FORMS OF AUTHORITY
From the art of resistance to unreasonable authority to the architecture celebrating it (authority is always unreasonable), that’s the journey from the last post to this one.
Authority is a fascinating, disturbing, in some ways exciting and in others depressing topic for architects. It is at the root of our social relationships and the structure of our social arrangements. Social classes, chains of command and decision-making, distribution of wealth, the enactment and enforcement of civil laws—these and more are based on concepts of authority, or who has the right to act in the name of others to determine both the general shape of society and its particulars.
I have no intention here of tracing the origins of authority, which must be in pre-historical times when the strongest and most confrontational members of a tribe simply took control of its activities. Dissenters were dealt with by sharp blows of a club to the head. In present times, the nature of authority has not changed so much. Authority is still about taking control of others’ activities and, indeed, the products of their activities, whether they are in the form of material objects—from artworks to parcels of land and the buildings on them—to the immaterial—government policies, corporate ethical standards, the rules of financial games determining the relative values of traded stocks and currencies.
The monuments that concern us here are those designed to commemorate and legitimize the enduring authority of the winners of great conflicts, political, military, and ideological. It is the winners who write history and commission the monuments as a form of that writing. However, it is a curious feature of most such monuments that their abstract character ends up commemorating the artist or architect who designs them, especially as the memory of the conflicts themselves fades from public memory. The poem by P.B. Shelley, quoted below, evokes this effect with grace and subtlety, as does the tale—no doubt apocryphal—that the great Lighthouse of Alexandria had a plaque naming the (long-forgotten) Pharaoh who commissioned it, designed to fall off in a hundred years and reveal yet another plaque, naming only the architect who designed it, holder, in rhese cases, of the most enduring authority of all.
Sic transit Gloria mundi—So goes the glory of this world.
(below) Monument to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, Berlin, 1926, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe:
Monument to the March Dead, Berlin, 1921, by Walter Gropius:
Monument to the Open Hand, Chandigarh, Punjab, India, built 1972, by Le Corbusier:
(following) Monuments commemorating various historical events, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 1960s-1980s, artists and architects to be identified:
(above) by Croatian sculptor Dušan Džamonja.
by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
(via commenter Antoine) a link about locations and Kampenaers’ book about them: