Winston Churchill

Architecture is communication at its simplest. The intricate bond between the users, their heritage, history, and built surroundings is well linked to the political events that occur during the period. Political communication through massive changes in built surroundings is capable to bring or sustain an ideological transformation among people and the urban construct. 

“Yatha Raja, Tatha Praja.”
“As is King, so are the Subjects.”
Chanakya

“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”

This cycle of changes in morale among people and their surroundings has always been in play throughout history in various shapes and sizes. Historically, humans have always strived for carving a territorial identity to impart the essence of our values allegorically through built environments and actions. The actions of the ruling body play a major role in people’s overall well-being through committed order and development.

DIRECT CONTROL THROUGH POLITICAL ARCHITECTURE

The Hermit Kingdom Country i.e. Democratic Republic of North Korea has had people attempting to leave the country, living to tell the tales of their daily lives. Their first attempt to invoke patriotism came through the actions of Kim Il-sung purifying itself of Japanese elements, to get back to Japanese’s acts of cruelty. The city of Pyongyang is hardcore patriotic as it gets. It grew from the Russian ideological connection from Stalin and yet has managed to maintain a sense of Korean folk touch unique to its residents. The colours one sees as a tourist in its spectacles or urban planning are superficial, limited to Pyongyang alone.

Gathering from multiple stories from the escapees, tourists, journalists and intelligence gathered information, it’s easy to be persecuted for generations or even lose your life if you choose to partake in South Korean dramas or Hollywood movies, let alone pornography. Even a mere disagreement against the ruler could lead a person to Death’s door. The living conditions with severe restrictions and less room for individuality led to the growth of attempts to escape. There are limits for excessive movement for the locals and even worse for the tourists. It is a ‘Pulitzer level’ stunt if someone manages to come alive WITH photographs of restricted areas as a tourist.

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After extreme patriotism, the ‘cult of personality’ gives an added effect to generate a sense of devotion towards their leaders. Image by Peter Anta from ©Pixabay

POLITICAL ARCHITECTURE IN CEMENTING AN IDENTITY

Nazi concentration camps made under Hitler’s reign in Germany were an active sign of human cruelty and racial segregation. This is the result of Aryan Germans’ hatred towards non-Aryans (i.e. Jews, Negroes etc.) and retaliation against Allied powers due to well instilled racial pride and hyper-nationalism. The inhuman acts of mass executions during holocausts stand as a grim reminder to the world of how one person can be capable of absolute havoc.

What’s relatively less known in mainstream history is that the Nazi officials opposed the radically famous Bauhaus movement. Adolf Hitler, through his immediate officials, promoted Neoclassical architecture and state-approved expressions to preserve the ‘superior race’ identity within the Third Reich. On the other hand, the Bauhaus movement ran on minimalist and modernist ideals, striving away from pre-conceived identities such as race, religion, sex and other ‘decisive’ factors under the Nazi Germany. The suppression of differing ideologies under the Nazi landscape resulted in closing down of Bauhaus school by the leader Walter Gropius.

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Albert Speer’s proposal of ‘Rebuilding of Berlin’ was inspired from Hausmann’s planning of Paris. The architect-politician designed the model ‘world capital Berlin,’ where the main road leads people to the governmental building topped with the ribbed dome ‘Volkshalle.’Modell der Neugestaltung Berlins “Germania,” Albert Speer 1939German Federal Archives/©Wikimedia Commons

What also makes for an interesting observation is that certain political beliefs have their admirers, validating its existence in the region. With changing times, these places voice an ideology that either goes beyond its prime or it loses its reasons of existence. This leaves the constructs in question to be corrected, revolted against or challenged in the face of change.

In a similar vein, the National Civics Arts Society (NCAS) published a draft to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for “making federal buildings great again” (titled as is). Details of the draft come from a perspective against a deconstructivist / modernist / brutalist views, complaining that they “don’t provide visual testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigour, and stability of the American government.” The proposal was to make Neoclassical architectural style mandatory for all federal buildings in America. This is the same draft that was made in 1962 known as “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” proposed by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a bureaucrat who worked in U.S Department of Labour under JFK’s presidency.

This, however, drew incendiary unfavourable reactions from the architectural community everywhere because it doesn’t align with diverse identity America has in the world. This draft came in when the unlawful murder of George Floyd triggered ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests across the world. This has prompted the USA locals to vandalise the statues of several Confederate personalities and some placing petitions for the removal of Confederate names from well-known institutions, that are well-known slave traders or plantation owners who were direct causes of the infamous American Civil War. This became a sign of protest against systemic racism upon people of colour, especially the black community.

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The Confederate Soldier Memorial in Denton, Texas. Erected in 1918, vandalized in 2015. Photograph Courtesy – Rian Dundon ©https://timeline.com/

POLITICAL CONTROL THROUGH EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE

Hong Kong grew with people practising democratic values without sacrificing the autonomy of their region, their rights and fear of their privacy being violated (Hong Kong Basic Law) while maintaining the political system of Mainland China. Residents and refugees saw rapid urbanisation of Hong Kong as they lived under Britain’s active involvement in building up the region as a financial hub, due to its status of ‘one country, two systems’ under Sino-British Declaration.

China recently attempted on asserting dominance upon Hong Kong using their extreme surveillance with facial recognition, trying to enforce extradition law to suppress protests against it. This move risked Hong Kong losing autonomy, opening them to the unjust judiciary systems of China. However, people here have still protested despite all the restraints and strict policing.

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Photograph Courtesy – ©Foster + Partners

China is also taking in Uighurs (an endemic Muslim community) living in the autonomous province of Xinjiang to designated ‘correctional facilities,’ used as a labour force and brainwashed to make them ‘a part of the majoritarian culture.’ With surveillance and veiled racism, they have incarcerated many such innocent people for merely following their rituals.

POSITIVE COMMUNICATION THROUGH POLITICAL ARCHITECTURE

In some instances, positive use of political architecture bolsters the way one perceives their surroundings. This gives the visitor an impression of ease in function and order as one lives by.

Reichstag, New German Parliament Building, was severely affected by war and neglect. Norman Foster’s approach to building a glass dome (or cupola) and making it publicly accessible, communicates for transparency in governance. This building poetically reflects the essence of democracy; “by the people, for the people, of the people.”

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Inside the dome of Reichstag, New German Parliament Building Photograph Courtesy – ©Foster + Partners
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©m.blog.naver.com

Curitiba, a south Brazilian city, taught to the world lot more about dealing with urban issues than any other city. Unlike many other examples stated, the architect-in-control Jaime Lerner was also elected Mayor of Curitiba. His solution in making a pedestrian-friendly city and increasing green cover to combat floods made Curitiba the most satisfactory city to live within for its residents. This city is a prime example of ‘people in power’ who care for their surroundings.

The modern city of Chandigarh designed by Le Corbusier was touted to be a vision for Modern India and a haven for people traumatised by the Partition. It was Nehru’s ambition to imbibe a holistic approach in the city’s planning. The ‘Radiant City’ model planning of Chandigarh was meant to accept people with open arms, irrespective of their class or income group. This city is designed for ease of governance and better life opportunities, an extension of Le Corbusier’s philosophy of a ‘well-oiled machine’ theory. The city’s value has only grown with time, maintaining its authenticity and providing the best envisioned’ city life in India.

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“The Open Hand” is the symbol of acceptance and all-encompassing hospitality to its residents and visitors in Chandigarh. Photograph Courtesy –© Benjamin Hosking

And many such examples of positive political architecture exist beyond the aforementioned. The inference gained from all of the examples given above? 

The best political architecture is seldom political.

NRK Sudheendra Teja
Author

N. R. K. S. Teja is an architect, who loves minimalist works, survives on spicy food and an internet junkie, absorbing all kinds of information related to interior design and architecture. He believes if drawings speak more, words articulate better.

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