Totalitarian architecture refers to the type of architecture created by totalitarian states. It is typically designed to be imposing and large in size to portray a sense of power, majesty, and virility.
Totalitarian architecture refers to the architecture of totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century , the Italian fascist regime (1922-1945), the German Nazi regime (1933-1945) and the Soviet regime , mainly during its Stalinist period (1929-1953). ). This concept is based on the recognition of the importance given to architecture in these regimes and insists that these regimes, despite their differences, have resulted in comparable architectural designs.
This type of architecture was born in Italy in the 1920s with the rise of fascism . It spreads rapidly in the totalitarian countries of Europe such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union of Stalin until the end of the Second World War .
The opposition between modern architects and traditionalists has led us to believe that the architecture of totalitarian regimes is identified with the return to the neoclassical tradition , against the modern movement embodied by the International Congresses of Modern Architecture. ( CIAM ). In fact, neoclassical architecture has not been the preserve of totalitarian regimes alone, which themselves have developed more diverse architectural styles.
The general lines of totalitarian aesthetics are, among others, monumental and grandiloquent proportions, standardization of representation techniques, hyperrealistic style, simulation of motion, straight and homogeneous lines (usually pointing to the sky), preponderance from one color to another (usually red ), the de-individualization of characters and narratives to the detriment of collective characters (mass), choreography and corals, reverence for physical exertion, manual labor, athletics and body .
A totalitarian aesthetic has in common to the culture of totalitarian regimes the revival of ancient civilizations that represented its roots, such as the Roman Empire , Byzantine Empire and ancient Greece , and all avant – garde manifestations in art have been pursued. In this respect, it should be noted that Hitler created a list of works seen as “degenerate art,” while Stalin programmatically replaced the Russian avant-gardes, such as Cubo-futurism by the so – called “socialist realism.”
Totalitarian regimes made use of art and other aesthetic expressions ( clothing , object design , graphic production , national symbols) as part of a logic of total domination of human life. In the case of Nazism and Stalinism, real state policies have been established for aesthetics. Politics appropriated the rhetoric of art: it was “art in its late romantic phase,” according to Susan Sontag . Not surprisingly, many of the German , Italian, and Soviet Union rallies of the 1930s – 1940s follow the same principles as the “total work of art” conceptualized by late German romantic composer Richard Wagner : drama , music, and choreography were fused with emotion and ideology , with the ethos enunciated through pathos . The masses were converted at the same time into spectators and extras. In his essay “Fascinating Fascism” (1972), Sontag summed up the general guidelines of totalitarian aesthetics:
“The taste for monumental and massive reverence for the hero is common to both fascist and communist art … The presentation of the movement in grandiose and rigid patterns is another common element, for such a choreography reflects the unity of the state itself Mass masses, choreographed exhibitions of bodies, are valued activities in all the totalitarian countries. “The masses are made to take shape to be drawn.
The concept of totalitarian architecture is based on the similarity observed between certain achievements of the fascist, Nazi and Soviet regimes, both quantitatively (great period of public construction, size of monuments) and qualitative (recovery of neoclassical elements integrated with elements of modern architecture ).
Indeed, totalitarian regimes have given great prominence to architecture as a visible expression of both the “revolution” in motion and the values of regimes (primacy of community or collectivity over the individual, order , merger around a single project, etc.). Lenin speaks from 1918, at a time when there was still no question of totalitarianism, of “monumental propaganda”.
The assimilation of neoclassicism of the 1930s to totalitarian regimes is criticized by those who prefer to evoke a “style of the 1930s”. The latter point out that contemporary constructions in countries not subject to totalitarian regimes have the same characteristics. As architecture professor Jean-Louis Cohen reminds us: “Authoritarian regimes are far from being the only sponsors of classical monuments, such as the development of the Chaillot hill in Paris, the Washington Federal Triangle and the great British public buildings. prove it. Major international exhibitions are also the pretext for demonstrations of architectural hysteria in which curators are always winners.
For example, the buildings of Washington’s administrative buildings (the Supreme Court Building, the National Gallery of Art , the National Archives , the Jefferson Memorial) and the New Deal in the United States (“marked by a clean classicism of which Paul Philippe Cret will be the theoretician “from 1932), the buildings of the World Exhibition of 1937 in Paris in France ( Palais de Chaillot , Palais de Tokyo , etc.) as well as many buildings in Brussels (Stade du Centenary, Grand Palais des Expositions du Centenaire, headquarters of the Belgian Shell Company, headquarters of the General Insurance of Trieste, Brussels-Central station , etc.), where the monumental style will continue after the Second World War (headquarters of the Bank Belgian National Gallery, Ravenstein Gallery, Brussels North Station , Palais des Congrès, Royal Library Albert I , Palace of the Dynasty).
The Nazi architect Albert Speer himself admits in his memoirs: “It was later claimed that this style (neoclassical) was the hallmark of the state architecture of totalitarian regimes. This is totally inaccurate. It is rather the mark of an era, recognizable in Washington, London or Paris, as well as in Rome, Moscow or in our Berlin projects.
This style of the 1930s is indeed the consequence of the assertion of the states in the architectural field, following their increasing intervention in the economy caused by the First World War and the economic crises and the rise of the concept of economic planning , territorial, etc.. It is therefore the expression of the interventionist state, whether it is a democratic welfare state or a totalitarian state.
In particular, the architecture of totalitarian regimes is intended to express the will of these regimes to impose the superiority of the collective over the individual. This is expressed by a monumental architecture and the revival of classical Greco- Roman architectural values.
However, the reality is more complex and the architecture of the totalitarian regimes is not reduced to the flights of stadium colonnades on propaganda films.
First, modernism and traditions in architecture interpenetrated in the 1930s. Architectural professor Bertrand Lemoine explains (about the 1937 World Expo ): “It would be too schematic to simply contrast classicism and modernism because in 1937, as in the 1930s, the trend towards integration is quite strong between the two “.
Secondly, totalitarian regimes have implemented several architectural styles, either successively in time or in parallel, not without debates, internal conflicts or ambiguities.
The aesthetics in different regimes
As pointed out above, the main manifestations of what can be called a totalitarian aesthetic are found in the two major totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, Hitler’s Nazi-fascism , and Stalin’s Soviet communism. The way in which such aesthetics is used in both, however, has differences, now its (b) tis and now quite glaring. Nazi aesthetics sought to reject absolutely any reference to the artistic innovations struck by the early vanguards of the early twentieth century, which they considered mental drift, debauchery or even “communist art.” On the other hand, the aesthetics adopted by the Stalinist regime came to incorporate some of the constructivist researches, although applying them in an antagonistic way to their origins.
Socialist Realism was the official set of formal, stylistic, and poetic guidelines of the Soviet Union between the 1930s and Stalin’s death and the subsequent process of de – Stalinization . Socialist Realism was, more than a style, an official policy aimed at adapting Soviet cultural production (and other communist militant artists in the world) to the Marxist-Leninist (in fact, Stalinist view) of reality.
The main architect of Socialist Realism was Andrei Zhdanov .
Against Socialist Realism several critics and active detractors arose, as Pablo Picasso , Piet Mondriaan and Clement Greenberg . In the historical context of the Russian Revolution, Socialist Realism was consecrated as the official aesthetic policy of the State in antagonism to the various aesthetic tendencies generically denominated as Russian vanguard , through the repudiation of Stalin to the supposedly liberating aspect of the previous aesthetics. The members of the Russian avant-garde, artists in general linked to Constructivism , Abstractionism and Suprematism , played an important role in the first phase of the revolution, proposing the creation of large public art workshops in which free aesthetic expression would be encouraged by the State in the search for liberation, both individual and collective, of pre-revolutionary values. With Stalinist totalitarian politics, this type of artistic positioning was hard-fought, with names associated with abstract art being pursued in particular. Kasimir Malievith is considered the exemplary case: forbidden to continue his suprematist research (considered revolutionary by several critics and scholars of Western art), he began to paint only figurative and realistic works at the time of the enactment of Soviet Realism. Even that poet who was considered the leading voice of the revolution in literature, Vladimir Mayakovsky , came to be criticized by the ideologues of governmental aesthetics, having such pressure been considered as one of the cause of his suicide by Trotsky , while others consider the possibility of a murder political power created by the Stalinist regime itself .
During virtually the entire period of existence of the Soviet Union, the original Russian avant-garde was forgotten and little studied, giving priority to socialist Realism. Only with the downfall of Stalinist communism in Eastern Europe did such a movement start to spark new interests.
Aesthetics, for National Socialism, was a central point of its policy of reorganizing the world. For Hitler’s ideology, Western society was undergoing a process of decay, attributed to a social contamination that had as two main factors the ethnic Jews and the Communists ideologically. Once both were eradicated, the German nation would be purified and free to achieve its role of supremacy in Humanity, according to the Nazi promise. Thus, the reform of the world would be a process of “purification,” “sanitization,” and “beautification,” even if this meant the physical extermination of individuals (including still-so-called “Aryans” with physical deformities and mental illnesses).
The Nazis also decided to banish the modernist art produced by the artistic avant-gardes, especially in painting and sculpture , exhibiting their works for public execration in the so-called “Degenerate Art Exhibitions”.
The Nazi aesthetic was applied by NSDAP party staff under the personal guidance of Adolf Hitler , who was a designer (graphic and product) by training and profession, and a frustrated plastic artist in his youth. Hitler’s main collaborator in this field was the speaker and propagandist Josef Goebbels .
For the Nazis, art should have an effect, such as monumentality and grandiloquence. It should also glorify the purity of the Aryan race. Thus, Jews in the ethnic field and Communists in the ideological field – beings, in their view, contaminated – should be fought. The concept of degenerate art has this purpose.
Modernism and totalitarianism
After World War I and the end of the Belle Époque , pessimism took over the intelligentsia and made many artists seek to forget the past and build new values from scratch. Art could not fail to accompany this change, and began to seek a new aesthetic to break with what had occurred in all previous centuries. An ideal that became a common goal for several avant-garde artists of the period was the democratization of art, that is, the production of an artistic genre that reached all social classes , equally, through universal forms and themes, common to all Men.
There were several artists who pursued this “stage”. Modernist styles, in their nuances, are almost all part of this quest for universal art. However, we were able to clearly distinguish two groups of artists who sought this universality, according to their behaviors in relation to the totalitarian phenomenon that stood: the “for”, who agreed with the aesthetic reform proposed by the new regimes, which do not align in hypothesis some with the avant-gardes, with the exception, of the Futurism of Marinetti , only in its praise to the force; and the “contra”, who also proposed an aesthetic reform, but precisely through the distancing of passadism, the use, also, of the abstraction and the definitive rupture with the previous styles.
On the whole, however, apolitical artists were virtually nonexistent at the time. The participation of many of them in the Spanish Civil War , both in the Socialist International Brigades and in the Falangist forces, was evidence of this.
In the second group we have the outstanding work of Piet Mondriaan, the Dutch painter who proposed a real plan of social reform through aesthetics. For him, the ideal aesthetic and was that non-figurative, composed only of abstract geometric elements, therefore universal. In making representations of reality, the artist would be presenting his own impressions of truth, thus influencing the observer – which Mondrian strongly condemns. He justifies this condemnation by arguing that figuration (especially realism) presupposes the pre-learning of certain concepts for their understanding, both formal and symbolic, while abstractionism does not. For Mondrian, if the goal is universalization, there can in no way be figurative or significant representation in a work of art: the only visual elements that are perceptible equally by all Men are the regular geometric forms.
In the post-war of 1918 , several avant-garde tendencies that emerged from the end of century XIX were affirming and consolidating. Modernism was not the only vanguard of that time, nor was it the one that caused the greatest consequences in the twentieth century. However, it was the winning vanguard and, in this way, this is the history that was written, that of the winner.
Totalitarian aesthetic manifestations
The graphic arts , especially Posterismo , were extensively used in the propaganda of totalitarian regimes, as well as in the creation of an aesthetically permeated by official ideology.
It is interesting to note, however, that one of the main focuses of development of graphic design in the twentieth century was through the German Bauhaus school and its followers (especially the Ulm School of Form ), that is, movements antagonistic to totalitarianism and politically linked, in a very general way, to the social-democratic world project. The Bauhaus was even closed by the Nazi government. Likewise, in Russia , the main names of the cartelism were linked to the Russian vanguard , all of them socialists, with anti-totalitarian orientation, having been the main propagandists of the revolution and having to later abandon their innovative aesthetic postulates. In both regimes (Nazi and Communist), official propaganda institutes took advantage, in one way or another, of the research on mass communication promoted by their rivals.
After painting and sculpture, the most produced arts in Europe, cinema was the form of artistic expression that suffered the most from totalitarian aesthetics. And, at the same time, the one that more spread among the population, both for the purpose of aesthetic appreciation and for the character of mass communication.
In the cinema, some of the main representatives of these aesthetic currents were the German documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and the Soviet director and editor Sergei Eisenstein . Chinese films produced after the 1949 revolution , such as the recent Red Turn , are also driven by the totalitarian aesthetic of the Chinese regime.
In her masterpiece, The Triumph of the Will , Leni Riefenstahl “uses large shots of concentrated mass images alternating with close-ups that isolate a singular passion” (as Susan Sontag comments in her 1986 “Fascinating Fascism” essay). The intention is to convey the concept of Ordnung , columns that march in rigid lines, young people with obstinate look. Leni Riefenstahl had an exact notion of the technical resources he needed to be able to grasp the effect of the uniform and orderly mass. The camera should go up, the lens should capture the whole scene, and if there were no crane , one would be invented. The construction of the pro-filmic (the object that is photographed / filmed) in Leni’s work is part of the totalitarian ideological game: a single truth, a univocal look at the object. Searching for the true appearance, documentaries appeal to a particular discursive resource: the “real effect.” After all, it’s just a record of facts, as the director insists.
Architecture and sculpture
The main exponents of the Nazi aesthetic in the construction and in the concrete form arts were Albert Speer in architecture and Arno Becker in sculpture .
The architecture of the great Nazi-fascist palaces eventually incorporated classic stylistic elements, but its main characteristic was the constant search for a haughtiness and monumentality so great that they became oppressive. Public buildings should, by their greatness in relation to the individual, display the state in its fullness and superiority. Generally, such production can be considered “eclectic”, since it had references to styles now in vogue, such as art deco and certain revivalisms, although it was unpublished.
Totalitarian aesthetics in music
Totalitarian and militaristic aesthetics are inherent in some musical groups, for example, Laibach , Joy Division , Death in June , Haus Arafna , partly Pink Floyd (period of The Wall ), Rammstein , Marilyn Manson , Pet Shop Boys , Soviet rock artists Alice , Nautilus Pompilius etc. In the lyrics of these and other groups one can meet the harsh criticism of totalitarianism, including the totalitarianism of Western mass culture. Sometimes this criticism is given in an ironic form, and it may seem that it even supports a totalitarian system. Direct or indirect references to totalitarianism are characteristic of many industrial groups, in particular, representatives of the martial industrial style.
Aesthetic totalitarianism today
Some of the countries that, of course, produce mass culture following the parameters of totalitarian aesthetics are North Korea , the People’s Republic of China and Turkmenistan . The Francoist monuments in Spain began to be withdrawn by the Law of Historical Memory, 2007, which states that the symbols of Francoism should be banned from public places.
Moreover, totalitarian aesthetics are revived in pop culture products whenever one wishes to relegate to the culture of countries that have lived these regimes in their analogies with Western democratic regimes. Some examples of this are the famous video clip of the band Pet Shop Boys for their re-recording of the Go West song, representing the Red Army under a computer graphics styling, or the opening video of Michael Jackson’s HIStory album that used the Bulgarian army to reveal a gigantic statue of the singer.
Certain cinematographic productions that seek to portray dystopic environments (such as the Brazil and 1984 films) also use the totalitarian aesthetic references in their scenographic composition and characterization.
Critics of totalitarian aesthetics often associate their works and their stylistic values with the concept of kitsch , associating the massification of culture with totalitarian regimes in their analogies with supposedly democratic regimes. Noam Chomsky considers existence a form of totalitarianism , based mainly on advertising. Chomsky says that “propaganda means for democracy the same as the club means for the totalitarian state.” In this way, for Chomsky, the massification of culture occurs through a totalitarian artifice, serving economic interests and preventing the visibility of original manifestations of thought, which would include any form of aesthetic, leading to a certain standardization of forms of expression and to another type of aesthetic totalitarianism.
Totalitarian architecture achievements and projects
Berlin : Welthauptstadt Germania , proposed new capital of the Reich developed by the architect Albert Speer ( 1942 ). Only the Neue Reichskanzlei (“new Chancery”) was built and destroyed during the conflict.
Berlin: the Olympic stadium .
Berlin: The Reichsluftfahrtministerium (“Reich Air Ministry”) now houses the offices of the German Federal Ministry of Finance .
Nuremberg : The Reichsparteitagsgelände .
Como : House of fascist trade unions of Giuseppe Terragni , now belonging to the “Guardia di Finanza”.
Rome : district of the Esposizione Universale di Roma or “EUR” (exhibition planned in 1942, but not held), including the “Palace of the Civilization of Labor” (also called “Colosseum square” and inspired by the paintings of Chirico ) , the “Museum of Roman Civilization” or the Palace of Sport.
Rome: Termini Station .
New towns in the Pontine Marshes : Latina , Pontinia , Sabaudia .
Courthouse of Milan or Palermo .
Warsaw : a Stalinist skyscraper , the palace of culture and science .
German Democratic Republic
East Berlin : Karl-Marx-Allee , 2 km Stalinist Boulevard .
Bucharest : the ” Casa Scânteii “, the Palace of Parliament (or “House of the People” – “Casa Poporului”) and Casa Radio.
Moscow : the seven Stalinist skyscrapers .
Moscow: metro (monumental forms and neo- baroque decoration).
Yerevan ( Armenia ): city center.
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