Everything We Stand For: National Pride in Architecture

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

The American presidential race heated up to boiling point this week. Further primaries were held to decide which candidate will be nominated for both red and blue sides of the political divide. In New Hampshire — viewed as a key state in predicting which White House hopeful will ultimately triumph — a certain Donald Trump secured a resounding victory on the Republican ballot, his staunch right-wing rhetoric and patriotic values winning over many across the region.

Trump’s recent rise indicates that, in certain parts of the United States, at least, the idea of national pride is increasing in popularity. The desire for a strong collective identity — and a need to distinguish ourselves from people whose ideologies differ from our own — has emerged in cultures across the world at every point in history, and architecture can often form a striking physical manifestation of this phenomenon.

Could the White House be due a makeover if Trump becomes President?; via Mashable

While Mashable’s satirical rendering of Trump’s White House makeover is unlikely to become a reality, buildings have been wielded as political tools on countless occasions over the last century. From Albert Speer’s monumental masterplan for postwar Berlin to Hossein Amanat’s ornate Azadi Tower in Tehran, Iran, governments have long sought out architectural icons that represent their ideologies and promote a distinct collective identity.

By their very nature, governmental buildings frequently form metaphors for national pride, but concerns over patriotic symbolism within architecture can emerge in any structure that stands prominently within the public realm. The Shanghai World Financial Center in China is a classic case in point: Kohn Pedersen Fox’s original design for the 1,614-foot-tall tower incorporated a gargantuan circular vote at its summit, which is designed to evoke a Chinese moon gate and lend the building an iconic silhouette.

Spot the difference … Shanghai World Financial Center by Kohn Pedersen Fox, before and after design adaptations; via Sendo

Unfortunately for the architects, this iconic silhouette reminded many in China — including the mayor of Shanghai — of a different kind of symbolism: the rising sun of the Japanese flag. Protests against the proposal were so vociferous that the controversial design had to be revised, despite the additional cost for such a dramatic change. Kohn Pedersen Fox devised a new trapezoidal aperture for the skyscraper that extinguished the perceived connection to China’s great political rival.

Across the Pacific Ocean, Americans have been conceiving their own symbols of national pride for many decades, often employing some of the most renowned architects in the process. Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen is responsible for one of the most remarkable to date: the Gateway Arch in St. Louis was built as a monument to the western expansion of the United States and constitutes one of the most stunning examples of pride-driven architecture in the last 50 years. As part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Saarinen’s arch is widely considered a masterpiece of patriotic design, but the search for a coherent national metaphor is often markedly more challenging.

© Unknown

© Unknown

Daniel Libeskind’s original design for the World Trade Center was rich with patriotic symbolism.

One such struggle played out over the course of a decade in New York City, and it began with the competition to design the new World Trade Center at Ground Zero. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there was a strong collective desire to construct a new symbol of freedom, liberty and optimism for the future. With this desire in mind, it was perhaps inevitable that Daniel Libeskind’s masterplan, incorporating a crystalline tower whose form echoed the raised arm of the country’s most recognizable symbol, the Statue of Liberty, would come out victorious.

14 years on, Libeskind’s emotive symbolism has been replaced with a sleek rendition of architectural pragmatism: One World Trade Center has bulked out, its solid base and broad shoulders supporting the weight of this site’s gargantuan programmatic demands. Situated on prime real estate at the heart of New York City’s downtown district, the desire for a symbol of social freedom ultimately took second place to the World Trade Center’s role as a vital commercial hub. National pride in architecture will continue to emerge whenever our collective identity is at stake — but when it comes to the economic crunch, the functionality of buildings still wins out.

Billionaire businessman Trump would approve, no doubt …

Top image: Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen, St. Louis, Missouri. Via Flickr

© Gustav Willeit

Fire Station Vierschach // Pedevilla Architects

Innichen, Italy

© CplusC Architectural Workshop

Peas In a Pod // CplusC Architectural Workshop

Dulwich Hill, Australia