Architecture is political. While this irks some of us and energizes others, even consciously choosing not to think of buildings politically is taking a political stance. In this way, there is no escape from the politics of architecture and many governments and powerful figures throughout history have embraced the political nature of architecture and used it to further their motives. The construction of buildings is among the clearest and most obvious visual indicators of a society’s power and economic standing, so for a new government trying to project power and prosperity, for example, architecture can be the quickest and most incontrovertible way for the government to show its success. While many dictatorships rely on more intangible strategies as well, like propaganda and the creation of a cult of personality, examining a regime’s approach to architecture can be telling of its values.
A dictator’s relationship and approach to architecture as a strategic move (or lack thereof) is the first indication of the leadership’s beliefs and goals for a country. Does this government want to develop and build the country or tear it down to its roots? The style of the architecture created under a dictatorship is significant as well, as it is often used to convey a message in alignment with the government’s politics or to imply a sense of power and grandeur. Lastly, the types of buildings prioritized by a regime clearly illustrate its primary interests and goals—a government that focuses on building schools and hospitals sends a different message than one that primarily builds prisons and fortresses. Below is a list of historical dictatorships and their approaches to architecture while in power, from which we can draw connections and conclusions about the governments themselves and see how architecture fed into their overall ideologies.