“No single major piece of architecture in the twentieth century can be taken out of its political context and its relationship with power.” So argues theorist and historian Jean-Louis Cohen in this lecture delivered at the Berlage Institute in October, 2006, titled “The politics of memory: Monuments to legitimacy.” Focusing specifically on landscapes of war and reconstruction in twentieth century Europe and their intimate relationship with structures of power, Cohen approaches the tenet that “all design is political” by examining the place of buildings in the deeply politicized landscapes of collective memory.
The relationship between architecture and power is complex and reciprocal. Regimes and revolutionaries alike employ architecture as a mechanism for expressing and executing their respective desires of stability and subversion. Accordingly, public architecture and public space bear the imprint of the political ideations that yield them and assume an operative function in the service of ideology. Architecture, in its role as a repository of collective memory and through its ability to shape public space and mold public discourse, is likewise capable of affecting the operation and exertion of power. Relics of history—residual architecture—play into our cultural fetishizations of nostalgia and encourage the translocation of ideologies between past and present.