The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World


From one of the world's premier architecture critics, a groundbreaking dissection of how the colossal egos of the powerful and wealthy determine what actually gets built--of the real reasons why we build.

Architecture critics most often write about buildings as a form of art, promulgating an "auteur theory" of architecture that focuses on the dazzling brilliance of the big names, such as Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry, and underplaying the role of the wealthy and powerful in ...

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From one of the world's premier architecture critics, a groundbreaking dissection of how the colossal egos of the powerful and wealthy determine what actually gets built--of the real reasons why we build.

Architecture critics most often write about buildings as a form of art, promulgating an "auteur theory" of architecture that focuses on the dazzling brilliance of the big names, such as Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry, and underplaying the role of the wealthy and powerful in forcing the architects' hands. Deyan Sudjic puts forth a boldly contrarian view. Architecture must be understood as an expression of power and as a weapon, or form of propaganda, that is used in ways both subtle and grandiose as a means of achieving and maintaining power--of carving a legacy out of glass, steel, and stone.

While most architecture books focus on a certain building or a specific architect, The Edifice Complex takes a wide-angle look at a fascinating range of buildings and large-scale building schemes--both the impressively effective and the disastrously ill conceived. In a lively and wonderfully accessible narrative style, Sudjic takes readers behind the scenes of the stories of the great political manipulators of architecture in the twentieth century, from the great dictators of fascism--Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin--and their megalomaniacal plans for rebuilding Berlin, Rome, and Moscow, to power-broker businessmen such as Nelson Rockefeller; and from the "theme park" propaganda of the presidential libraries to the vainglorious symbolism of Saddam Hussein's Mother of All Battles Mosque. While some leaders have used architecture as a means of consolidating control over a nation, others have employed architecture to shape a new national identity, as Ataturk did to a large degree of success in Turkey and the shahs attempted and failed to do in Iran.

But what of the architects? Sudjic also examines the role they play in lending their talents to these efforts, from those who have all too willingly aided and abetted, such as Albert Speer, to those who have courted the powerful while remaining true to their art, such as Mies van der Rohe.

The Edifice Complex offers a brilliant reinterpretation of the role of buildings in our lives and of the age-old question why we build.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Everything is political, especially architecture, Sudjic demonstrates in this provocative consideration of the world's most notable architectural triumphs and the masters who commissioned them. From Stalin to Mitterrand to Saddam Hussein, argues Sudjic, "architecture is used by political leaders to seduce, to impress and to intimidate." The evidence is all around us, he says, even in the attack on New York City's Twin Towers, which he views as "a literal acceptance of the iconic power of architecture." Zipping through pre-Partition Pakistan, Nazi Germany, modern-day New York and back, Sudjic shows how buildings are employed to demonstrate a state's power, to build a nation's cultural identity and to assure leaders that their legacies are both admirable and memorable. As for the architects who design such iconic structures-from Hitler's confidant Albert Speer to ground zero's "therapist" Daniel Libeskind-Sudjic reveals that they often have motivations that are startlingly distinct from those who hire them. Sudjic's research is thorough, and his prose lively and sharp. But his accounts can be meandering and chaotic, jumping in one instance from Malaysia's Petronas Towers to the background of a September 11 suicide bomber. Architecture connoisseurs will appreciate the gossipy histories and the original lines of thought, but readers less familiar with the subject may feel dizzied by Sudjik's erudite collages. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Acerbic examination of the relationships between despots, presidents and the super-rich, and the architects who vie for their commissions. Observer architecture critic Sudjic (John Pawson Works, 2000, etc.) is fascinated by the baroque dance through which prominent architects and their masters enable each other's dreams of immortality, whether embodied by Albert Speer's promises to Hitler regarding Berlin's "ruin value," or Donald Trump's application of vulgar business bluster to skyscraper marketing. He opens by recalling Saddam Hussein's building mania, the latest attempt by a dictator to secure a permanence that rarely endures: "Architecture is used by political leaders to seduce, to impress, and to intimidate." Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany provide a historical template in understanding the results of such Faustian bargains. Sudjic unfavorably compares Speer's notorious postwar dissembling to the moral decisiveness shown by his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Pagano, who grew disillusioned with Mussolini and joined the partisans. A grim comedy emerged among architects serving Stalin: No one ever dared to second-guess him, so projects went ahead with drafting errors intact. Like Soviet Russia, Communist China also relied upon grotesquely outsized public works, which allowed the state to simultaneously dictate terms to renowned architects, and destroy inconvenient traces of prior regimes. In the United States, raw political power is translated into ego and wealth: Sudjic sees this epitomized in the shabby fund-raising and sterile monolithic designs of recent presidential libraries, noting "the more lackluster the president, the larger the library." Today, "ambitious cities" pursueill-conceived projects in hopes of scoring a civic success like Bilbao's Guggenheim or the Sydney Opera House. Yet Sudjic asserts that the Frank Gehry era of instant iconic structures is coming to an end, as evidenced by the acclaimed Dia museum, located in a building that was once a box factory. Intellectually robust look at the delicate relationship between profound design and filthy lucre.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641867002
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 11/3/2005
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Deyan Sudjic has been the architecture critic of The Observer newspaper in London since 2000. After graduating with an architecture degree from the University of Edinburgh, he established Blueprint magazine, an international monthly review of architecture and design that broke new ground by covering the entire spectrum of design disciplines. He also edits the Italian magazine Domus and is the author of many previous books on architecture.

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Table of Contents

1 Why we build 1
2 The long march to the leader's desk 12
3 Landscapes of power 49
4 The world in stone 68
5 The architect who swept the floor 92
6 Inventing a nation 128
7 Identity in an age of uncertainty 156
8 The uses of marble 185
9 Ego unchained 206
10 All the presidents' libraries 224
11 A tomb at the drive-in 255
12 The uses of culture 274
13 High-rise syndrome 300
14 An incurable condition 323
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