Architecture and political legitimation.

by Peter Blundell Jones
The Nazis probably took links between architecture and society more seriously than
any regime that has ever been. Peter Blundell Jones(1) suggests that the monuments of
the Third Reich were intended to crush the citizen's sense of individuality, and that
attempts to infer that, for instance, Speer's architecture was apolitical are
The cover of Eric Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes, his admirable history of the
twentieth century, shows Hitler as caricatured by Chaplin in that memorable scene in
The Great Dictator when he plays with the globe. (2) It was a clever choice, for without
making Hitler the hero, it indicates the shadow that evil leader casts across our
century, while it also recognises the power of film as the new and dominant medium
of artistic expression. Curiously, the credit for the photo does not mention Chaplin at
all, but a film made in the 1970s: Hitler, a film from Germany in which it was
included as a quotation. This adds another layer of interpretation. The director of that
film, Hans Jurgen Syberberg, was among the most courageous of those German
artists in the last couple of decades who tried to face up squarely to the unacceptable
past. His struggle is a reminder of the acute pain still felt by Germans in relation to
their identity. In a radio interview, Syberberg spoke about the problem of Hitler
having soiled everything he touched, and having touched so much.
Knowing Hitler's fondness for Wagner's music, for example, and understanding the
way in which it seemed to encourage his sense of destiny, we can never listen to it
again with quite the same innocence. Associations stick. T. S. Eliot was surely right
when he pointed out that the addition of a new work of art changes the meanings of
all those in the tradition to which it belongs. One does not even need a new work: a
change of interpretation or even of context is enough.
Hitler held power for only 12 years and was dead before most of us were born, yet he
looms large, for he changed the world so much. We are still reeling from the extent of
the moral collapse, still shocked by how modern technology could so exaggerate the
barbarism. What makes it worse is that when Hitler came to power the Germanspeaking countries were in many ways the centre of world culture. Despite the
economic devastation of the First World War, the development of learning had
remained intact while the arts flourished to a new splendour under the Weimar
Republic. German and Austrian scientists continued to lead the world, to say nothing
of German-speaking historians and philosophers. The dominance of immigrants such
as Pevsner and Gombrich in our own culture shows how far ahead the Germanspeaking countries were in art history. They were among the thousands of
intellectuals driven out directly or indirectly by Hitler. In a short time the Nazis
dismantled so much. How could such unprincipled crooks and bullies have been
allowed to wreak such havoc? More to the point, how can we ensure that it does not
happen again?

indeed only the personal intervention of Hitler prevented him getting the prize. on the left of the party (if one can speak in such terms) was sympathetic to the Modernists.As architects. one might have expected Paul Schulze-Naumburg to be taken up. the Italian architect who fought with the partisans and has always been determinedly anti-fascist. so the associations were different. At the other extreme we have a historian like Bruno Zevi who sees fascism not only in the axes and formality of Classicism but even in something as elementary as the use of bilateral symmetry . we must start with the question of styles. The protege of Rosenberg. (3) He has tried to depoliticise Speer and rehabilitate him as a mainstream Neo-Classical architect. but it is less easy to prove than one might at first expect. there is an implicit fascism not only in the original Rationalist work but even in more recent Neo-Rationalist work such as that of Rossi and Grassi.or perhaps more accurately Neo-Baroque . and included works by Nolde and Barlach .in an official exhibition. In Italy.the official architecture of the Nazi party as exemplified by the work of Paul Troost and Albert Speer. suggested in the AR that Hitler's admiration of Classicism was merely incidental. Had the decision gone the other way. and had also been a scourge of Modernism from the mid 1920s. for political scruples would probably not have stopped him. He had long been a champion of a NeoClassical . yet for Giancarlo De Carlo. If the Nazis had wanted at the outset to impose a style. But he never found favour with Hitler or received any important commissions. for example. we need to tease out just what the connection might be between fascist architecture and fascist politics.he actually writes of symmetry being 'pathological'. In retrospect this was a vital turning point. the use of a Modernist vocabulary by Terragni for a building like the Casa del Fascio in Como seems to indicate that there is no clear connection between style and politics. Probably Hitler did not care for Schulze-Naumburg's work. and it has been thrown into question altogether by some in recent years. Goebbels. he was the darling of the party right. the regime defined its artistic policies only gradually. (4) The implicit monumentality and anonymity of his work could have been appropriate to the . but in Germany much Modernist architecture had been produced by left-wing cities and building societies in the late 1920s. Deutsche Arbeit run by the Nazi organisation 'Kraft durch Freude'. the progressive image of Modernism was adopted by the Fascists as it arose. To try to unravel the issues. There seems to be a strong connection between the buildings and the regime. This is clearest in the most extreme examples . Leon Krier. He gave hope to the Modernists in the early days of the regime and encouraged both Mies and Gropius to contribute to the 1934 exhibition Deutsches backed up with the crudest racist arguments set out in such books as The Face of the German House. Mies could perhaps have become a major official architect of the Third Reich.two artists later defined as degenerate . For some. but he also liked to play Rosenberg off against Goebbels: there was a surprising degree of divide and rule at the top of the party. Even so. Both Modernists also submitted entries to the competition for the National Bank of 1933 and Mies almost won.

Stone is among the most enduring of materials. Whatever they originally meant. But Hitler's tastes were too bourgeois and backward looking. The organisation of technique in itself is an expression of power. The regime needed a past more than it needed a future. which at close quarters dissolves the unity of the whole into a thousand individual gestures of worship. Such large-scale plans consistently carded out require and reflect a high degree of political organisation.(6) Unity meant excluding all other groups and conflicting views: one party. and in such cases self-expression by the builders or even displays of their skill could obviously not be encouraged. if only subliminally. while the expression of the latest technology would have added a suitably progressive note. Stone buildings therefore indicate age and stability. Power and technique With Roman ruins. The spatial order tends to reflect the social order. combining individual contributions in a collective effort for the expression of common beliefs and aspirations. even the sheer size of the single stones impresses. one nation. That large single-minded projects carried out in a short time by emperors and dictators were also often achieved by slave labour is no coincidence. and since it is the main reason for the building's persistence. Greek and Roman temples are engraved in popular conssciousness as the most ancient and venerable buildings of Western Civilisation. one leader. and it was something of a shock when these uniforms took over the Reichstag.regime. while it also frames and shapes our rituals. indicating that members were no longer present as individuals. and he was not the last. and this was not at all accidental: it was part of his unerring political instinct. . especially one like Hitler. they have become symbols of permanence and authority. Things known and respected by the masses. but only as party representatives. Baroque Karlsruhe. or even Versailles. which left little room for individual expression. would be of no use to a dictator. The cumulative quirkiness of Gothic. (5) Architecture plays a major role in this process because it has always been one of our main repositories of long-term memory. When one runs across fragments of a Roman city one is also impressed by the scale of the operation and the single-mindedness of it. had to be cited to impress and to inspire respect. most societies have to invent and reinvent their traditions and they adjust their myths of origins and their use of relics accordingly. and re-use of their forms for palaces or town halls has reinforced the connection. because it shows a scale of building technology far beyond that of the medieval or modern fabric lying adjacent. memory more than aspiration. whether one is looking at a Roman camp. it becomes also an expression of longevity. The party appeared in uniform. usually involving a hierarchical power structure. His selfappointed mission was to unify the nation. and it gives us a potent reminder of the passage of time. Hitler was not the first leader to borrow forms from antiquity to substantiate his authority and to give it a pedigree. especially when laid heavy and flat. This is the opposite of the Ruskinian ideal according to which a fellowship of craftsmen produces a much differentiated whole. Indeed.

Again the language is stripped Classicism. He made it a stark and simple box with sheer stone walls and he set in the middle a stone cube with a simple wreath on it.such stalwarts would bear it unflinchingly for the sake of their Fuhrer. Speer quickly picked up and developed the architectural style that the older man had invented. He had been well prepared to do so in the role of student. who was neither young nor notably successful. stripped to the bone. but now the room has been restored. . It was altered under the Communists. and even sketched designs. Tessenow won the competition for the reconstruction of the interior of Schinkel's Neue Wache as a monument to the dead of the First World War. Above was a circular skylight. utterly forbidding in its monumentality. which could be found in many other forms. As soon as he gained the power to build. evidently. Another important work of Troost in Munich was the pair of temples to celebrate the heroes of the failed putsch of 1923. The doors are enormous but so are the half-metre high door hinges and their great screw heads. What was it about Troost's work that so attracted Hitler? Not just the Neo-Classicism. just as Schinkel's Altes Museum in Berlin was used for the May day ceremonies there.(7) After Troost died in 1934. an axially placed square in which von Klenze's Glyptothek (perhaps the best Neo-Classical building in Munich) also stands. But Troost provided just the image that Hitler wanted. They completed one side of Konigsplatz. There are no cosy corners for moments of relief. but the master had a delicacy of touch and sense of humanity quite missing from his pupil. and the knowledge that such great doors and columns once honoured the Gods of past civilisations makes one worry about twentiethcentury Gods on earth. The site of these temples is also significant. It has a strange scale and a quite remarkable poignancy: the monumentality is not overbearing but quietly dignified. and no fine detail. for the temples were roofless. he cast around for a suitable architect. a hitherto rather sensitive architect who had developed a taste for austere and minimal NeoClassicism. leaving the tombs of the heroes open to the rain and frost . for example. lighting in Munich upon the unlikely figure of Paul Troost. Indeed. and his manner was skilfully developed by the young Albert Speer. You can see in it precisely what Albert Speer took from Tessenow. and who died before his first large projects for Hitler were complete. There is an awesome melancholy power about it. and there is an element of deliberate ruin. but perhaps more the sheer spareness of it. then of teaching assistant under Heinrich Tessenow. the relentless repetition and the deliberate overscaling. is a grim building. suitable for the giant's castle in Jack and the Beanstalk. The Haus der Deutschen Kunst in Munich. every element is enormous. This square was intended as the focus of party events using Klenze's monument as a legitimating backdrop. only with a Kathe Kollwitz sculpture in the middle. In the early 1930s.Hitler had wanted to be an architect.

Riefenstahl was there and shot a lot of footage. in which the whole party supposedly representing the whole German people . Were these again the heroes of the party who died in the 1923 putsch. the whole party. set out in orderly rows according to rank and file. The end of the journey at the opposite end of the axis was the centre of the other side of the giant room. It was Speer in 1933 who suggested the arrangement of triple banners behind the Fuhrer's podium. Some interesting light was thrown on this in an anthropological study of death by Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry. For the space to seem unified. Behind the Fuhrer are the three swastika banners. A break in the leader's address was a pause for contemplation. showing the rally of 1934. to each side and slightly behind. also provided a chance for the Fuhrer himself to adopt a momentary humility. Hitler was accompanied by two of his henchmen. Hitler and Speer were fascinated by monumental architecture the architecture of death because such architecture stresses the totality. his podium needs to be on the central axis. and Speer who later developed the idea of the so-called Cathedral of Ice using military searchlights at night to create the impression of gigantic columns. No doubt her skilful camerawork and editing exaggerates the effect. Speer's first invention. showing respect to the memory of the dead. but the visit to the temple. the whole people. Such events need to be co-ordinated in time and space. for the first rally in 1933 had been a somewhat ragged and disorderly affair. They got it worked out between them in the nick of time. (9) They report on various societies with a double . Three also fits in with the banners symbolically gathered. To make it read clearly and to give the Fuhrer an appropriate degree of prominence. it needs to be framed and defined as a single room. but it was not usable. and the effect is greatly intensified when the crowd is in uniform. perhaps because only in death would all loyal party members come perfectly together. At the height of the ceremony the axis was so-to-speak sanctified by being walked by the Fuhrer personally while the massed ranks of party members to either side waited in respectful silence. It is something to get so many thousands of people together on a field to concentrate on one person speaking. and won favour at first within the Nazi party for some refurbishments done with speed and efficiency. but the whole thing was remarkably well choreographed and Speer's settings also come across as enormously powerful. But very early on he also started to make suggestions for the staging of the party rallies at Nuremberg. for if completely alone he might have seemed too small. (8) Triumph of the Will The most impressive record we have of a Nazi rally is Leni Riefenstahl's film Triumph of the Will. yet five walkers would have been too many. or were they all the German soldiers who died in the First World War? The Nazis were somewhat obsessed with death. and when everyone is programmed to execute synchronised manoeuvres. equal and opposite to the podium. and this is where the architecture comes in. Here was built a kind of temple for fallen heroes with an eternal flame of remembrance. Triumph of the Will was the result of a second attempt.Speer was a wonderful organiser. dissolving all individual differences. with marching figures creating formal patterns as a great human sculpture.

a sense of honour. The leader's speeches would have happened in the great hall at the bend of the Spree. Hitler's totalitarian regime could borrow the trappings of the second funeral to stress that the individual is nothing.funeral custom. and axes are inherently hierarchical. while it also defined the space of the assembly ground. The second ceremony is almost the opposite of the first. and he or she is buried. Both Hitler and Speer were intoxicated with it. it had to have a past. The buildings were not only supposed to represent the thousand-year-Reich but to persist as impressive ruins. (10) Beside the proposal for Berlin there was also to be a gigantic new stadium to admit even more people for the Nuremberg rallies. the most important position for it is in the centre. and to provide a venue for the Olympic Games. and the longer is the more important. if not universal. Sometime later the bones are exhumed for the second funeral: the occasion when the bones are added to others in the ancestral tomb. In the event they became ruins earlier than expected. each time receiving a new breath of life. though now so large that it would have to be a motorised parade. Inventing tradition Just as the Nazi regime looked to a millennial future. Speer reels off the vital statistics of the world monuments of the past. a tradition. there would have been no compelling unity. Bilateral symmetry does make an axis visible. but they are widespread in architecture and hardly to be avoided. Had he walked around it in a disorganised way chatting to groups of party members here and there. some have condemned these as necessarily fascistic devices. If a door is made.(11) Understanding the Nazi use of axes and symmetry. it would have had no centre. the holder of an office that would transcend him. which were supposed to happen in Germany for ever more. The first funeral focuses on the loss of the individual in a way that is familiar to us. and argue that this was once much more widespread than now. Had Hitler merely stayed at one end. while the state is everything. The active establishment of the central axis gave measure and definition to the space. for it celebrates not the individual but the family or clan aS a whole. The extreme scale is something nobody can miss. the axis walked ceremoniously by the great leader and his successors annually. Doubtless the great axis planned by Hitler and Speer for Berlin would have served a similar ritual purpose at an even larger scale. These things are transposed directly from our own experience of being in the world in . The leader could suggest that he was merely the instrument of a greater cause. The new stone buildings with their sense of permanence could have been there for centuries and seemed certain to persist for centuries to come. while the heroes were to be remembered in the great triumphal arch. The slow respectful walk down the axis at Nuremberg caused everyone to wait. It can be argued that axiality begins with the first rectangular room. Adding to the spatial unity of the party gathered in the single room of the Zeppelinfeld was a temporal unity linking them with the immemorial German past. In Inside the Third Reich. showed their concentration. again at opposite ends of an axis. and states quite unequivocally that he and Hitler were out to beat the record. for if it is other than square there is always a long axis and a short axis.

Hochman Architects of Fortune:Mies van der Role and the Third Reich. and yet are dealing with life-and-death issues on behalf of society.questia.our largely symmetrical bodies. 10. The invention of tradition. 8. Conversely. Inside the Third Reich. Page Number: 64+. p70. South Bank Centre. 7. Justice must be seen to be done. Issue: 1193. 1 May 1936' in the Art and Power catalogue. Michael Joseph. Edited text of a lecture given for the Twentieth Century Society on 20/1/96 at the symposium Architecture in Uniform. eds. In both cases it achieved its objective. in making them part of a hysterical and malleable mass. altars. 3. London 1970. See Iain Boyd-Whyte's essay 'Berlin. Festival Hall. Eric Hobsbawm The Age of Extremes: the short Twentieth Century 1914-1991. you would be carried away by the spectacle of the all-powerful: as a secret dissident. pp43-49. See Speer. Important things go on the ends of axes: fireplaces. see Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. windows. Publication Date: July 1996. Inc. the best painting in the room. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. CUP 1983. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group . father's seat at the head of the table. Questia Media America. PETER BLUNDELL JONES 1. See Krier on Speer. COPYRIGHT 1996 EMAP Architecture. See Elaine S. www. pp67-68. For accounts of nineteenth-century British inventions and reinventions. Volume: 200. Magazine Title: The Architectural Review. 6. and the spatial layout helps define roles of all other participants. In their book Death and the Regeneration of Life. 9. 11. Was this not precisely the case with the Zeppelinfeld and the Nazi proposals for Berlin? These architectural settings played a significant role in substantiating a criminal regime and anaesthetising people's sense of personal responsibility. The architectural framing which supports authority can easily lend itself to overauthoritarian abuse. London 1994. you would find it deeply alienating and threatening. 4. Publication Information: Article Title: Architecture and Political Legitimation. The architecture not only has these associations because of the way it was used: it carries excessively authoritarian implications in itself. for they are strangers to each Moseley's Blackshirts were stopped in this country precisely by forbidding them to wear uniforms in public. London. This has to be done clearly and quickly. 5. For Speer's own account of his entry into providing the settings for rallies see his Inside the Third Reich. Ibid. The authority of a judge in a law court depends on the occupation of the highest seat on axis. 2. 1995. and of course the leader's desk. Contributors: Peter Blundell Jones . As a party member at Nuremburg. and the things can give precedence to the axis: it is a reciprocal relationship. The axis gives precedence to the things placed at its culmination. AR February 1983.