Category: Monumental Places

National Mall

The National Mall is a park that spans the area between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol grounds, including the Washington Monument. Several museums, art galleries and other monumental art surrounds an open lawn.

Interestingly, this open lawn has become a forum and civic ground of sorts, hosting several notable protests and rallies, such as the Vietnam War Moratorium Rally and MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. However, it wasn’t always like this – prior to the 20th century, the National Mall was largely Victorian-era gardens with a web of paths. Senator James McMillan, heavily influenced by the City Beautiful movement. There was a desire to beautify the capital in DC, along with the poor architecture and public spaces. After touring Europe’s great buildings and landscapes, they decided to clear out the existing mall, allowing for the construction of neoclassical civic institutions and the central lawn, which followed the City Beautiful ideas of creating moral and civic virtue by embedding monumental design into the city and life of citizenry.

Hudson Yards

Hudson Yards in New York City is a real state development that was completed in 2019. It is an area within the larger city that contains a public green space, office buildings, a mall, and cultural facilities. The goal of the Hudson Yards was to create a new monumental cultural center within Manhattan and it prides itself on being the new economic, culinary, and social center of New York—symbolizing the city’s modernity and technological innovation. This is symbolized principally by The “Vessel”, a permanent interactive art installation that represents the goals and technological prowess of the Hudson Yards. However, while these goals are admirable, there have been many critics of Hudson Yards that argue that it only caters to New York’s wealthier residents and that it has not properly integrated itself properly into the city but rather exists as its own separate entity that does not reflect New York City as a whole.

Civic Center/UN Plaza, San Francisco, CA

Civic Center/UN Plaza, San Francisco, CA

After the 1906 earthquake destroyed the original city hall, plans were drawn up for a new complex. Constructed roughly around the the turn of the century, the SF civic center and the UN Plaza extension, are grand in the truest sense of the word. The focal point of the area is the iconic city hall, built in a neoclassical style. The area also hosts important cultural institutions such as the SF Symphony, SF Opera House, and the Asian Art museum. Throughout the past century, the area has seen its ups and downs. Though the scale and architecture are grand, the area suffers from a variety of issues at ground level. One famous issue is the homelessness problem, especially in the UN Plaza. This, juxtaposed against the chic neighborhood of Hayes Valley immediately to the west of the center almost seems to highlight San Francisco’s inequality issue. Though the Civic Center is monumental in scale, it is ironically the human-level dynamic which fails to truly unite the city.

VDNH, Moscow, Russia

VDNH (abbreviation for Exhibition of Achievement of National Economy) is a permanent exhibition site in Moscow that had the purpose of showing and trading different achievements of Soviet workers. VDNH consists of a huge park and 60 Stalinist style, triumphant art-deco pavilions, some of which are dedicated to the Soviet nations, and others to different industrial sectors and sciences. Each year VDNH hosted an exhibition of the achievements of simple workers: from astrophysicists to farmers. VDNH is a unique monumental public space that showcased the greatness of the USSR as a whole, but also the accomplishments of its smaller nations, groups, and individuals.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing China

Tiannanmen Square, one of the most well know monumental location and tourist attraction in China locates right in the heart of Beijing in front of the gates of Tiannanmen. During the imperial times, Tiananmen Square was commonly used as public spaces for local residents in addition to a gathering place for demonstrations and protests. The square currently houses the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. When walking in the square, people are surrounding by key government structures, creating a sense of power and order. Builds around the square are grand yet not over whelming, creating a sense of pride through its architecture languages.

Arena di Verona, Italy

The Verona Arena was built in the first century. Its usage today consists solely of hosting large-scale operas, however, its speculated that early in its life it was also used for gladiator fights, sports, and hunting games (as well as persecution of early Christians). It has slowly evolved to become a cultural center of the city. The facade was originally built with white and pink limestone, but an earthquake destroyed this outer ring, leaving behind the current facade/ring.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

The fires following the San Francisco earthquake of April 1906 provided a blank slate for City Beautiful planning. But unlike in other major US cities, the elegant city Burnham proposed never came to light, as a rapid rebuilding undermined the process. However, elements of the plan were executed later, such as tying transportation to scenic vistas, specifically with the Golden Gate Bridge. 

A work of art, an engineering marvel, and an American icon, the suspension spans the distance between San Francisco and Marin counties. A classic interconnection of the forms of the open paradigm, San Francisco’s natural resources were carefully managed, with the bridge is flanked on both ends by the Golden Gate National Park, which was connected to the Civic Center planned by Burnham. From the multi-lane boulevard to the monumental urban greenery surrounded by dense building, the Golden Gate Bridge’s construction and waterfront parks were typical of defining public spaces of the time. Besides its practical use in opening communications between city districts, the bridge was also beautifying and become the most internationally recognized symbols of the city. 

Gateway Arch, St. Louis, United States

The Gateway Arch, dedicated to American westward expansion, is the tallest monument in the United States. Architect Eero Sarinen envisioned the arch as a modern extension of the landscape, rising from the bank of the Mississippi River to frame the rest of St. Louis and, symbolically, the western United States. Perhaps more importantly, planners saw the project as a way to revitalize and “beautify” St. Louis. As with many other urban renewal projects, constructors bulldozed hundreds of old buildings, erased the original city grid, and displaced thousands of residents, leading to local opposition. Today, the arch is an architectural icon and a tourist attraction, but it hasn’t led to a real revitalization of the city.

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The Champs-Élysées

The Champs-Élysées in Paris were created as an entrance to Paris from the countryside to signify entering a “powerful monarch” capital city. Its importance at this time was less than in today’s world, sitting as a formality back then, but today being one of the best models for the 2nd Empire’s street typologies and sections. It further evolved into a formalization of nature, with rows of trees showing the King’s ability to be orderly. Today, the Champs-Élysées are one of the most famous avenues, known for its shopping, Arc de Triomphe among other monuments and cultural significance.

Gateway of India, Mumbai, India

The Gateway of India was constructed by the British Empire in the 20th century, to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Mumbai, then known as Bombay. The arch is 26 metres high with four turrets, and the style of architecture is Indo-Saracenic, with some Islamic and Marathi influence. The Gateway originally served as a symbolic entrance to important British personnel, and in 1948, is where the last British troops left India. Today, it serves as a tourist destination and a local gathering spot, with several street vendors, and ferries leading from it to the Arabian Sea. The Gateway of India is a relic of a colonized India, that has now been adapted into the landscape of a quickly developing free India.

Capitol Complex, Chandigarh, India

Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex, whose plan and buildings were designed by Le Corbusier, is located at the northernmost point of the city and today houses the administrative bodies of both Haryana and Punjab. The monumental, symbolic architecture interspersed throughout, including the Open Hand monument (a sign of “peace and reconciliation” according to Le Corbusier), captures the optimism of Nehru and post-independence India, monumentalizing a break from the imperial tradition of city making that occurred prior. The image, depicting the Open Hand monument, gives a sense of their scale.

Ringstrasse, Vienna, Austria

Ringstrasse is a large boulevard that cuts through the center of Vienna’s historical city center. Created in the 1850s, the boulevard is typical of the “Parisian-style” boulevard, with multi-lane roads, green spaces, and monuments that bookend streets. Formed after the demolition of the city’s old defensive walls, the street is a grand representation of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s commitment to Enlightenment ideals. The street is flanked by important cultural institutions, such as the Parliament and the Vienna Opera House, in a neo-renaissance style that calls back to Greco-Roman and Renaissance traditions of ideal rationalism and scientific thought. Ringstrasse is emblematic of the power of the Hapsburg dynasty and a monument to Vienna’s cultural heritage and its status as a modern city. Today, the boulevard continues to be a symbol of Vienna and is an important public space for locals.

Haymarket vs. I-65 in Louisville, KY

In the mid-20th century, Louisville, KY underwent a period of development and urban renewal. In 1962, plans for the large highway “Interstate 65” cut through the historic, vital farmers’ market called Haymarket near what is now Old Louisville. The market had been a bustling center of urban vitality and economic activity since the 1890s, and had stocked grocery stores and individual citizens’ pantries for decades. When I-65 forced Haymarket to close, the Louisville Urban Renewal Agency sought to preserve it in the form of a “Produce Plaza,” the construction of which required bulldozing all that was left of Haymarket. I-65 was built in Louisville to connect the growing suburbs to the main downtown area, and as part of the national surge in monumentalism and prioritizing highways over internal connectivity.

Manila, Philippines

The plan to transform and modernize Manila, Philippine’s capital city, was composed by Daniel Burnham and Peirce Anderson. They created a capital that focused on national culture and sentiment by geometrically arranging the city around civic centers, tree-lined boulevards, and landscaped spaces. Burnham made a strong effort to keep Manila’s culture in the forefront by leaving historic remains intact. Burnham and Pierce imported neoclassical urbanism to create monumental design projects and forge a new city image to encourage a sense of patriotism. They emphasized how spatial organization, aesthetics, environmental behaviorism and civic politics were entwined within modern American dominance and grand urban design. Manila is a great example of monumentalism that does not entirely sublimate the existing culture rather signifies strength and collectivism.

Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain

The Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Bilbao is often regarded as one of the most important structures of the last 50 years.  Opened in 1997, it helped transform the declining port town of Bilbao into a prosperous cultural hub – creating the “Bilbao effect.”  While some have identified it as a key part of the city’s “gentrification,” critics have otherwise lauded it for its respectful placement in the city, positive relationship with the community, and geopolitical impact on Spanish unity.  Given the almost unmitigated success that has made this project a perennial award winner, one wonders if this is actually the Bilbao anomaly?

Henry Hudson Parkway

The Henry Hudson Parkway was one of the earliest built examples of the “20th century landscape vision” to “bring the county to town” by erasing the lines delineating urban and natural spaces. Robert Moses couched the expressway core of the Henry Hudson in a thick band of trees and greenspace, named “Riverside Park.”

Seoullo & Cheonggyecheon

In Seoul, Korea, Seoullo (2017) and Cheonggyecheon (2005) have transformed highway infrastructure into public space. Both projects penetrate some of the most congested neighborhoods in Seoul. Seoullo is an elevated linear park that was once an overpass; Cheonggyecheon was a natural stream covered by a highway.

Old West Durham, North Carolina

Old West Durham, formerly known as Hayti, is a typical example of the negative effects of urban renewal on African-American neighborhoods. In 1957, the North Carolina General Assembly approved a bill to build the Durham Freeway, a large highway that ran directly through the neighborhood. Not only did the plan cost millions of dollars and take over 14 years, but it displaced more than 4,000 and irreparably destroyed the commercial viability and social cohesiveness of an entire community. Today, the Hayti area remains one of the most economically neglected and exploited areas in all of Durham.

Bucharest Civic Center

Built in the 1980s under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, Bucharest’s Civic Center is a massive socialist-realist corridor of apartment blocks and tree-lined sidewalks meant to convey the awesome power of Socialist Romania. Ceausescu was inspired by his 1971 trip to North Korea, where he was impressed with the development under Kim-il Sung and his Juche ideology.

Empire State Plaza (Albany, NY)

In creating the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY (1965-1976), an emboldened state used eminent domain to uproot 7,000 residents and create a large-scale campus featuring brutalist concrete towers that centralized the state’s bureaucracy. The campus represents the aggressive strong-handed attitudes of NYS politics at the time.

Pyongyang, North Korea

The city plan of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, is representative of the Kim family’s Juche ideology of extreme authority and control. In the 1960s, the city’s smaller, polycentric spaces were combined into one central area to accommodate displays of military might.

World Trade Center

The original WTC superblock marked the end of Robert Moses-era urban planning where whole neighborhoods were demolished to make room for monumental public works. It came to symbolize American dominance in the global economy, and in its destruction and rebuilding, it continues to symbolize strength, resilience, and power.

Saint Petersburg

St Petersburg employed baroque urbanism with its radial boulevards, but unlike Versailles, the Royal Palace is not the focal point. Instead, the Admiralty Complex is found at the most prominent intersection, speaking to the fact that St. Petersburg was a project for the glorification of Russia.

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