The Politics of Architecture
Online Arts and Literature Editor, Lucy Aylmer reflects on the importance of architecture
Throughout time, power has been exerted through the medium of bricks and mortar; the idea of endurance is symbolically reflected in a building to reinstate ideologies and beliefs. From the Egyptian Pyramids through to Europes Gothic Cathedrals and the soaring skyscrapers of global, homogenous cities- architecture has the ability to present authority.
Architecture has been a poignant reminder of conquest, such is the case for the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna that was constructed to remind people of the conquering of pagan Rome by Christian forces. The glorification of war is reflected through glittering Byzantium mosaics depicting powerful Emperors to highlight their worthy accomplishments and lay a solid grounding for the longevity of their legacies. Architecture is used as a way to delineate between religions and structure superiority and inferiority complexes within them. The propagating of religion through architecture was rife throughout the antiquity period.
Trends to build bigger and better constructions than other nations was vital in securing national sovereignty
Aside from conquest, competition is also integral to architectural politics. Trends to build bigger and better constructions than other nations was vital in securing national sovereignty. Ferocious competition played out between the East and the West during the 16th century with tenacious ambitions to create awe inspiring places of worship to reflect political, cultural and social status. Architects such as Mimar Sinan, the chief Ottoman architect was the visionary behind The Süleymaniye Mosque, which was constructed in order to surpass the Christian Hagia Sophia Cathedral and mark a triumphant turning point in Ottoman history. Similarly, in the west, Michelangelo’s St Peters Basilica, showcased the ascendancy of renaissance ideals through the basilica being crowned the largest church in the world and thus eclipsing both The Süleymaniye Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
Conquest and competition can be reflected in todays society with the literal rise of soaring skyscrapers that showcase sparkling wealth, as one gazes, mouth ajar at the intimidating, almost formidable constructions that range from The Shard to The Empire State Building. Places of religion were once used to project power, now skyscrapers oversee that task. Architecture should be endorsed as a politicised medium of expression; regardless of whether a building is constructed to fulfil a vanity project, it adds colour, history and a sense of purpose behind its being. The story behind the façade is often far more engaging than the objective beauty of a building itself.