How do monuments augment a country’s national identity?

If this is a topic of interest, I highly recommend Lawrence Vale’s article “Mediated Monuments & National Identity.”  Here’s the abstract I wrote of this article with full citation at the bottom in case you want to look it up. It even mentions the Petronas Twin Towers from my country of residence!

Lawrence J. Vale in this article “explores the relationship between politically  charged  architectural  monuments  and  the media  campaigns  constructed  to  control  (or subvert)  their  interpretation.”  For millenniums conquering regimes and newly established governments have sought to stamp their legitimacy onto the landscape by designing architectural wonders which display their economic prowess or their national identity. Vale asserts that all modern governments use architecture intertwined with media campaigns to demonstrate their power.  Vale shows how the communist Chinese ‘conquered’ Tiananmen Square by opening the former Emperor’s Forbidden City and hanging the large portrait of communist icon Mao Zedong on its wall.  The Petronas Twin Towers of Malaysia were built as the world’s tallest to show the nation’s economic progress as well as the supremacy of Malaysian’s indigenous Muslim majority.  Vale shows how Saddam Hussein built towers which were exalted by the media as being superior to their counterparts built by their former colonial master the British.  Also, Saddam sought to show a connection to the past Babylonian empire by reconstructing public work projects on the ancient Babylonian site which sought to link the proud modern leader with that of Iraq’s ancient heritage.  Vale’s Marxist approach does not focus on the formal analysis of the designs but seeks to show their importance to their respective countries. Vale in his analysis seeks to show how countries do not so much imbed meaning into the architectural design of these buildings but that the media is used to convey and reinforce the government’s intended purposes for these buildings.  Everything about the Kremlin’s makeover into the symbol of Soviet Russia and about Zimbabwe’s attachment to their great archaeological site which named their country points to the government showing their moral authority, their legitimacy and their national identity.  Vale does a commendable job in showing how media influences the perception of a country through its national architecture.

Vale, Lawrence J. “Mediated monuments and national identity.” Journal of Architecture 4.4

(Winter 1999): 391-408.

Abstract: “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple and architecture for liberal religion in Chicago, 1885-1909.”

One of the things I like about writing this blog is that I get to continually expand its scope into a myriad of topics which have, at one point or another, held my fancy. This one is, I’ll admit, a little more limiting in scope as it is an abstract I wrote about an article about famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright is know for many of his architectural achievements – perhaps the best known is the little gem in Western Pennsylvania, not far from where I grew up – Fallingwater. I shall have to post some of my pictures of my visit there some time in the future. But for now, you can see what another author had to say about Wright and some of his architecture in Chicago.


Article Title:

Siry, Joseph. “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple and architecture for liberal religion in

Chicago, 1885-1909.” Art Bulletin 73.2 (June 1991): 257.

Joseph Siry in this article asserts that Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Chicago was a return to ancient temple forms drawn heavily from the architecture of other liberal churches which tried to synthesize the building structure and space with utilitarian and humanistic elements which mirrored the church’s beliefs.  Siry, in his iconographical approach to this influential architectural building, traces the influences and thinking behind turn of the twentieth century liberal religion which contributed to the design of Unity Temple.  Siry shows how other liberal church buildings were moving away from the anachronistic tendencies to build Gothic influenced cathedral-like structures with towering spires pointing towards the heavens; instead, liberal religion was starting to show their humanistic beliefs in the architecture of their new buildings.  Siry shows that Wright was intimately familiar with the design of All Soul’s Church in Chicago.  It uniquely moved away from a traditional church structure and purposefully looks very much like a house.  Wright was then involved in designing the auditorium in the Abraham Lincoln Center next to the All Soul’s Church.   The final result was a five story office building type structure with its central internal feature being a large auditorium.  Siry shows how Wright, when designing Unity Temple,  was influenced greatly by these buildings.  Wright’s final design for Unity Temple puts the emphasis on the auditorium in keeping with what was done in the Abraham Lincoln Center.   This shows how he wanted the building’s emphasis to be on the people – not on God or heaven.  This closely mirrors the ideas of the Universalists who believed that man holds divinity inside himself.  This is the point of celebration that Wright was looking for.  Siry’s meticulous research into the various designs of liberal religious buildings of the time makes a strong case that the Unity Temple is not only a unique religious building that broke from tradition, it is also a symbol of how architecture can and does reflect the beliefs of humans.