worldwide buildings symbolizing the American people and its government initiated at a time the southern state was threatening to withdraw from the union and objected to the power of the federal government. The aim of the initiative and constant expansion wasn’t known until president Abraham Lincoln said, “if people see the work continue on the capital, they would accept the union.” A statement that inextricably linked and proved public architecture work is political.

The intersection of Politics and Architecture - Sheet2
White house portico Pennsylvania Avenue _©Getty images

This meant that politicians have been using the built environment to manipulate and seduce societies to their underlying ideology of the political regime as an arena of power and authority but also a genuine act of constructing political realities though it questions what we call a civilized life, could it be a cover for the politics?

Architecture has been used politically to leave a mark of success in rule when one’s term of rule has come to an end. This struggle has always been in corrupt countries where one savors power and realizes the need to be remembered at the least time or when there`s a need to stay longer in power. The nexus between self-aggrandizement and the public interest is complex in buildings and urbanism that serve to legitimize authority; thus, architecture always comes to the rescue to gratify and turn a profit. At times even panic and end up replicating an existing building an example is the newly launched South Sudan presidential palace in June 2022 in which president Salva Kiir asked the executive director in his office, James Deng Wal, engineers in a press conference to construct a building that would last for a hundred years.” Though it is a close replicant of the Sudan presidential palace. At a time in which the elections were to be in 2023 before its adjournment to three more years. This kind of political-architectural embodiment inevitably constructs a mythology of political presentation that is historically constructed and naturally normalized to legitimize authority and yet they are setting individual historical grounds.

The intersection of Politics and Architecture - Sheet3
Front elevation of one of the entrances of the proposed new South Sudan Presidential Palace _©Office of the President of South Sudan Facebook page

It’s Operation

Politics when combined with architecture create a better-built environment but making this existence and operation functionally visible has been a struggle though a few have been witnessed

Politics has been able to intersect with architecture through constitutional division of the environment by creating neighborhoods that initially were political pathways of segregating the people according to status, race, culture, and class creating a privileged environment through the sometimes unfair distribution of privileges but politically they look at the central organization of these cities and the illusion of permanence and progress and social order and impossibility of change. 

In most cases, when the authority is weakened, architecture is used to build capacity buildings to symbolize strength and legitimize their authority or to direct the attention of citizens from the crisis be it economics or any other factor that is degrading the country`s status like long civil wars this is usually an aftermath and a method of giving hope to the citizens to set grounds and give a message that progress is on track though it’s manipulative.


Basilica of Our Lady of Peace Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire _©Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0.

Even though the architecture is being imbued with political intentions, doesn`t mean that it is inherently political, it can still maintain its dignity and integrity because it can orient and disorient its subjects through the daily frame of the built environment by constructing a cognitive image of our world that is democratically built and just to serve capability without considering race and culture; yes being in an environment of your race has been ideologically said to give a sense of identity and belonging but a human’s happy environment is one where there`s comfort thus the healthy quality of life. Le Corbusier was one of the key personalities who believed in architectural elegance and the need to treat people with equal dignity despite their social status his concept inspired buildings like the Hyderabad office building by Rahul Mehrotra


Antonie Picon (2014): Political theory and architecture 

Minkenberg Michael (2014): Power and architecture: the construction of capitals, the politics of space, and the space of politics

Sudjic, Deyan (2005): The edifice complex: how the rich and powerful shape the world.

The LogicalIndian: Looking Back At The Ills Of ‘Apartheid’ In South Africa Etched Forever In History [online] Available at: https://thelogicalindian.com/history/south-africa-apartheid-34500 [Accessed date: 05 November 2022].

Swedish Association of Architects: Architecture and politics  

Schloss Post: If not political, it is not design. [online] Available at: https://schloss-post.com/not-political-not-design/ [Accessed date: 04 November 2022].

Archidatum: Politics and Architecture in Africa as Synonyms of Progress [online] Available at: https://www.archidatum.com//articles/politics-and-architecture-in-africa-as-synonyms-of-progress/  [Accessed date: 06 November 2022].


Chan Simon is a fresh architecture school graduate from the University of Juba with a passion for evening the playing field. He is currently a design studio teaching assistant in the architecture department at the School of Architecture, Land Management, Urban and Regional Planning (University of Juba).