Place is to architecture

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“Place is to architecture” it is said, “as meaning is to language1. ” Given this comparison, architecture gives a place meaning. Examples of this include the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the White House in Washington, D. C. Without these structures, these places might be as relevant as a banal suburb, usually lacking relevant structures to call their own, apart from big-box superstores. A politically and architecturally relevant structure stands out, even in a large city, because they chronicle either a particular incident, or time period. Architects must consider style, surroundings, and decoration when drafting potentially historic buildings.

These three key aspects to architecture are fuelled by the aim of designers to attract and entertain residents and guests to an area and make the city and generally more pleasant place. Therefore, through buildings such as the Capitol Building in Washington D. C. , Stockholm City Hall in Sweden, Arc de Triomphe in France and Guggenheim Museum in New York, architects must demonstrate geographical and historical diversity through the exterior of the structure to rival the importance of the events transpiring inside them. One building that particularly exhibits diversity is the Capitol Building in Washington D. C. As an example of 19th-century neoclassical architecture, the Capitol Building is constructed of stone bearing masonry, with a cast iron dome.

The symbolic white colour to the building signals that designers wanted to exhibit that America was a new and pure nation-state. The designer of the Capitol Building is William Thornton, a famous architect of the 18th century. His desire was to construct a grand building in classical architecture, a style that developed from his early fascination with famous architectural authors such as Andrea Palladio and Sir William Chambers.

The dome in particular was adapted from the Roman Pantheon and was to represent classical ideas of civic virtue and self-government2. The passion for classical, specifically Greek, architecture in the beginnings of the American state was part of a search for a national identity. The Capitol building is categorized as a Greek-revival style, drawing a parallel between the American and Greek fights for independence, as well as symbolising cultural and political independence from Great Britain3. As a result, buildings such as the Smithsonian Museums, the White House, churches, plazas, houses and even stores used elements of Greek architecture.

The grand scale of the Capitol Building proved Thornton a success at constructing a structure rooted in classicism, while being new and modern. Another building that has political importance and shows historical and geographical diversity is the Stockholm City Hall in Sweden. Built by Ragnar Ostberg, considered a leading Swedish architect of the time, the City Hall building was built using a Romantic style in the fashion of a Renaissance palace, complete with two piazzas. The design Ostberg envisioned was one that would provide evidence of the rising urbanism and industrialism in Sweden during the early twentieth century.

To retain the classic Scandinavian design, yet incorporate new designs to represent the blooming industrialism of Sweden, Ostberg incorporated vernacular materials (wood and brick), giving the building a “National Romantic4” style (as well as also being considered part of the arts and crafts movement). Specifically, the brick used represented the modern industrial movement, and moved away from the use of wood in many Scandinavian buildings. To give the building a classical feel, one that established Sweden as a power of the past and future, Ostberg used the classical romantic design, mentioned earlier.


The Arc de Triomphe was obviously classical design, the Guggenheim Museum, on the other hand, is a building with not such clear roots. Arguably the most famous museum in America, the Guggenheim Museum, designed by the eponymous architect Franklin Lloyd Wright is a fabulous structure unlike any other. The difference between them is the simple and understated design that Lloyd elicits in the structure that arouses amazement in the spectator. Unlike classical structures, which are largely rooted in the Greek style, Wright used an ancient Babylonian style to allow his building to function.

Wright imagined a museum unlike any present in his day, which were largely based on a system of interconnected rooms, forcing patrons to retrace their steps upon exiting, a problem in his opinion. Rather, Wright revived the Babylonian ziggurat (a stepped or winding pyramidal temple), inverting it to whisk visitors to the top of the structure via an elevator, beginning their tour at the top8. From there, visitors moved about a slowly descending spiral platform, returning them to the same room they entered, eliminating any need to repeat steps.

Another aim of Lloyd was to bring life into New York, a city he believed was “overbuilt, overpopulated, and lacked architectural merit9. ” From the outset, the Guggenheim Museum contrasted with the popular modern style of the time, much as the Eiffel Tower, a contemporary style, had contrasted the Renaissance style of France in its’ early days. The Guggenheim contrasted the modern style’s rigid geometry in favour of circles, arcs, and ovals, and was criticized for trying to overpower the significance of the paintings within10. However, this view largely faded and the Guggenheim is now world renowned for its unique style.

The Capitol Building, Stockholm City Hall, Arc de Triomphe, and the Guggenheim Museum stand as buildings with diverse cultural, historical and geographical diversity. Each structure was designed with the intention to bring forth a particular feeling for the spectator, either that of representing a particular time period, or for others, to simply represent a nation. The political overtones of each building require a design rooted in some sort of historical design, to represent the ongoing success of a nation while also being modern, to symbolize a promising future.

Each of these buildings, through their style, rivals the importance of the events going on around, or inside them. For example, the Arc de Triomphe tells the story of French Conquests, and stands for the peoples’ pride in the French nation. As another example, the Guggenheim Museum was the response of Franklin Lloyd Wright to the lack of important architecture in New York. Because the structures mentioned each depict a story through their style, they therefore give each place meaning.

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