The Societal Significance of Architecture
Art is, in some ways, victimized by the masses, for the self-indulgent nature of its creators but mostly due to a forgivable absence of self-awareness on the part of the viewer. Many fail to recognize just how easily influenced they are in their response to their environment. One may believe that although art does hold merit, in the form of escapism and in its ability to capture a person’s attention, it does not change anyone’s perspective or silently persuade or even manipulate. This is especially true in architecture, where the structures that are exquisite or beautiful are often seen as a waste of money and those that are considered unsightly do not receive very much attention at all. Thus, its significance on society is not so much disregarded as it is not discussed in any capacity.
Because architecture is marveled at, leaders throughout history have utilized it to show their people just how powerful they are, or at least how powerful they would like to be perceived. They have also used it to ensure a legacy and instill a sense of nationalism into its people. Legacies can often be misleading in how they convey the actual reign. In an attempt to combat this, architectural masterpieces are built to last forever. Situations involving recent colonization or new individuals in power are times when stunning architecture comes about. This can be attributed to a need to help the people understand that there is a new government and that it is somehow one that they can trust or be in awe of. Whatever the message may be, more often than not, there is one.
Art, in the form of words, paintings or structures has proven to be one of the most compelling forms of emotional persuasion. It can be discreet or it can be as glaring as putting Versailles on the top of a large hill to demonstrate how powerful King Louis XIV was. When Versailles became the official seat of government in France in 1682, there were obvious references in the architecture to the political climate that Louis XIV wanted to create. For example, his throne was positioned directly in the center of the palace so that his people would be forced to walk through all of the various rooms and pathways to reach him. Unlike contemporary French government, where leaders hope to be perceived as a man or woman of the people, leaders in this time wanted the people to understand that there was a clear distinction between them and that it should be celebrated. This opulent palace, now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, is so beautiful that some might consider it to be wasteful. Much like modern architecture, dictated by cities competing over who has the tallest skyscraper, this period was defined by the elite dueling over who could display their wealth in the most lavish manner.
The messages expressed through architecture are not all about supremacy and being as showy as possible. Places of worship have provided all people, religious or not, with some of the most incredible architecture. There are numerous explanations as to why they are built in the way that they are, with a perhaps more realistic explanation being that they want people to feel that this type of beauty is what one would be welcoming into their life if they were to adopt this religion. It is also said to symbolize the spiritual relationship. Architecture’s connection with religion can be explained with how much of religion is rooted in allegory. An example of this is a minaret in Islam and the bell tower in Christianity. In Islam, the minaret, which is a tower and the highest point of any mosque, is used to “call the faithful to prayer.” Christians introduced the bell tower in AD 400 for a similar purpose, calling people to worship. The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens, located in France, illustrates the ideology behind the architecture of religious buildings. It is believed that the dimensions were meant to be as large as they could possibly be in order for people to “reach for the heavens.”
There is a place in this world for all types of architecture. While humans still require shelter from both the elements and the aspects of life from which they seek religious refuge, we will continue to see the way in which artists are able to combine beauty with utility.