HornProudfoot MonumentalityInArchitecture full

Ideas of monumentality in architecture
Mark E. T. Horn and Peter R. Proudfoot, 2016
Quadrant, September 2016, 60(9), no. 529, 75-80.
With footnotes and illustrations (not published in Quadrant).
Monuments are human landmarks which men have created as symbols for their ideals, for
their aims, and for their actions. They are intended to outlive the period which originated
them, and constitute a heritage for future generations. As such, they form a link between the
past and the future.
José Luis Sert, Siegfried Giedion and Fernand Léger 1943, Nine Points on Monumentality.
Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever. Let it not be for present delight,
nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us
think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred
because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labour
and wrought substance of them, "See! this our fathers did for us.”
John Ruskin 1849, The seven lamps of architecture, ch VI: The lamp of memory; London: Smith, Elder.
[T]he Greek temple was conceived not as a purely human gesture in the landscape but as the
body of a god who, however, was the embodiment of a certain kind of potential action or state
of being.
Vincent Scully 1974, Modern architecture: the architecture of democracy, p. 40; NY: Braziller.
Of what is past, or passing, or to come
In this article we consider the concept of monumentality as applied to architecture,
and its role in the planning and design of urban spaces. The term monumentality is
used by different writers with different connotations and different emphases, and
so lacks a single, commonly-accepted definition; yet it has wide currency in
architectural theory and criticism, and it also has important socio-political
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Figure 1. Henry Bacon: Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, 1913-22.
The function of a monument is indicated by the derivation of the word from the
Latin monere (to remind). In the public sphere this is seen in memorial structures
such as cenotaphs, and in shrines to heroes and great events, often serving as
venues for solemn civic and religious ceremonies1. The range is indicated by the
Cenotaph in Martin Place, Sydney; the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.; and
the London Monument. The last is a massive Doric column raised soon after the
Great Fire of 1666, with an overtly political edge expressed in an inscription
(removed in 1830) blaming that catastrophe on a Popish plot.
Figure 2. Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke: Monument to the Great Fire of London, 1669-1677
Alberti suggests a martial origin for public monuments, in the ancient practice of setting up markers to establish
the boundaries of territory gained in war. Leon Battista Alberti 1486, On the art of building, 7.16.
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Beyond the immediate functions of memorialization – of connection with the past,
and projection into the future – monumentality has become a term of broader
approbation, applied to structures of all kinds that are seen as pinnacles of the art
of building, and as representing the cultures from which they have arisen. These
two elements are clearly linked, since in general it is only through excellent design
that an effective representation of public values can be achieved.
Four main qualities are commonly associated with monumental buildings: a sense
of permanence, or of proceeding from a remote past; an embedding of the building
within a particular landscape or urban setting; an assertion of imposing effect or
strength; and a projection of public values and political authority. It is the
combination of these qualities that is of particular interest to us. Our aims are to
explore some sources of architectural thinking with regard to the monuments in
the civic sphere, and to elucidate the role of architecture in marking the focal points
of public life.
We begin by discussing traditional links between memory, monuments and
buildings, and review some principles developed in architectural theory over the
past few hundred years. We then consider questions of symbolic or metaphorical
representation, and propose an historical outline of trends in architectural thought
and practice. A discussion of the Sydney Opera House illustrates some questions
about symbolic representation, and is followed by a brief consideration of
monumentality at an urban scale. We conclude with a brief recapitulation of our
main themes.
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The memorial function
As indicated above, a monument serves, at least in an original sense of the word,
to make a connection with the past. The connection can be direct, by way of the
inscription on a tombstone, or through sculpted figures on a cenotaph. Yet how
effective can this be? Why, after all, should words carved in stone remind us more
strongly of the person concerned than the same words in a book? And in what
sense can we be reminded of a person whom we never met, or an event which we
never witnessed? We can understand the urge to keep memory alive, but how
effective can a monument be in those terms? How clearly is the memorial intention
transmitted to the maker, and then to contemporary and future witnesses?
Shelley’s Ozymandias may be read as an essay on such questions, insisting that the
sculptor “well those passions read / Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless
things”; while highlighting the irony of the despot’s claim, “Look on my works ye
mighty, and despair!”.
Yet not all monuments, and few monumental buildings, are directly readable in
these ways: their memorial impacts owe much more to allegory than to direct
reference, and it must be conceded that such impacts are always quite diffuse. If
the Statue of Liberty originated as a monument to American independence and the
freeing of the slaves, it took an allegorical form – a lady with a lamp, so to speak –
whose meaning is not easy to explain with any precision, and whose traditional
symbolic function, of bidding welcome to immigrants arriving in New York harbour,
seems now very uncertain. The shifting of meaning over time, and the tensions
between memorialization and communal comfort, have been addressed very
directly in memorials to the murdered Jews of Europe2, and recent controversies
over figures and events of the Civil Rights movement in the American South3.
James E. Young 1999, “Memory and Counter-Memory” Harvard Design Magazine 9. Available at:
Kirk Savage 1999, “The past in the present”, Harvard Design Magazine 9. Available at:
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Given the sorts of imprecision outlined above, what is the power of a monument?
It appears that monuments can transport one to a world apart from the everyday:
a world of dreams, of thoughts of other times and other places. Sometimes a
special focus is suggested for those thoughts, as in a necropolis or war memorial.
Sometimes, however, the power of a monument lies more broadly in its capacity
to suggest the depths of human time; and here, we suggest, lies the power of the
Classical tradition in architecture.
For in that tradition a Doric colonnade, its entablature, its sibling colonnades,
arcades and so on, partake of the extended Classical family, deep-rooted in
memory. And hence, to put a building under the management (or “control” as
Summerson puts it4) of the Classical orders is to bring it within an imaginative
realm, hazy as it may be, within which we can think of our history as a living world,
in which we have a place amongst our antecedents and our heroes. We might
suppose indeed that the same process would apply to other architectural traditions
(Gothic or Islamic, for example). Yet what is left when tradition itself comes into
Themes and principles
Until a few hundred years ago, it was widely accepted amongst architects in the
Western tradition that monumentality could be realised through traditional means
as discussed above though conformity with conventional precepts regarding the
use of materials, decorative elements, and formal precedents. But that consensus
increasingly came under question, giving way to a multi-stranded search for new
ways of thinking about buildings5.
John Summerson 1964. The Classical Language of Architecture; London: Methuen.
See Kenneth Frampton 2007, Modern architecture: a critical history. London: Thames and Hudson; and Vincent
Scully 1974, Modern architecture: the architecture of democracy; NY: Braziller.
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Outlined below are some of the outcomes of that search that are relevant to the
present enquiry. Although these principles have sometimes been propounded
without specific reference to a civic context, it has long been generally accepted
that grand public buildings and monuments are the main canvas for the full
development of architectural possibility6. That assumption was maintained also by
Adolf Loos (1870-1933), one of the Modern Movement’s most witty and incisive
A work of art is a private matter for the artist, a building is not… Only a tiny part of architecture
comes under art: monuments. Everything else, everything that serves some practical purpose,
should be ejected from the realm of art.
Reference to origins. The search for underlying principles led many architects to
study the sources of the Western tradition, in the Greek temple (seen as a
petrification of a primitive timber hut), in the engineering feats of the Romans, or
in the medieval cathedrals. While such endeavours sometimes carried a banner of
rationalism (e.g. in the writings of Viollet-le-Duc and Choisy), they were
underpinned by a belief that “pure” or “essential” forms would visibly connect a
building with an ancient tradition.
In a similar vein, the great teacher and architect Louis Kahn (1901-1974) saw the
ancient exemplars as encoding crucial evidence – the traces of the master masons
– that indicate the original character and dignity of their culture. The temples at
Paestum in Southern Italy were for him sites of recurrent pilgrimage, and he would
say to his students, “Reflect on that great event in architecture when the walls
parted and the columns came”.
See, for example, Alberti’s strictures on private extravagance. Leon Battista Alberti 1486, On the art of building,
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Empathy. The use of the human body as an empathetic model has been central to
classical and neo-classical ideals of monumentality. The Roman writer Vitruvius was
apparently the first to expound the derivation of proportions and measurements
from the body, and this theme was given graphical expression in the “Vitruvian
man” of Leonardo da Vinci. An overt connection with architecture was made by
Leonardo’s contemporary Francesco di Giorgio, who devised church plans
modelled on the human body.
Figure 3. Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1501): Church plan.
The values of empathy – of the presence of body metaphors in our perception of
buildings, with the latent image of “a man standing upright” – were developed
subsequently by C.R. Cockerell (see especially Peter Kohane’s recent exposition)7
and by Geoffrey Scott. The latter emphasized the way in which buildings are
experienced as quasi-human presences: “Architecture, to communicate the vital
values of the spirit, must appear organic like the body”8. The empathetic ideal has
found expression also in some of the best architecture of the 20th century, notably
that of Alvar Aalto, Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier. It appears to be central also to
Roger Scruton’s recent writings in defence of the classical tradition9.
Peter Kohane 2013, “Invoking the ancient authority and the wisdom of Vitruvius: Charles Robert Cockerell’s
classical principles of architecture”, Art Gallery of NSW Diploma Lecture Series.
Geoffrey Scott 1914, The architecture of humanism, p.221; London: Methuen.
See, for example, Roger Scruton 2008, “Cities for living”, City Journal, 8 July 2008. Available at
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The life within. The concept of empathy implies the idea of a building as, in some
poetic sense, a living thing. This has clear affinities with the idea of an “organic”
architecture, in which building forms are inspired by the natural world10. The
organic impulse was central for the Art Nouveau of the late nineteenth century, for
Gaudí, and for the interwar German Expressionist architects – Mendelsohn,
Poelzig, Scharoun, Häring. With Frank Lloyd Wright, “organic architecture” was
developed extensively through the use of biomorphic forms (e.g. spirals, tree- or
shell-like structures), and in works envisaged as integral parts of their landscape.
Authenticity. A further, more abstract theme of architectural theory since the
beginnings of the Modern Movement is the idea that a building should be
manifestly constituted of the materials and structures that make it up, without
embellishment. This focus on authenticity brings to mind Lionel Trilling’s discussion
of authenticity and sincerity as aspects of literary style11. To be authentic is to be
true to oneself at all cost, while sincerity is considered rather a social virtue.
Transposed to the realm of architecture, sincerity might be considered to
correspond with decorum in the deployment of conventional symbols, and in fitting
a building seamlessly into its urban setting; authenticity, on the other hand,
emphasizes the uniqueness of the work, the sense that it is, above all, itself.
George Hersey 1999, The monumental impulse: architecture’s biological roots; Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Lionel Trilling 1973, Sincerity and authenticity; Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
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Imposing a presence. If a building is seen to have within it a spark of a life, how
does it assert its presence? As we have suggested earlier, an imposing presence is
one of the defining marks of monumentality, and the means to achieve this have
been understood – at least by architects – for many centuries. Monumental
structures are often very large, but an effect of commanding size may also derive
more subtly from a disturbance of the viewer’s perception of scale. For example,
doors, windows, staircases and so on – conventional clues to scale – may be sized
not to their usual functional dimensions, but to some larger order (e.g. in Alberti’s
church of San Andrea in Mantua, and Michelangelo’s Palazzo dei Conservatori in
Rome), as if the building were inhabited by giants rather than mere mortals. Much
the same approach is used in Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles,
through the use of double-height balconies on the building’s main façades, and in
the large parabolic arches in the loggia of Roy Grounds’s Shine Dome in Canberra.
Similarly, conventional cues may be hidden or played down, as in the fortress-like
façade of Grounds’s National Gallery in Melbourne.
Figure 4. Michaelangelo Buonarotti: Capitoline Hill, Rome, palaces re-fronted 1536–1546.
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Figure 5. Le Corbusier: Unité d’Habitation, Marseilles, 1946-52.
Figure 6. Roy Grounds: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1962-68.
In the cases mentioned above, grandeur is sought through the suggestion that the
building is inhabited by larger-than-life beings. A perceptual disturbance may work
also in the opposite direction. For example, Le Corbusier’s church at Ronchamp has
a façade in which the small, deeply-recessed windows seem to suggest that the
building is inhabited by trogodytic dwarfs, as well as by the giants implied by the
massive cornices of the roof.
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Figure 7. Le Corbusier: Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, 1950-54.
The sharing of meaning
As we have seen, monumentality can involve various kinds of metaphorical or
allusive reference: a building puts us in mind of something, it transports us to
another world, and so on. The power of this allusiveness is exemplified by NorbergSchultz’s assertion of a miraculous transformation, analogous to the
transubstantiation of water and wine at the mass:
[The European Gothic cathedral] was the heavens of contemporary man; upon entering it one
entered heaven. The large sun window starts to radiate heavenly light when one enters the
church. The large ‘baldachines’ [i.e. canopies, or the reference may be to vaults] which form
the interior space undoubtedly symbolize the heavens, and the glittering stained- glass
windows …[correspond] to the description of heaven in contemporary literature.
C. Norberg-Schultz 1968, Intentions in architecture, p.124; Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Figure 8. Liebfrauenkirche, Trier, c. 1200-1260. “Upon entering it one entered heaven.”
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Symbolism is the subject of a variety of interpretations and analyses. We propose
here merely to indicate the range of symbolic representation in architectural form
(not merely in surface decoration). A first group of symbolic or quasi-symbolic
forms has particular relevance to the preceding discussions of memorial functions
and empathy. These forms are tectonic elements which have become embedded
in the languages of architecture: the timber components of the primeval Doric hut,
idealized in the Greek orders; the arch, dome, tunnel vaulting and other
engineering forms of Roman architecture; and similarly, the aediculae, arches,
vaulting and buttresses of Gothic architecture. These elements can promote the
engagement between viewer and building, so as to intensify the sense of the
building as itself, a particular member of the family of human habitation, located
on a particular site.
Secondly, there are forms and spatial ensembles that seem to have some primeval
relevance to the human condition: the phallus, the womb, the forest, the cave; and
religious symbols such as the cross and the mandala. Third are mystical or quasimystical patterns of various kinds: the elementary geometrical forms deployed by
Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn; the axial geometries that give orientation and order
to cities such as Canberra. A fourth category comprises chimerical or quasibiological organisms: the sphinx-like form of the Australian War Memorial in
Canberra or Mendelsohn’s Einstein Tower in Potsdam, the shells of the Sydney
Opera House.
Figure 9. Emil Sodersteen and John Crust: Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1927-41.
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Achievement and crises
The subject of monumentality has assumed a variety of aspects in the history of
architectural thought in Western countries over the past 250 years. We suggest
that the pattern of this thought has been marked by four main crises, characterized
in each case by an ebbing – conscious or not – in the confidence with which
architects have addressed the task of civic representation. Although these crises
are described here in historical sequence, their causes are interconnected and they
are gradually-unfolding and partially-concurrent phenomena, rather than discrete
The first crisis, commencing around the mid-18th century, was the sapping of the
architectural consensus over common conventions and symbol-systems. Of course
those conventions themselves had evolved over time: the new element was their
deployment in a proliferating eclectic variety across an expanding range of building
types – factories, railway stations, and so on – which introduced a relativistic taint,
compounded by the scepticism expressed by Enlightenment writers towards the
very institutions for which architectural grandeur was expected.
One result of that first crisis was the emergence of several streams of avant-garde
thought which sought new ways of building, and were at times affiliated with
radical elements in the politics of the time. In Europe, this thinking led on to a
second crisis, described by Sert, Giedion and Léger in their “Nine Points” of 1943.
The abandonment of conventional classical forms had deprived architecture of the
means through which monumentality was traditionally sought. In addition, the
urgent pursuit of decent alternatives to the slums and sweatshops of the
nineteenth century had led to a focus on the efficient deployment of resources in
housing and other utilitarian buildings, to the neglect of public buildings.
Furthermore – and this is not quite explicit in the “Nine Points” – a widely-shared
desire to place architecture at the service of progressive governments had been
baffled by the rise of authoritarian regimes in Russia, Germany and elsewhere.
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In the mainstream, meanwhile, the lush variety of late-nineteenth century
eclecticism was succeeded by a still varied, yet more sober and thoughtful range of
approaches. Conventional architectural motifs were still used, usually in simplified
forms, sometimes with references to local traditions or with overtly nationalistic
overtones, notably in Scandinavian countries, Italy and the U.S. (leading exponents
include Eliel Saarinen, Gunnar Asplund, and Paul Phillipe Cret). Australian examples
of such work include Bruce Dellit’s ANZAC War Memorial in Sydney, and Hudson
and Wardrop’s Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, both completed in 1934.
Also notable are the late works of Sir Edwin Lutyens, especially his war memorials
and his Capitol buildings in New Delhi: based on classical and Palladian models,
these memorials and grand public buildings yet convey the hand of a wonderfully
original design intellect.
Figure 10. Bruce Dellit: ANZAC War Memorial, Sydney, 1929-34.
Figure 11. Phillip Hudson and James Wardrop: Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, 1923-34.
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The third crisis arose from disillusionment with the property of monumentality
itself, discredited by the aggressive use of buildings to project overwhelming state
power in the building programmes of authoritarian regimes, as seen in Speer’s
schemes for Berlin, Mussolini’s EUR in Rome (1938-1943), and Franco’s Valley of
the Fallen (1940-1958). In the USSR, as Frampton puts it, after the death of Lenin,
the Party “sensed that the people were incapable of responding to the abstract
aesthetics of modern architecture,”12 and settled upon a so-called Social Realism
characterized by gigantic scale, grandiloquent gestures, and theatrical
ornamentation, exemplified by Boris Iofan’s project for the Palace of the Soviets
Figure 12. Giovanni Guerrini and Ernesto Lapadula: Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, EUR, Rome, 1937-1940.
A further, and continuing, crisis is the consequence of a shift away from grandeur
as an architectural quality and a diminution in the role of civic architecture. These
shifts are bound up with changes in urban planning priorities, seen especially in the
emphasis on convenience of travel by car. That emphasis has led to a downgrading
of the ways in which public buildings are traditionally approached and
apprehended, that is, slowly, from far off, and without anxiety over traffic, parking
and so on. Parliament House in Canberra, for example, is cut off from its urban
surroundings by major freeways; and when a building is thus stranded on a traffic
island, the public can hardly be expected to invest it with the kind of dignity that
Scully attributed to the Greek temples.
Frampton, op. cit., p. 214.
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Figure 13. Romaldo Giurgola: Parliament House, Canberra, 1978-88.
Also contributing to the crisis are political elements; in particular, the diminished
value invested in all but a small inner circle of public institutions is seen in
governments’ willingness to dispose of public properties, which has cast a pall of
impermanence over the public sphere. Allied with these developments has been
the rise of non-physical means – notably the broadcast media and the Internet – by
which public institutions assert their presence in the world.
The Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House illustrates some of the qualities and themes associated
with monumental buildings. As a sculptural presence it seems to mediate between
the dramatic landscape of water, rock, remnant bushland and fine-grained
suburban habitation, as opposed to the coarse-grained density of the commercial
city centre just behind it. The size of the building is difficult to gauge from a
distance; the form is in some enigmatic way “organic”; the massive substructure,
with its vast flights of steps, recalls precedents such as the Mayan temples13; while
the shells – the primary visible components – are formed as sections of a sphere, a
template used by architects from Roman times onwards.
See Peter Proudfoot 2007, “Joern Utzon's idea of the theatre-temple”, Quadrant 47(4), April 2007.
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Figure 14. Jørn Utzon: Opera House, Sydney, 1956-1973.
It is indisputable that the Opera House is highly successful as an urban landmark,
convivially shared by Sydneysiders and visitors. Yet what of its representative or
symbolic function? The building appears in Charles Jencks’s post-modern aesthetics
as a prime case of multivalence, allowing a range of possible allusions (to seashells,
sails of yachts, nun’s cornettes, dishes in a rack)14; while it also reveals its contents,
in the elementary sense that the Concert Hall and Opera Theatre visibly comprise
the main distinct components of the superstructure.
Yet the Opera House is also popularly referred to as a symbol or “icon” of Sydney.
In a sense this is true, in that – like the Harbour Bridge – the Opera House is
distinctive in form, instantly recognizable as belonging to Sydney, and hence can
serve as an emblem of the city. This emblematic role – the building as “trademark”
– is however scarcely relevant to the symbolic or monumental qualities of the
Charles Jencks 1977, The language of post-modern architecture; London: Academy Editions.
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A further and more interesting claim is that the Opera House is a symbol of
Australia or of our culture; yet how is this possible? How can a building represent
something abstract such as a culture, if not – as in the past – by overt use of the
symbols of that culture? What is it about being Australian that could be
represented in a building? We are a great sporting nation, yet is there any tradition
of building that could express this aspect of our national culture? The Aboriginal
cultures are ancient yet have developed no usable architectural tradition; we
inherit fine British traditions of literature, governance, and so on, yet what could
be distinctively Australian about them? And similarly, if the Opera House itself
marks a milestone in our cultural development, how does this relate to the
architecture of the building?
Monuments and cities
The view of monumentality developed so far in this article has focussed on the
memorial and symbolic potentialities of individual buildings. We shall now consider
briefly what monumentality might mean in a broader public context, with
reference to the form and structure of cities.
Every part of a city – not only the central administrative or ceremonial precincts –
has a public aspect to the extent that it gives form and meaning to the places and
spaces around which the city is built15. Notable in this respect are the patterns of
buildings, streets and squares which have comprised the fine tissue of most
European cities until modern times. Sometimes those local patterns have emerged
from a mosaic of local custom and tradition, as in the role of parishes as
administrative units in medieval Venice. In contrast to these “organic” patterns are
the more artificial patterns and ensembles imposed with directly urbanistic intent,
as seen in the remaking of Paris in the nineteenth century, where the boulevardes
established major axes, linking other streets, squares and quays, and where strict
rules applied to the dimensions and materials of housing, so as to give a grand
aspect to the streets themselves.
15 See Kevin Lynch 1960, The image of the city; Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
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This conception of individual buildings as elements within a larger whole is
exemplified also in the works of John Wood, father and son, responsible
respectively for the Circus (1754-68) and Royal Crescent (1767-1774) at Bath in the
U.K, and in the subsequent development of squares and terraces in London through
the nineteenth century. The underlying idea was to construct from ordinary
housing units the suggestion of a larger and more splendid entity, such as the
façade of a palace, which might seem to be inhabited by higher beings, a trope very
close to the use of scale to evoke grandeur in individual civic buildings, as discussed
Figure 15. John Wood the Elder: The Circus, Bath, 1754-68.
The idea of elevating housing to monumental, city-shaping levels was taken up
again by many architects in the course of the past 150 years, for example by Le
Corbusier, as seen in his Unité d’Habitation at Marseilles (1947-1952). Of this
building Scully has written:
The high space of each apartment looks out towards the mountains and the sea, and it is in
relation to the mountains and the sea that the building as a whole should be seen. This is the
larger, Hellenic environment that it creates. So perceived, it is a humanist building, as we
empathetically associate ourselves with it, in the contrasting landscape, as a standing body
analogous to our own.
Scully, op. cit., p. 44.
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In the same vein are a number of distinctive projects with urbanistic goals. Notable
among these are Ralph Erskine’s Byker Wall in Newcastle, U.K. (1969-1982), an
array of housing up to 10 storeys high, that turns its back on a major highway for
sound protection and to give a sense of enclosure to an established neighbourhood
within the city. This has affinities with Louis Kahn’s proposal (1956) for a set of
massive car parking structures, reminiscent of medieval fortifications, around the
old centre city of Philadelphia. The Grande Arche at La Défense in Paris (1985-89),
is a gigantic office building in the form of a triumphal arch, terminating a major axis.
Projects like these are distinct from the Megastructures proposed by several
architects during the 1960s and 1970s, for which the motivations were
technological rather than urbanistic.16.
Figure 16. Ralph Erskine: Byker Wall, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, 1970-75, south side.
Most cities develop in piecemeal fashion, without close aesthetic guidance. It is
generally only major cities and capitals, such as Canberra or Paris, that provide
opportunities for planning on a grand public scale. How far beyond that should a
quality of splendour or grandeur be sought in a project that merely houses people
or their places of work?
Reyner Banham 1975, “Megastructure”, Architectural Design 15(7), 400-401. The idea was to build a massive
scaffolding, incorporating all services such as water and electricity, into which mass-produced building units (flats
or offices) could be slotted or replaced at will.
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It is true that large-scale housing projects represent a response to insistent
demands for higher urban densities: they can offer decent and dignified
alternatives to traditional housing patterns, and should not be judged by the
meanness and vulgarities common in recent practice. Yet they can hardly be
considered a universal norm, for several reasons. First, the implied model of highdensity living is of doubtful sustainability in human, and perhaps even economic
terms (see, for example, the writings of Leon Krier17 and Christopher Alexander18).
Secondly, although an individual project may play a positive part – perhaps simply
as a landmark – in giving form to a city, if the same thing is attempted
indiscriminately, the result is visual and spatial incoherence, akin to the mass of
products competing for attention on supermarket shelves.
Finally, there is a fundamental confusion in the flaunting of private aspirations
within the realm of public urban space, which is traditionally dominated by civic
monuments and collective patterns. This is emphasized in Loos’s remarks on
Viennese housing in the 1890s:
Whenever I walk along the Ring, I always feel as if a modern Potemkin had wanted to make
somebody believe he had been transported into a city of aristocrats… Viennese landlords were
delighted with the idea of owning a mansion, and the tenants were equally pleased to be able
to live in one.
Loos, op. cit.
You must remember this
In this article we have discussed what we see as a common property of the
buildings that mark the power and achievements of our civilization, a property with
both aesthetic and socio-political elements. We have noted some means through
which monumentality has been invoked, although we would not presume to
dictate a template for architects, whose modes of thought when engaged in design
rarely follow any programmatic pattern. Yet we hope that this brief survey may
help to guide an appreciation of architectural work – on paper or in the flesh – and
hence may inform judgments regarding the built environment.
Leon Krier 1998, Architecture: choice or fate; Windsor: Andreas Papadakis.
Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein 1977, A pattern language : towns, buildings,
construction; New York: Oxford University Press
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Imagine, for example, that we are involved in the instigation, preparation or
adjudication of a project for a major public building of which some monumental
quality is expected. Of course special attention may be directed here to symbols
associated with the institution, the approaches to the building, its orientation, and
its ceremonial usage.
Beyond these things, the building should be distinctive in relation to its landscape
or urban setting. That is, the singular quality that we seek refers not to the building
alone, but involves its alignment in the landscape and its functioning in relation to
its neighbours. And the building itself must be not merely a piece of work in a
particular vein, or an expression of a particular personality. To be monumental it
must have a life of its own, as if visiting our time from ages past, like the uncanny
sphinx referred to by Yeats:
… somewhere, in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
W.B. Yeats 1920, The Second Coming.
List of illustrations
Figure 1. Henry Bacon: Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, 1913-22.
Figure 2. Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke: Monument to the Great Fire of London, 1669-1677. Engraving by J
Woods from a picture by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. Published 1837.
Figure 3. Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1501): Church plan.
Figure 4. Michaelangelo Buonarotti: Capitoline Hill, Rome, palaces re-fronted 1536–1546. Engraving by Giuseppe
Vasi (1710–1782).
Figure 5. Le Corbusier: Unité d’Habitation, Marseilles, 1946-52.
Figure 6 Roy Grounds: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1962-68.
Figure 7. Le Corbusier: Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, 1950-54.
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Figure 8. Liebfrauenkirche, Trier, c. 1200-1260. “Upon entering it one entered heaven” (Norberg-Schultze on
Gothic cathedrals).
Figure 9. Emil Sodersteen and John Crust: Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1927-41.
Figure 10. Bruce Dellit: ANZAC War Memorial, Sydney, 1929-34.
Figure 11. Phillip Hudson and James Wardrop: Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, 1923-34.
Figure 12. Giovanni Guerrini and Ernesto Lapadula: Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, EUR, Rome, 1937-1940.
Figure 13. Romaldo Giurgola: Parliament House, Canberra, 1978-88.
Figure 14. Jørn Utzon: Opera House, Sydney, 1956-1973.
Figure 15. John Wood the Elder: The Circus, Bath, 1754-68.
Figure 16. Ralph Erskine: Byker Wall, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, 1970-75, south side.
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