Category: Symbolism

World Trade Center

While the original World Trade Center ultimately symbolized New York as the center of an emerging globalized economy, the World Trade Center initially symbolized the last grand project by powerful urban planners that had relatively unchecked authority. In creating the World Trade Center, the combined governments of NYC, NYS, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey steamrolled through criticism and resistance by citizens that didn’t approve of the project’s ambitious and unconventional design, nor of the demolition of Radio Row, to create the superblock on which the WTC would be built. Upon completion, the towers symbolized the finale of Robert Moses-era unchecked urban planning in NYC, with the future of urban planning forever changed in a way that made it more democratic. The WTC was the end of old-school urban planning where whole neighborhoods were demolished to make room for highways, public housing projects, and other “public works.”

However, shortly after its construction, the WTC quickly began to symbolize something different: it symbolized the greatness of New York, America, capitalism, and the global economy. When foreigners thought of New York and America, the World Trade Center was on the short-list of places that came to mind, and was featured prominently in popular culture. It represented both the strength of the American economy, and the strength of New York City, as the city battled its way out of near-bankruptcy and high crime in the 1970’s and 1980’s. While disapproved of initially by a sizable portion of the public, the WTC ultimately transcended its criticism by symbolizing the greatness of NYC and America, as a whole. The WTC symbolized these qualities up until its final morning, where even in its destruction, it nonetheless continued to symbolize strength, resilience, and power.

“The Center of the World: New York, A Documentary Film.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service.

The Villa at Sengokuhara: An Analysis of Space

The Villa at Sengokuhara, designed by Shigeru Ban in 2013, is a two story structure
that utilizes a combination of modern design and native Japanese concepts of space.
Shigeru Ban is a contemporary Japanese architect who has taken on many interesting
projects throughout the course of his career. These projects include creating entire structures
out of paper and developing plans to rebuild communities after natural disasters. Ban, having
studied at Cooper Union, was heavily influenced by modern developments in western
architecture, and he exhibits these forms in the Villa at Sengokuhara. The Villa at
Sengokuhara, built from timber, was finished in 2013 in Hakone, Japan. Ban reconfigures the
entrance, roof, and courtyard in a more modern way. Along with the composition of these
structural and architectural elements, the Villa uses the Japanese spatial concept oku,
shadow, and unprecedented uses of spatial diversity and flexibility to create a true hybrid of
western and Japanese architectural forms.

Chandigarh –– A Symbol of Modernity and Independence

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wanted Chandigarh to become a monumental city symbolizing India’s bright future of modernity, progress, and independence, as it was the first city built after India’s independence from British rule in 1947. Le Corbusier, the master planner of Chandigarh, rejected the traditional Gandhian philosophy that villages symbolized India, and instead, accentuated the city’s focus on modernity and technology through regional planning. The city’s various regions, or “Sectors” had specific purposes assigned to them as exemplified by The Capitol in Sector 1 (the head) and commercial buildings in Sector 17 (the heart). Le Corbusier also utilized iconographic monuments to mix tradition and modernity in Chandigarh. The famous Open Hand monument in The Capitol symbolizes strength and resilience through adversity as well as the natural ebbs-and-flows of life. Despite Le Corbusier’s intent to build a democratic and modern city, Chandigarh’s design received criticism for facilitating class segregation.

BHARNE, VINAYAK. “Le Corbusier’s Ruin: The Changing Face of Chandigarh’s Capitol.” Journal of Architectural Education (1984-), vol. 64, no. 2, 2011, pp. 99–112.
GHOSH, NABAPARNA. “Modern Designs: History and Memory of Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh.” Journal of Architecture and Urbanism, vol. 40, no. 3, 2016, pp. 220-228.

Colonía Federal, Mexico City, Mexico

The area shown is known as the Colonía Federal, a subsection of the Venustiano Carranza neighborhood in Mexico City, Mexico. Designed in 1925 by architect Raul Romero, this neighborhood was founded to house the residences of government workers, hence the name, “Federal”. Interest in the area that would become Colonía Federal began in 1908, the government acquired the land for the purposes of constructing a pantheon. However, due to its distance from the center of the city, the plans were abandoned, and the area remained idle until the 1920s. In 1924, interest sparked again as employees of the Office for Domestic Affairs began to settle in the area, known at the time as Cuatro Arboles (Four Trees). After the creation of a commission by government employees and subsequent pressure on the national government, then President of the Republic, Alvaro Obregon, appointed architect Raul Romero to design the new colonía. Through the collaboration of Romero and residents, the neighborhood was founded in 1925 based on post-revolutionary rationalist ideology. The neighborhood’s radiating octagonal pattern is unique in the city and across the world. It is believed that Romero gained inspiration from both the city of Palmanova, Italy and the Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris, France. Given the neighborhoods striking similarity to Palmanova, a city highly symbolic of Renaissance-era rationality and order, it is highly likely that Romero intended a similar symbolism, and wanted to create a highly ordered residence for workers of a government who’s prosperity was clear from a bird’s eye view.

Plata Cruz, Patricia. “La Colonia Con Forma De Teleraña.” El Universal, May 18, 2019.

Jamestown Colony

Attached to this post is the map of the original Jamestown colony, the first permanent settlement in America. The rectangular building with squares inside is the Church, built in 1608, only a year after the settlement was first formed. The Church displayed on this map was built in the Spring of 1608, following the destruction of the original Church in January, earlier that year. The Church was placed at the middle of the fort, but slightly closer to the water, rendering it less likely to be destroyed in the event of an attack by the Native Americans. Around ten years later, the governor of the Jamestown settlement, Samuel Argall, commissioned the building of a new Church, which is the brown building located on the right side of the map. This Church was the location of the first ever representative assembly in America, furthering the Church’s importance as a meeting spot.

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom demonstrates an urban layout with a religious/spiritual component that is fundamental to its creation. In particular, the centrally located Bayon/temple signifies Mount Meru–the home of the gods–and stands higher and grander than everything else, which is in accordance to their cosmic belief in the gods inhabiting the universe. To further signify that the gods are at the top of the cosmic universe, the city was surrounded by walls and moat with axial gates at the four cardinal directions, with common people living in dense villages outside of the temple complex, and coming into the complex to pay tribute.

Nowa Huta, Kraków, Poland

The Nowa Huta district of Kraków, Poland, is one of the only planned “socialist realist” districts ever built and is an example of city planning based on a social utopia. Designed in the late 1940s after the end of the Second World War by the Soviet Union as an example of the model proletarian city, every detail of Nowa Huta was carefully planned in order to create a sort of working-class oasis in contrast to the nearby Kraków, which was an older, bourgeois city that had a less than favorable idea of communism. The design featured wide streets and planned green space, and the possibility of a nuclear attack was also an important consideration of this plan, with trees placed strategically to absorb nuclear blast and streets laid out in a way that was thought to be easy to defend.
However, the important symbolic significance of Nowa Huta’s design was its identity as a proletariat paradise. A large steel mill (seen at the top right of the image) was built at one end of the city, with the largest blast furnace in Europe. The placement of this steel mill in Nowa Huta’s design was clearly a symbolic choice rather than a practical one, seeing as there was very little local demand for steel and there was a lack of iron ore or coal deposits anywhere close. The steel mill served as a symbol of the proletariat, and the city was designed in reference to those proletarian ideals.

Saint Petersburg: An Example for Russia, a Demonstration for the West

St Petersburg––the capital of Tsarist Russia from 1713 until the October Revolution, was brought into being by the iron will of a single man: Peter the Great. Founded in May of 1703, on territory captured from Sweden mere weeks before, St. Petersburg was Russia’s first Baltic seaport, and the cornerstone of Peter’s ambitious project to modernize his Empire. Taking advantage of Russia’s newfound access to the intellectual and economic networks of Western Europe, the Tsar assembled a team of Italian, Dutch and German planners, and equip them with tens of thousands of impressed serfs with whom to reshape the swampy earth of the Narva river delta. Their product, which jettisoned neo-Byzantine urban organization in favor of baroque radial boulevards, was meant to serve as a demonstration for the West, as an example for the rest of the Empire, and as a bridge between both. Interestingly, unlike Versailles, the Royal Winter Palace is not located placed at the focus point of the city’s radial boulevards. Instead, the Admiralty Complex, headquarters of the newly minted Imperial Navy and by law the tallest building in the city, is found at the intersection of Nevsky, Gorokhovaya and Voznesensky Prospekt, speaking to the fact that St. Petersburg was a project, not for the glorification of the Tsar, but for Russia itself.

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