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Gabriel Didiano 993113796

Nationalism and Architecture

The built environment we inhabit is a strategic tool in the negotiation of national identity. The citizen cannot avoid the nation space due to the reality that citizens inhabit cities that are part of the national discourse. This discourse is directed by the hegemonic power of a nation that can influence the design and construction of our environments. Thus a federally constructed cityscape can enhance the power of the nation.1 Numerous case studies have analyzed the relationship between nationalism and architecture which have concluded that nations use architecture to reinforce identity. Haim Yacobi analyzed the Israeli-Palestinian use of architecture in nation-building. Paul Baxa shed light on Fascist Italy’s attack on Catholic Rome to develop a pagan Roman identity. These two cases are just a sample of the many that concluded that the built environment reinforce national identity. A nation’s conscious effort to manipulate architecture for nationalistic reasons can simply be called architectural nationalism. The authors of the sample case studies do not agree on all aspects of architectural nationalism because it is a relatively new debate on the varying theories of “how architecture is used” and “what does it represents subconsciously.” The debate encompasses the instigators, origins, place, time, governmental structure, and symbolization of architecture and identity. The issues in the debate are the ingredients needed to create a program of architectural nationalism. However, the mix of ingredients can be quite different in each state. 1

Michel Foucault, “Space, Knowledge, Power,” Interview with Paul Rabinow in Neil Leach (ed), Rethinking Architecture—A Reader in Cultural Theory, (New York: Routledge, 2005), 349.


This paper attempts to define a framework that Nationalism and architecture can be analyzed. Architectural nationalism is a tool facilitated by a national instigator due to an identity crisis. The built environment is subconsciously constructed as a common image that reminds the public of ownership and values accepted by the state. The values are either forced or encouraged through architecture to strengthen the nation. A heightened sense of nationalism is realized when the nation is in crisis.2 A Nation in crisis feels vulnerable and worries about the decay of culture if identity is not protected.3 Edward Said identified the problem as a struggle over national space.4 He said, “This [forms, images, and imagings] struggle is exacerbated when dealing with national space that represents geopolitical and social order, which aims to correlate between the homogeneity of population and its collective identity and the territorial borders.”5 A conflict of identity or change in government creates a demand for reestablishing and reinforcing identity in the built environment. Conflicts of identity come from regional, sub-national, and supra-national groups. Architecture serves politics as a tool to combat a crisis of nationalism. It reinforces ownership through physical signs of power and banal reminders. Banality is achieved because architectural nationalism attempts to redesign the city as a new national entity. These structures have always existed in the state, a nationalized house is still a house, and a city still functions as a city. There is no change is use, just a change in form. However banal the change in form is, architectural nationalism can reassure the state and strengthen national identity. The struggle over the built environment can be solved by redesigning it. 2

Jonathan F. Vance, “Building Canada: People and Projects That Shaped A Nation,” (Toronto: Penguin Group., 2006), 123-124. 3 Ibid. 4 Haim Yacobi, “Architecture, Orientalism, and Identity: the Politics of the Israeli-Built Environment,” Israel Studies, 13.1 (2008), 2. 5 Ibid.


Generally, nationalism and architecture were associated with each other in the eighteenth century.6 Not all authors agree who are the instigators or group that pursue architectural national. Who are the parties that seek a national identity in the built environment, is it the elites or ordinary citizens? Who are the national instigators that create a discourse in the built environment? The answer is both elites and ordinary citizens can begin programs of nation building. Identifying these instigators is critical to understanding who dictates the nation's identity. Facist regimes create architecture that represent authoritarian identity, post-colonial governments create hybrid designs, and public initiated nationalism creates a democratic national identity. The political system that allows for nation building in architecture frames the context of the power struggle. The Canadian experience of nation building and parliament construction has consisted of consensus and democratically selected decisions on design that highlights British Canadian nationalism. Jonathan F. Vance concluded in his historiography Building Canada: People and Projects that Shaped the Nation, that the nation-builders are the workers that built parliament or laid track down for the national railway.7 Public guided development is a bottom-to-top nation building system. National identity in Canada is negotiated by the majority and then constructed. The bottom-to-top system promotes the idea that nations can create nationalism if the state has a well-defined identity. In the case of pre-confederation Canada, national identity was very British and established allowing for a bottom-to-top system. Nationalism and architecture are fundamental to the democratic Canadian self-identification in the built environment. The

6 7

Foucault, 367. Vance, 289.


effort that ordinary citizens have provided was paramount to the manifestation of nationalism in Canadian architecture. Israeli and post-colonial national identity is conceived differently then the Canadian experience. Identity is constructed top-to-bottom from the centres of power. The national elites who created the nation dictate the design of the built environment. According to Haim Yacobi, the Israeli government initiated the struggle over space to purify the landscape from Palestinian identity and mark it as Israeli.8 Architecture is a statement of ownership for Israel over a land they had to defend. When Israel develops a settlement bloc, the government is asserting its hegemonic influence over the landscape in an attempt to stain the land blue and white. Nationalism breeds nations in a top-tobottom system. Elites play the traditional role of disseminating the national identity to the masses. Yacobi’s case study clearly shows how the Palestinian identity was excluded. Exclusion reinforced the power of the Israeli national identity because competing groups were removed from the built environment. The post-colonial experience of conceiving and promoting national identity through architecture was controlled from a top-to-bottom system. Capitol and state buildings are constructed to house the newly freed institutions and promote an independent national identity. Post-colonial states generally attempt to consolidate their power to prevent the resurgence of colonial nationality and to dominate fledgling subnational identities.9 Lawrence J. Vale studied the effect of capital complexes in postcolonial states. Vale believes that capitol projects were symbols to sanction the new leadership and legitimatize the new hierarchies.10 Top-to-bottom systems of nation 8

Yacobi, 114. Lawrence J. Vale, “Architecture, Power, and National Identity,� (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 10. 10 Ibid, 8. 9


building exclude aspiring national groups that are competing with the elites. Vale wrote about South Asian examples of post-colonial capitol projects which tended to espouse militaristic and undemocratic forms of nationalism. An example of control promulgated by the top-to-bottom system was symbolically illustrated in Louis Kahn’s National Assembly Building. Vale’s studies highlighted the urgency that post-colonial nationals felt in defining an independent built environment. The new constructed capitols in South Asia utlized monumentality and separation from the public sphere which reinforced an authoritarian control. Benito Mussolini’s nation building followed a top-to-bottom system with a populist base, although this base gave an illusion of a bottom-to-top system. Fascism is by definition an ultra-national identity where propaganda is used to sanction the elite’s decisions. Paul Baxa case study of Fascist Italy and its deconstruction of the ecclesiastic Rome was an example of how elites can manipulate the public into forgetting history and authorizing nation-building projects.11 Mussolini pursued a populist supported top-tobottom redefinition of the nation and he was rebuilding Rome in a modern pagan Roman image which was in defiance of the church. Mussolini was selectively picking at history to create his identity,12 thus creating an image of empire to legitimize his rule and silence the Catholic opposition. Paul Baxa’s study is interesting because the Catholic Church opposed the deconstruction of religious Rome and began to call on the people to protect Catholicism. The Church was in crisis and used religious nationalism to create an alternative city within the capital.13 The exclusion of the Church from the Fascist national 11

Paul Baxa, “A Pagan Landscape: Pope Pius XI, Fascism and the Struggle Over the Roman Cityscape,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, 17.1 (2006), 116. 12 13

Baxa, 117. Ibid, 113.


identity initiated a backlash. The Church elites called on the Italian people to protect the religious space. Two top-to-bottom systems were in competition vying for the same space. The differences between the two systems of nation building (top vs. bottom) raise an important question, how do nation builders create a communally accepted national style? How does architectural nationalism gain authenticity and merit in society? Through architecture, national identity becomes a physical construct as well as political and cultural phenomenon. National architectural styles reinforce a nation’s homogeneous identity developing authenticity and historical roots which are important aspects in the self-identification of the nation. Architectural nationalism does not work without a strong base rooted in the nation’s historical successes and accompany past architecture. It does not matter how vague or distant the connection to the past is. A good example is Bratislav Panteli paper on the revivalist Serbo-Byzantine architectural style in Serbia. The Serbian state and elite encouraged and commissioned works based on a pre-Ottoman, medieval inspired architecture which was distant and vague.14 The revived style was antiorientalism directly conflicting with accepted modern Serbian architecture and rooted in a “semimythical glory” of the past.15 Furthermore, creating connections between preOttoman Serbia reinforced unrealistic national aspirations of reclaiming lost land.16 This all did not matter, nations often return to a distant or imagined past to give authenticity to the government.


Bratislav Panteli, “Nationalism and Architecture: The Creation of a National Style in Serbian Architecture and Its Political Implications,” The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 56.1 (1997), 16, 36. 15 Ibid, 16. 16 Panteli, 19.


Architecture can be the tool that provides the historical roots. Lawrence J. Vale says architecture is a unifying force.17 Architectural nationalism attempts to create a single national identity in the built environment, however not all authors agreed it was a good idea. Many saw it as a dangerous use of history as if the past was some utopian time. Architectural nationalism consistently idealizes the past in a way that forgets any problems. Yacobi identified the historical justification in architectural nationalism as “rewriting national history.”18 He went further to say that nationalism appropriates memory and destroys the accuracy of it.19 Vale agreed and drew attention to creating a symbol that masked the truth and was “empty hypocritical ritualism.”20 Michel Foucault called it a postmodernist attempt to redesign architecture as dangerous. Foucault says that, “…there is a widespread and facile tendency, which one should combat, to designate that which has just occurred as the primary evil, as if this were always the principal form of oppression from which one had to liberate oneself. Now this simple attitude entails a number of dangerous consequences: first, an inclination to seek out some cheap form of archaism or some imaginary past forms of happiness that did not, in fact have at all. There is in this hatred of the present or the immediate past a dangerous tendency to invoke a completely mythical past.”21 History provides lessons for the present. Architectural nationalism that is rooted in a distant past ignores recent lessons that could benefit the nation. Foucault, Vale, and Yacobi identified the dangers of architectural nationalism. Architectural nationalism greatest fault is that it tends to exclude groups in its historical manipulation. Nationalism creates authoritarian messages that are implied by 17

Vale, xii. Yacobi, 7. 19 Ibid, 8-9. 20 Vale, 9. 21 Foucault, 373. 18


exclusion of architectural styles.22 Fascist Italy attempted to time travel 1000 years to justify its control, however due to the secular Roman identity chosen it excluded the predominant Catholic identity in Italy. The end result was Mussolini building a Fascist Italy that was rejecting its Catholic past.23 The Israeli and Serbian experience are similar in that they excluded their Palestinian and Ottoman histories respectively. The postcolonial analysis by Lawrence J. Vale saw similar trends in the capitol complex projects. The visual dominance and monumentality of capital complexes dictated the national identity.24 Architectural nationalism provides a physical realm where the concepts of exclusion and inclusion are visibly apparent. Exclusion allows for a social transformation of the landscape limiting the impact of the “other.”25 Inclusion sanctions the governing power.26 Vale described the ideas of inclusion and exclusion as “mutually reinforced” messages that alienate some and empower others.27 It is an artificial message that is designed and represented in the architecture of the city. 28 Architectural nationalism represents a legitimizing symbol of national power. A symbol is the broadest definition of what architectural nationalism represents. Developing symbols was a recurrent theme of Vale’s post-colonial analysis. The social and cultural conditions combined with the complimentary symbols of the state espoused nationalism.29 Symbols represent a version of identity and convey meaning through denotation, exemplification, metaphorical expression, and mediated reference.30 The


Vale, 8. Baxa, 116. 24 Vale, 249, 255. 25 Yacobi, 7. 26 Vale, 8. 27 Ibid, 9. 28 Ibid, 49. 29 Vale, 10. 30 Ibid, 4. 23


interpretation by the public sphere of symbols in the context of the four ways of conveyance was how architecture expressed its national identity. Vance wrote that architecture had a “psychological value as a symbol.”31 Architecture can express unifying national identity and serve public good by improving society. 32 So symbols that architecture represent on the landscape strengthen national identity. Psychological symbols cannot exist in the built environment as visible markers. National identity as symbolized in architecture exists in our subconscious. Haim Yacobi and Fredic Jameson addressed the subconscious national identity concept. Yacobi concluded that architectural nationalism creates a hybrid identity in the built environment.33 The hybrid identity is the negotiated identity created from the excluded group and the included nationalists. The built environment becomes a “third space” in Yacobi’s analysis.34 The third space created challenge the hegemonic narrative of the nation, however it does not transform it.35 Third space lies outside the physical realm and within the communal imagination which blurs time and space.36 Fredic Jameson calls the subconscious national identity that is created from architecture an allegorical matter.37 The matter makes up politics and the collective ideals of the state.38 Architectural nationalism is an allegory of the “invisible substance of society as a whole.”39 Architectural nationalism is not represented in the structure but in the minds of the beholder. The matter is interpreted in subconscious of the individual. National symbols 31

Vance, xiii. Ibid, 98-99. 33 Yacobi, 4. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid, 115. 36 Ibid, 113. 37 Fredic Jameson, “Is Space Political,” in Neil Leach (ed), Rethinking Architecture—A Reader in Cultural Theory, (New York: Routledge, 2005), 257. 38 Jameson, 257. 39 Ibid, 256. 32


create connotative meaning and an “association of ideas” where the public interpret the architecture.40 Architecture depends on the interpretation of the public. Who decided to design the structure and what is its purpose, these are important questions. In the realm of national discourse ask what crisis of identity occurred, who were the national instigators, what past is the architecture rooted in, who is excluded, and what sort of symbol subconsciously does it represent? Michel Foucault states succinctly, “Space is fundamental in any exercise of power.”41 It is in the nation’s interest to guide architecture so that the nation’s hegemonic power is perpetually reinforced. Architectural nationalism is a reminder of the nation, a subconscious symbol that appropriates history for the good of the nation. Architects hopefully try to avoid the hegemonic power of the government and transcend it, portraying a perfect national identity that encompasses all, however Architects are not always given this opportunity, they are sometimes limited and must find a compromise with their clients. Architects enter into an unequal relationship where the profession can be influenced by the financial limitations and monetary incentive to make the client happy. The profession is tied to the same political force which dominates and submits sub-national groups in the nation.42 In the Serbian case study, Serbian students were encouraged by their patrons to attend certain schools of architecture to learn the right style.43 Architects are partial in that they depend on following the trends or hegemonic narrative to gain work. The same can be said for non-nationalist patrons and clients. National styles are followed by private enterprise because it is the accepted norm of architecture. Trends 40

Ibid, 256-258. Foucault, 376. 42 Vale, 10. 43 Panteli, 21-22. 41


dictate what is acceptable and what is not. The best place to find trends are in the public works where money is less of an issue and the full potential of nationally accepted design is there to be copied. Globalization has changed our world. It is creating an international community that has begun to smooth architectural styles with some reactionary backlash. National architecture as a result has become more prominent in federal projects while the private sector tends toward an international contemporary, following a democratic free market supra-national identity. Nothing is set in stone though, the global trend is not final as national change is inevitable when the nation or supra-nation enters into crisis. The Nation will prevail as crisis instigates nationalism.


Bibliography Anderson, Benedict. "Imagined Communities." Nationalism. Ed. Anthony D. Smith and John Hutchinson. New York: Oxford UP, 1994. 89-96. Baxa, Paul. "A Pagan Landscape: Pope Pius XI, Fascism, and the Struggle Over the Roman Cityscape." Journal of the Canadian Historical Association ns 17.1 (2006): 107-124. Bozdogan, Sibel. Modernism and Nation Building. Seattle: University of Washington P, 2001. Crinson, Mark. Modernism Architecture and the End of Empire. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003. Freschi, Federico. "Postapartheid Publics and the Politics of Ornament: Nationalism, Identity, and the Rhetoric of Community in the Decorative Program of the New Constitutional Court, Johannesburg." Africa Today 54.2 (2007): 26-49. Hobsbawm, Eric. "The Nation as Invented Tradition." Nationalism. Ed. John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith. New York: Oxford UP, 1994. 76-83. Leach, Neil, ed. Rethinking Architecture: a Reader in Cultural Theory. New York: Routledge, 2005. Panteli, Bratislav. "Nationalism and Architecture: the Creation of a National Style in Serbian Architecture and Its Political Implications." The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 56.1 (1997): 16-41. Sokol, David M. "Conclusion: National Identity and Visual Culture in America." The Journal of American Culture 31.1 (2008): 98-101. Vale, Lawrence J. Architecture, Power, and National Identity. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992. Vance, Jonathan F. Building Canada: People and Projects That Shaped the Nation. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2006. Weingarden, Lauren S. "Naturalized Nationalism: a Ruskinian Discourse on the Search for an American Style of Architecture." Winterthur Portfolio, 24.1 (1989): 43-68. Yacobi, Haim. "Architecture, Orientalism, and Identity: the Politics of the Israeli-Built Environment." Israel Studies 13.1 (2008): 94-118.


Yacobi, Haim. "The Architecture of Ethnic Logic: Exploring the Meaning of the Built Environment in the 'Mixed' City of Lod, Israel." Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography 84.3 (2002): 171-187.


Nationalism & Architecture  

Thesis paper on the impact of Architectural Nationalism on the built environment, nation identity, and society.

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