Although architecture may not come to mind immediately when speaking of propaganda, it is an indisputable fact that it has served ancient rulers, religious movements, Renaissance princes and republics, early European rulers, the great monarchs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and modern republican, revolutionary, and totalitarian regimes. Recently modern corporations have built impressive headquarters to strengthen their images.

Architecture can serve an ideological purpose in three basic ways: it can impress, accommodate, and serve the masses. First, architecture can impress messages on the public mind. It can do this through the style, size, placement, and decoration of public buildings. In the eighteenth century many architects viewed architecture as a type of visual language that could speak to the onlooker. They spoke of giving various structures “un caractere,” that is, an appearance that would proclaim the purpose of the building. For instance, the designer would use Corinthian columns on a palace or a pleasure house but not on a courthouse or a jail. Etruscan columns were better suited for edifices with serious purpose. Such public buildings could convey their importance through sheer size. To catch the public eye they could be placed in conspicuous sites along the banks of rivers, at the ends of broad avenues, the intersection of principal streets, or on one side of a public square. Moreover, one could convey messages about such buildings by decorating them with statues of rulers or leaders, allegorical figures, and symbols, or by appending pithy inscriptions.

Second, architecture can accommodate large numbers of people for religious or political ceremonies. The Greeks built impressive theaters and amphitheaters where citizens could come together. Some scholars have argued that Roman theaters, arenas, circuses, and hippodromes were at the center of public life and strengthened allegiance to the regime in power. In the Middle Ages large churches provided meeting places for the populace, where the faithful could participate in rituals, listen to religious music, and receive their priests’ homilies. Some large religious edifices built in the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, such as Chartres Cathedral in France, could also accommodate pilgrims who had come to see the sacred spring or the Black Virgin in the crypt. On occasion these large spaces also served nonreligious functions, such as communal meetings.

Third, political regimes have attempted to prove that they have the interests of the public at heart by building useful facilities for the populace. Roman rulers built highways, aqueducts, fountains, and baths for their citizens. Popes continued to support such projects during the early modern period, in addition to palaces and chateaux to house their retinue and proclaim their power. Monarchs in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries likewise built roads, public squares, fountains, canals, and hospitals. French revolutionary leaders called for the construction of public baths, lavatories, fountains, schools, theaters, arenas, and courthouses. In the twentieth century the Nazis built the autobahn (expressway), youth retreats, and art galleries, while the Soviet Union promoted communal apartment buildings, workers’ cultural centers, airports, and dams. Today’s corporations sponsor sports arenas, covering every available space with logos and advertisements proclaiming their sponsorship. High-profile buildings can also be prime targets, as was demonstrated by the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001.

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