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need info on architecture and "Structure"

I'm looking for info on how modern architecture and building design in general is used from an authoritarian perspective...
Ive been looking for essays, books etc. on the uses of architecture to control the masses and give them something to admire...(and the two meanings of "structure") so far I haven't had much luck. Anyone know just where I might find such stuff?

Phallic symbols 06.Jan.2004 14:13


Islam minarets used for prayer towers in the Muslim world are probably the most obvious phallic (penis) male authoritarian symbols in architecture. Others would be skyscrapers, steeples, smokestacks etc etc. Just google Phallic architecture. I found this interesting one by googling phallic minarets

here's a crucial google for this topic... 06.Jan.2004 14:30


google the word: Situationists

you'll be reading essays and surfing for hours...

yeah, but 06.Jan.2004 14:53


I don't think that the phallus is necessarilly a universal symbol for authoritarianism. In some cultures, yes, but just be aware of the social context of the buildings before you go on a phallus-hunt.

use your library 06.Jan.2004 15:58


check out the electronic resources page of your library:


not only are there useful architecture websites listed, i urge you to use the databases. you can access many of them with your library card.


i chose to search 'architecture' and 'authoritarian' in the art abstracts database and i got 24 hits. From there you may get more ideas for searching, as well as ideas for further web searching.

sometimes it's easier to narrow down your searching on these library pages than it is to use google. the databases can give you info that you may not find on the web.

My opinion 06.Jan.2004 20:57


I don't tend to study this subject, so I'm only saying any of this from intuition.<p>

A large skyscraper isn't really phallic, unless you are coming from the view of an observer. I mean, yeah, it's long and hard and stands up straight, but from the point of view of the people who design it, it's simply the most efficient way to condense a lot of people into a small land space. If they were truly phallic, they'd be round, like the leaning tower of penisa (Most erect peni (is "peni" the plural form of "penis"?) tend to stand at a slant, so the leaning tower seems to me to be the most phallic work of architecture that I can think of).
As far as "authoritarian architecture" goes. Take the Wells Fargo Tower downtown, for example. Its facade looks like bars in a prison. If memory serves me correctly, they come down the sides and taper out as they hit the ground, making it seem as though they are space-age buttresses for some scifi fortress. But they are not. I saw them doing work on them once, and they are nothing more than a facade. The real structural integrity of the building probably comes from standard skyscraper building techniques. When you go inside, you have what I call a standard "elevator core" with all the offices on the perimeter. So, why did they feel the need to include the scifi buttresses? It's because it makes the building look impressive and intimidating. And that's all that authority is: intense intimidation. However, the Wells Fargo Tower is not any more phallic than any other skyscraper. But, it still gives more of a feeling of authority when I look at it than say, the Fox Tower, even though the latter is taller.
Maybe you should go walk around downtown, and take notes as to the feelings you get when looking at different buildings. Make real observations instead of focusing on dry, sterile research in some library. Localise your research, and localise the scope of your report/essay/whatever, and then expand from there if you feel the need to encompass the entirety of historical architecture.

Wow, great question! 07.Jan.2004 00:11

architecture buff

if there wasn't a world to save, i'd love to spend a big chunk of my time studying architecture, going around and seeing it, living among it, and taking joy from understanding it. as it stands, though, i feel like there's bigger priorities, but your question is a good one, and is distinctly political, so i'll take it on, briefly, if i can.

first off, if you look through the literature of architectural criticism -- such as the city guides put out by the the AIA (American Institute of Architects, i think) -- i don't think you'll find anything that directly answers the question, "how is architecture used to control the masses?" it's not that architectural criticism is apolitical; good architectural criticism tells the story of a building, and often there's juicy political details included, being that showy architecture is usually connected to governments or rich people or both. (and archictectural criticism is rarely "dry", i'll say to clamydia. it's often very entertaining, as it is written by passionate people.)

however, you can approach books about architecture or design with your question in the back of your head, and try to figure out what other questions might beg the answer you need. for example, what buildings are or have been built to impress people? what do these buildings have in common? are there any architects whose work pops up repeatedly and what were their politics? Spear, Hitler's architect, was certainly designing buildings and spaces to impress people and thus control them. i definitely suggest you look into him.

other buildings in history have been built to impress people, and control them, obviously: the monumental marble of Washington, DC, (19th-20th centuries), Buckingham Palace in London (19th Century), Versailles outside Paris (built by Louis XIV? 18th Century?), the Colleseum in Rome (ancient), cathedrals (several centuries from middle ages nearly to present), etc. with these buildings, the wretched institutions of government and organized religion attempted (successfully) to hold sway over people's minds.

more artsy, less functional structures like the Eiffel Tower are impressive, and control people by filling them with wonder. the Eiffel Tower is a big advertisement for the new building techniques they'd come up with then. it's a way of saying, hey look at how cool this shit is! yay, progress! the Eiffel Tower helped put science up over people in the same way that the soaring ceilings of the cathedrals did previously for religion.

all these buildings have in common one thing: great size. the spectacle of large buildings certainly impresses people, and that can be used to control them. big buildings are a very literal form of dominance. they block out light, trap people away from the elements, and hide the rest of a scene from view.

clamydia's suggestion of checking out buildings and taking note of how they make you feel is a good one. the power of architecture is often emotional/intuitive, so you don't need a book to approach a building on that level. take careful notes of how different buildings affect you, and see if you can find similarities. how does size feel? ornament or lack of ornament? building material? once you notice trends, then hit the books to see when buildings of those types were built, and by whom.

perhaps your interest is in how u.s. capitalism uses commercial architecture to dominate people, because these days it's not really the churches or the gov'ts that are making the biggest buildings, it's the private companies. it is no coincidence that most commercial skyscrapers are fairly blank and ugly, and use only the simplest of ornament or decoration -- that's the cheapest way to build them. and clamydia is right to point out that under their skin most skyscrapers are exactly the same: steel frame construction around an elevator core. you can hang marble, glass, fake brick, or whatever the hell you want on a steel frame, and make whatever shapes you'd like. these shapes are often deceptive, and evoke some style or form (like an arch, or stonework) but are just fakery. it's like playing with paper-dolls, really, to be a modern architect of such buildings. put whatever kind of dress you want on the thing, but underneath it's just blank, formless, impersonal and empty.

interestingly, blank, box-like architecture was originally a socialist idea, and was first expressed consciously in the Bauhaus school in Europe in the first half of the 20th century. it was stolen by the capitalists because it was cheap. fuckers.

the best book i've read on the relationship between city planning and its effects on people is probably Lewis Mumford's "The City in History". he gives an overview from ancient times to the present, and was among the first scholars to note the deleterious effect of cars on urban life. buildings don't stand by themselves -- they have neighbors and settings, and so you must really look at the whole picture, not just individual buildings, to understand how populations are affected by their built environment. "Crabgrass Frontier" is also good. the current issue of the Ecologist magazine, from the UK, has an article on Disney's planned community in Florida, "Celebration". it's a good read.

if i were you, i'd also examine how city planning in general controls people. for example, in almost every American city with a river, access to the water is cut off by railroad tracks or big highways. there's big chunks of Portland where you can't just walk down to the water. most of it, really. you'll run into some obstacle or another. in that way, the most prominent natural feature of our local environment is denied to us, and we are hence disconnected even further from nature. if that's not social control, i don't know what is.

anyway, this is hard to write about. it's easier to talk about it in person, and see what really interests you. if you'd like to discuss it more, i'd be up for it. you can contact me at [ fellowtraveler AT riseup.net ]

ok 07.Jan.2004 18:08


So the opposite of authoritarian phallic architecture would be what? Holes in the ground? Isn't this all kind of juvenile?

- 11.Mar.2005 03:44


what about the whole Roman Empire. Even today it still stands as a testimony to a time of extreme wealth and power.