The Political Uses of Architecture

written by Deyan Sudjic


We are used to discussing architecture in terms of its relationship to art history, or as a reflection of technological change, or as an expression of social anthropology. We know how to categorize buildings by the shapes of their windows, or the decorative detail of their column capitals. We understand them as the products of available materials and skills. What we are not so comfortable with is coming to grips with the wider political dimensions of a building, why it exists in fact, rather than how. It is an omission that is surprising, given the closeness of the relationship between architecture and power. Architecture has always been dependent on the allocation of precious resources and scarce manpower. As such its execution has always been at the discretion of those with their hands on the levers of power rather than that of architects.