Posted: November 7th, 2023
Architecture is inherently connected to political power. Since the Renaissance Era, architecture has provided the model for how society conceptualizes the world. As seen in different dynasties throughout the 1400s and 1500s, the monuments demonstrate the political and social power of elite individuals responsible for the structures. For instance, axial architecture directs the people to the central seat or the symbol of political power. An example is the Templo Mayor in Mexico City (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 462). The native Mayan community created their villages to lead toward the main religious temple. A modern approach to axial architecture can be seen in prisons. The nature of the walls and wardenship illustrate a top-down distribution of social power. Apart from the architectural approach, different building techniques were also used to depict social and political power.
The use of domes was common to signify political and economic power. The Cathedral of Florence constructed its dome in 16 years to convey its prosperity and uniqueness to the rest of Italy. In response, Rome built St. Peter’s Basilica to epitomize its authority as the Christian capital in Italy (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 456). The use of the dome was also common in India and West Asia. The competition to influence was heavy among the Ottoman caliphs and Islamic kings with the increasing presence of the Europeans (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 456). In the south-eastern end of the silk road in imperial centers such as Old Yuan and Sri Lanka, the use of domes was a political move by the Ming Dynasty to reduce European influence.
The building under discussion is a masterpiece of 17th-century architecture. The tower sits on top of two fortified hills. The building spans a vast complex of over eighty buildings. The many roofs and graceful eaves add to the beauty of the structure. The massive complex covers 5250 feet from west to east and 5600 feet from west to the north (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 504). The main keep contains the tallest and biggest building. The keep is 154 feet high and comprises six floors and a basement. There are also two secondary keeps that, when viewed together, create a cluster of towers.
Like most ancient political and religious buildings, large massive walls were erected as defenses. History informs that the initial construction included a maze of gates and outer walls to confuse attacking forces (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 504). The outer walls also included several loopholes for the resident army to fire at enemies with minimal detection. While the walls are large and heavy, the choice of color is the main aesthetic for the larger building. The white plaster makes the edifice stand out amidst the lush green and brown color of surrounding trees.
The Chinese political system was a popular research area for Europeans throughout the 17th and 16th centuries. Therefore, it was inevitable that some Chinese influences would permeate western cultures. One key practice is the consumption of tea while outside in the gardens. Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash discuss how many merchant ships gave accounts of Chinese tea gardens and their careful management (584). Having tea outside your residential garden would become a point of high architectural referentiality in England and Germany. The common practice of the English aristocrats walking outside their garden reflects the legacy of the Chinese system. Such high referentiality is evident in Buckinghamshire’s Stowe Gardens and The Chinese Teahouse in Sans Souci. With the internet increasing political and religious solidarity across the globe, it is difficult imagining human society ever living in a non-referential world.
Stowe Garden contains characteristics that highlight a shift from European gardening to Chinese influences. 18th-century British gardening focused on being picturesque. Aristocrats built gardens with axial symmetries and formal orders, such as using pathways to control movement (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 585). Chinese gardens were built on irregular landscapes and allowed uncontrolled movement. Stowe Garden has no paths and includes pavilions for people to stride in all directions. The Teahouse at Sans Souci uses Chinese-styled pavilions to facilitate free movement while taking tea (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 586). While Stowe Garden and the Teahouse as Sans Souci do not play music like Chinese gardens, the architectural shift from restrained movement to free movement and the introduction of pavilions are examples of high-referentiality with the Europeans borrowing from the Chinese.
Architecture not only influences social change; it also reinforces it. The construction of the Altes Museum in Germany exemplified the height of neoclassicism, which was a sociocultural shift towards enlightenment and reason. The architectural style first began by contradicting Baroque architecture due to its focus on illusion and ornament as opposed to reason (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 586). For instance, Baroque art used large, heavy arches to place windows. Contrastingly, the Altes Museum has large open rectangular windows that allow maximum light inside. The enhanced illumination suited the building’s function as King Friedrich Wilhelm III commissioned its construction to share the Royal collection with the German public (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 586). The construction of the Altes Museum was indicative of a new attitude with a sense of plurality.
Society during the late 18th century was shifting from classical designs to practical. Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash state that neoclassicism was an attempt to create order from the classical in its untruth (586). For instance, historical documents inform that Karl Freidrich Schinkel, the architect behind the Altes Museum, travelled throughout France, Italy and Britain to discover and study ancient cities (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 586). The architecture infused what he learned from the trips to design the royal museum. The neoclassical approach shows the modification of classical architecture with a return to rationalism. The Altes Museum influenced society by advocating for buildings to be created based on their purpose. The museum was scaled-down compared to Greek and Roman examples.
Development of New Materials
The first architectural characteristic of modernist architecture emerged from industrial needs. The 19th century experienced a surge in new architectural forms with the introduction of warehouses, factories, railway terminals and hospitals. In the mid-19th century, cast iron was used to construct large buildings. Architects fell in love with the material for its durability, resistance to fire and sturdiness (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 663). Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park was made entirely out of glass in 1851.
New Construction Methods
The emergence of cast iron creates opportunities for architects to experiment with new construction methods and designs. The Eiffel Tower remains one of the greatest examples of the potential of steel-based designs. Mass production in construction became a possibility with the later introduction of glass, iron and steel (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 661). Industrial engineering began during the modernist era.
Modern designs are associated with clean lines with a rejection of ornamentation. Surfaces are sleek and consistent with minimal orientation. An example is the Crystal Palace Cathedral in its smooth-curved use of glass. The emphasis on clean lines explains the popularity of flat roofs and open floor spaces. Unlike Gothic and Roman architecture, modernism does not encourage the use of statues, protruding arches or columns. How lustrous and glossy a building appears, the more it is perceived to be beautiful.
Ching, Francis, Mark Jarzombek and Vikramaditya Prakash. A Global History of Architecture [3rd Ed]. Wiley, 2017.
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