Architecture and Politics - 2020

By Emily Suchy

Postface by Jasper Choi

With the advent of the US presidential election, there are a number of things to discuss with how our future is going to progress. At this point, issues of racism, sexism and political correctness seem to be at the top of the agenda. What about the smaller things? The topic of architecture gets muddled within the larger framework of ‘economy,’ alongside issues of infrastructure, housing, planning and sustainability. There is a longstanding relationship between architecture’s influence in politics, and the political nature of architecture, yet there doesn’t seem to be a strong representation of architecture in politics. Why doesn’t architecture have a more substantial role in politics?

National Assembly Building of Bangladesh

One reason for this may be that architecture is often looked at as a practice that is superfluous and available only to those that can afford it. Historically, architects were hired to design and construct buildings on a monumental scale; pyramids, basilicas, government and institutional buildings. It is only recently that a large amount of architects are being commissioned for projects on a smaller, individual scale. Also, there seems to be a trend in which governments/institutions and large companies are hiring firms to design their buildings, particularly starchitects, who have a signature “design,” and are seen as defining a landmark for the client. This has traditionally been done with government buildings to represent a country’s power and stability, and to refer to the democracies of Ancient Greece and Rome. There are architects who have challenged this notion, like Louis Kahn’s National Assembly Building of Bangladesh, whose modernist design is faintly reminiscent of the vernacular style and materials. People from all over the world travel to visit these sites and buildings, and there’s a general consensus that better design makes things in life more enjoyable, so why isn’t there more outcry for more architectural expertise?

Temporary "Floating" Parliament on the River Thames

In political platforms, architecture is never directly stated, but is ambiguously referred to in infrastructure, housing, planning and sustainability. In our lives, the way we experience spaces may have a positive or negative impact on us. Generally, we know that we learn better in certain places, or feel better when we can see green space outside. Although architecture is not directly mentioned, it does have a large influence on the main issues which constantly reappear in political campaigns, which seem to be education, healthcare, and the environment. During the renaissance, architects were seen as influential beings whose status was likened to that of politicians. Now, architects are jokingly referred to as engineers that can’t do math. Is it time to reform the status of architecture in politics? Should architects have a more profound role in society? Or is it only subject to those that can afford to hire one?


Capitol Hill, Washington D.C

More recently the President of the United States, Donald Trump stated that he wants to make "federal buildings great again" from his draft executive order for federal building. Many architecture & design critics were furious by President Trump's comment and this tension became a hot topic for many architecture journals and blogs. In short, the executive order entails the avocation of bringing classical elements back into federal building with praising the architectural style of the Capitol Hill. This perspective can be further observed from the National Civil Art Society where the website states that "Contemporary architecture is by and large a failure". An article on Dezeen by Bridget Cogley delve deep into the executive order and list out modern federal buildings that the government detest. To bring this statement back to a common ground, is there a right or wrong answer as to picking a distinct architectural style for federal buildings?