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On the Politics of the Object in Life


Architecture has been evolving over the centuries in accordance with political, cultural, and social aspects of society. Concomitant evolution of architecture with various facets of society implies that, architecture is an integral component of political, social, and cultural spheres that have continually shaped building industry with time. Currently, historians and architects have realized that architectural objects have a political dimension for they differently affect public, building users, designers, and clients. The architectural objects have diverse designs that appeal to many people in different ways; hence, they possess aesthetic values that have social, political, and cultural connotations. Critical observation of building in various cities across the world shows that they have a certain relationship with social, political, and cultural spheres of given populations and regimes. According to Mallgrave (2005), politics have significantly shaped the evolution of architecture during the past three centuries in Western architecture (p.148). Critical examination of architectural objects in various countries shows that they are consistent with political factors that influence architecture. Therefore, politics have a significant impact on architecture because they influence architectural heritage, policies, economy, and public opinion of architectural objects.

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Architectural Heritage

Architectural objects have aesthetic value that relates with cultural heritage. Aesthetic value of architectural objects has evolved with time in that cultural heritage form basis architectural designs. Politics dictate adoption or rejection of some designs in architectural heritage, and thus perpetuation of architecture from ancient times to modern society. The aesthetic value placed on many distinguished buildings across the world has its basis on political forces of respective regimes. Architectural designs of ancient buildings received support of various regimes, which attached certain aesthetic value. Well-designed buildings received more support and perpetuation into modern society for politics play a decisive role in their preservation and reconstruction. Neil (1997) argues that, for buildings to have political significance, they must have designs and decorations that have a cultural-national connotation (p.254). For instance, ancient buildings have a cultural-national connotation that is specific to their countries, and thus explains uniqueness of architectural buildings in various countries across the world. Thus, aesthetic value of architectural structures determines their political support and perpetuation from one generation to another.

In addition to aesthetic value that architectural structures have in place, durability is also a property that determines political support. Ancient architectural buildings, which have stood the test of time while maintaining their usage and purposes, receive more political support than buildings that have deteriorated with time. Given that ancient architectural structures existed in various countries, their case studies regarding durability have formed the foundation of architecture. Architects study ancient architectural structures, and derive novel lessons that they apply in construction of modern structures. Durability of ancient architectural structures attracts a great deal of government support because politics aim at achieving the best architectural designs and structures. Bredemeyer and Malan (2006) argue that, architects are grappling with the challenge of meeting changing demands of clients; specified clients and the public (p.5). Although clients may demand certain quality of buildings that satisfy their taste, politics in the public also determines acceptance of certain designs. Since politics dominate the public, architects find themselves compelled to abide by certain political forces while considering individual interests of clients. In this view, architectural heritage forms basis of political perspective of modern architecture because architectural designs evolved gradually with time in a consistent manner.

Architectural Policies

Politics dictate the nature of policies regarding architecture. Governments have responsibility of ensuring that architectural policies are consistent with professional requirements of architects as a way of streamlining building industry. Architectural policies also ensure that architectural structures meet standards that provide safety and quality to both clients and the public. Through centuries, it has become evident that architects need to adhere to professional codes of ethics that guarantee professional architecture in the building industry. Adoption of standard policies substantially relies on political will on the part of the government. Sparshott (1994) contends that, since architectural structures take much space and cause dislocation of people, it triggers politics of space (p.4). By taking much space, architectural structures affect lives of many people, and thus elicit political intervention. Designs of a building should provide ample space and essential facilities such as washrooms and ventilation as well as ensure safety of people who utilize or live in the buildings. Thus, absence or presence of essential facilities or failure to meet construction standards elicits political intervention. Hence, political policies regulate architects by ensuring that they construct structures that guarantee safety and quality.

Besides guaranteeing safety and quality of architectural buildings, politics also ensure that physical planning provides ample space and essential amenities that improve the quality of life. Wright (1991) posits that, architects have the responsibility of ensuring that they adhere to physical planning according to stipulations from government (p.45). Architectural planning and construction is usually an expression of cultural and national status of society. A society with poor physical planning and construction of buildings reflects uncivilized society with poor governance, while proper planning and construction of buildings show stable political environment and governance. According to Gormley (2009), architecture has a significant impact on environment for it determines the quality of life, which is a measure of civil society (p.9). Governments, through politics, have the responsibility of formulating policies to guide the building industry and community in adhering to physical planning in a bid to provide ample space and avoid haphazard displacement of people and erection of structures. Since architecture entails expression of aesthetic, social and cultural values, politics play an integral role in shaping these values for economic and social benefits. Thus, effective utilization of architecture for economic and social benefits requires policies that are critical in shaping application of architecture in modern society.


Architectural structures reflect economic status of a nation. Across the world, different countries have diverse architectural structures that correlate with their economic status. For example, developed countries have grand architectural building as compared with developing countries. Thus, it implies that status of architectural structures is consistent with economic status of a nation, which is subsequently subject to political control. Vale (1992) reasons that, architecture has cultural aspect, as well as economic aspect, which makes it attract a great deal of political attention (p.25). Given that politics focus on economic growth and development, architectural structures are physical expression of country’s infrastructure. Hence, politics dictate that architectural structures should have economic value for them to gain prominence in political circles. Modern architectural trends support buildings that have economic value in that; they must be durable and have essential facilities that enhance their utility. Due to economic reasons, governments are advocating for architectural buildings that have economic value in their durability and utility.

Since limited spaces exist in cities, architectural politics require buildings to have an economy of space. In the cities, diminishing land due to increasing population has compelled architects as well as government to root for maximum utilization of space. In modern society, storey buildings are a common feature because they optimize available space for economic reasons. Hence, politics of maximizing spaces have compelled architects to design and construct buildings that are economic conscious. According to Lefebvre and Enders (2006), physical planners are now embarking on a novel concept of space utilization in commercial centers (p.33). Commercial centers are increasingly demanding more space, yet there is no room for expansion. Lack of room for expansion has led to maximum utilization of available spaces by construction of storey buildings with appropriate designs that offer much space. Architectural politics of various cities recommend that architects should consider designing buildings that economically optimize utilization a given space. Hence, politics can dictate the nature of architectural structures in a given city, in accordance with prevailing conditions of space and population.

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Public Opinion

Politics significantly influence public opinion regarding architectural structures. If a government supports certain architectural designs relative to others, there would be differential construction of varying designs. Therefore, it means that government support to architectural buildings has political perspective, which significantly influences evolution of architecture in a given country. Immerwahr (2007) explains that, when Nigerian government experienced challenge of managing its urban environment, it supported tropical modernist architecture and British architecture in its prestige buildings and housing estates respectively (p.1). The Nigerian government used Lagos city to demonstrate its ability to adopt modern architectural designs and its independence from European culture. The government shaped public opinion, as prestige buildings and residential estates did set a precedent of construction in Lagos. However, when government shifted its attention from Lagos to Abuja, people abandoned architectural designs of Lagos and began adopting new styles of architecture according to new designs of Abuja. The case of Nigeria shows that politics through the government significantly influence public opinion regarding architectural designs and structures.

Historians assert that architecture and language closely related in terms of their effects on society. During Renaissance period, architectural rules were like literary imitation as leading architects had the privilege of dictating nature architectural designs and structures. Architecture-language analogy shows that architecture was a matter of public opinion. Architects who have overwhelming influence use politics as means of influencing public opinion regarding adoption of best architectural practices. Georgia and Crossley (2000) argue that, architecture style is like literary eloquence with communicative and emotional appeal (p.8). The architectural style has aesthetic value that appeals to diverse interests of the people. Thus, for architectural designs and structures to appeal to a greater number of people, political influence is essential. Politics can significantly change public opinion concerning architectural designs and structures; hence form an integral part of the architecture.


For many centuries, architecture has been evolving under the influence of social, cultural and political factors. Political factors have tremendously shaped and dictated evolution of architecture because they are easily applicable through governance, an influential structure. Fundamentally, politics evolve architecture by preserving architectural heritage, formulating architectural policies, advocating for economical structures and shaping public opinion with regard to architectural designs and structures. Such wide influence of politics on architecture is quite remarkable, for it has led to evolution of architecture through centuries. In modern society, politics is central in application of architectural knowledge in solving social, economic and political issues amidst challenges of globalization and diminishing space.


Bredemeyer, D., & Malan, R., 2006. The Role of the Architect. Bredemeyer Consulting, pp. 1-9.

Georgia, C., & Crossley, P., 2000. Architecture and Language: Constructing Identity in European Architecture 1000-1650. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gormley, J., 2009. Government Policy on Architecture 2009-2015, Towards a Sustainable Future: Delivering Quality within the Built Environment. Environment, Heritage and Local Government, pp. 1-97.

Immerwahr, D., 2007. The Politics of Architecture and Urbanism in Postcolonial Lagos. Journal of African Cultural Studies, 19(2), pp. 1-25.

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Lefebvre, H., & Enders, M., 2006. Reflections on Politics of Space. Antipode, 8, pp. 30–37.

Mallgrave, H., 2005. Modern Architectural Theory: A Historical Survey, 1673-1968. New York. Cambridge University Press.

Neil, L., 1997. Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory. London: Routldge.

Sparshott, F., 1994. The Aesthetic of Architecture and the Politics of Space. Reprinted in Mitias, M., 1994. Philosophy and Architecture. Atlanta: Ridopi.

Vale, J., 1992. Architecture, Power, and National Identity. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wright, G., 1991. The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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