Often in dictatorial and imperial regimes, art has always been a powerful medium efficiently and masterfully utilized to maintain support from the public. The different art forms are the bearers of a leader’s vision and mission for his people and for himself. Architecture is no stranger to this misuse.
The prime example of art as propaganda was that of Nazi Germany’s methods of propagating and indoctrinating to its citizens the purity of the Aryan race which paved the need for cultural and spiritual rebirth. Painting, sculpture, music, theater, and all forms of media were tapped to bombard the nation with Hitler’s message dogmas. Architectural structures were successful tools of this cultural and spiritual propaganda because inherently they have a public nature. They were experienced daily with a sense of pervasiveness due to their seeming permanence. The buildings designed by Hitler’s chief architect Albert Speer were heavy on classical elements like “grand archways and symmetrical, traditional layouts” which projected Nazi power. Some would credit this narcissistic obsession with the young Hitler’s early aspiration to be an artist, then an architect in Vienna. However, his hopes crashed when he failed to meet the requisites for both courses (Hulme, “Hearts of Darkness”, 2006).
Hitler’s use of architecture was further promoted his political ambition of world domination. Part of his grand scheme was to build a dome-like structure in Berlin called Germania which could have accommodated 180,000 people. It was to have a 386-feet (about 118 meters high) Roman style arch rivaling Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe. Hitler believed that the more massive the monument, the important the representation (Hulme, “Hearts of Darkness”, 2006). He had a much bigger picture of himself being the ruler of the world like his idol Napoleon. It showed in the gawdy symbols his regime’s architecture unabashedly waved. They were designed to impress.
Part of Hitler’s drive to preserve the Aryan race is to use architecture to link the Germans to their past. A specially-constructed outdoor amphitheater called the Thingplatz served as a gathering place and used by Hitler for festivals often featuring German history and art (“Nazi Architecture”, 2006). The gathering of the people outdoors in natural settings is called a Thing and is of an ancient Nordic/Germanic practice (“Thingplatz”, 2006)
Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini also had his personal architectural tastes. He adored ancient imperial Rome just like Hitler and “wished to be regarded as the new Augustus”. He was anticlerical and destroyed churches and buildings to the Vatican’s chagrin replacing them with fascist art and architecture. He viewed Fascism as a religious concept of life. “Many public buildings, railway stations, post offices, universities and factories were built across the country. Included were shrines to fascist martyrs, complete with memorial flames and chapels in all fascist headquarters” (Hulme, “Hearts of Darkness”, 2006). Erecting large building just like the Roman Empire characterized the Fascist architecture. “ This period produced monumentally imposing and chillingly stark white marble structures surrounded by classical statuary” (“Fascist architecture in Italy”).
Much of the information about ancient Egypt had been known from the carvings of the walls of their different structures such as the magnificent temples, pyramids, obelisks, and statues. Pharaohs censored news carved on the temple walls. Pharaoh Hatshepsut and Ramesses II were known propagandists who exemplified the adage that history belongs to the victors. They rewrote their unsuccessful chapters to glorify their reigns. However, architecture evolved from the pyramids to rock-carved tombs in ancient Egypt. This was started by Amenhotep I around 1500 BC. The tombs were more about the occupant than about its aesthetics. Members of royalty reflect their opulence by through their magnificent tombs. The Valley of the Kings is the most popular tomb site (“Art and Architecture”).
If we try to understand architecture as an art devoid of any preconceived idea of the term “propaganda”, we cease to view it as just mere symbols of the whims of rulers and a strong propaganda tool (Mason, “The power of art”, 2006). There is better appreciation of the art as it is without the peripheral considerations it is supposed to represent. Preconceived descriptions create a bias, a one-dimensional approach in the appreciation of the structure. If we view architecture as a kind of art it ought to be seen with fresh artistic perspective. On the other hand, if we study architecture in relation to history, the additional information such as the reasons why it was created based on a particular style will then add more texture to any structure. This time it would be approached with a different view in mind.
While it is true that architecture had been abused politically, it also serves as an arrow to the past. Architectural structures which date back to the period of the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt exemplifies the grandeur and prosperity of the age. The Pharaohs were symbols of political and economic stability. Their temples show their kind of religion and how lavish they paid homage to their pagan gods. Their golden treasures explain the richness of their kingdoms. The servants buried in the royal tombs explain a lot about social hierarchy in relation to their concept of the afterlife.
Nazi architecture can explain the dogmatic devotion to the Nazi movement which was almost like a religion. In Hitler’s cultural address in September 1937 entitled “The Buildings of the Third Reich,” he said, “the new buildings of the Reich were to reinforce the authority of the Nazi party and the state and at the same time provide “gigantic evidence of the community” (“Nazi Architecture”, 2006).
The famous reshaping of Berlin based on Roman principles further cemented Hitler’s determination to follow the imperial society of ancient Rome like the placement of buildings in prominent sites to create the impression of imperial majesty. Inspired by Rome, Nazi architecture was intimidating, “an instrument of conquest.” Albert Speer, Hitler’s personal architect, wrote “My architecture represented an intimidating display of power” (“Nazi Architecture”, 2006). This was the way of the ever expanding Nazi rule: to sow fear and to suppress future dissidents.
Fascist architecture of Italy speaks a lot about the country’s history during the turbulent period in Europe. Architecture was not just an ornament but serves as a symbolic political function at that time. Benito Mussolini wanted to expand new Rome so he built a large complex, the Esposizione Universale Roma (E.U.R.), in 1935 which provided large-scale image of how Italy would have been had the fascist regime not collapsed during World War II. The Palazzo della Civilta Italiana is the best representative of fascist architecture. It is a very popular design and has been labeled the cubic or Square Colosseum (“Rome”, 2007).
Art is part of life. It can be an implement of oppression as much as liberation from dangerous regimes.
Egypt’s Golden Empire: Art and Architecture. (n.d.). PBS.org. Retrieved 05 January 2007
from the World Wide Web: http://www.pbs.org/empires/egypt/newkingdom/architecture.html
Fascist architecture in Italy. (n.d.). Tom Fletcher’s Website. Retrieved 05 January 2007 from
the World Wide Web: http://www.nyc-architecture.com/ARCH/Notes-Fascist-IT.htm
Hulme, David (2006). Hearts of Darkness. Vision.org. Retrieved 05 January 2007
from the World Wide Web: http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/article.aspx?id=1894
Mason, Ian Garrick. The power of art as propaganda: On Evonne Levy’s Propaganda and the
Jesuit Baroque (29 May 2004). Ian Garrick Mason Personal Website. Retrieved 05 January 2007 from the World Wide Web: http://www3.sympatico.ca/ian.g.mason/Art_and_Propaganda.htm
Nazi Architecture. (2006). Answers.com. Retrieved 05 January 2007 from the World Wide
Rome. (5 January 2007). Wikipedia: The Free Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05 January
2007 from the World Wide Web: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rome
Thingplatz. (2006). Answers.com. Retrieved 05 January 2007 from the World Wide Web: