Monumental Places

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.”

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.

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