Monuments refer to memorable events, usually either heroic or tragic, in a city’s or nation’s history. They become deeply embedded within a city’s fabric, to the extent that for the most part they are simply bypassed on a daily basis. However, their influence comes to the fore when they are populated. Upon this the monument expresses the virtues of the event it symbolises, or the virtues of commemoration itself. This varying popularity and influence is a reflection of social and culture evolution within the host city.
> Monumentality Hijacked?
Monuments polarise populations, and depending on circumstances, their imposition within public space can result in social and cultural grievances. These grievances, if allowed to bubble-over, can result in full-scale anarchy and revolution. Monuments within highly authoritarian political regimes are often hijacked within urban design. Statues, murals and iconography of particular ideologies are utilised as tools of fear, reminders of power and symbols of oppression.
> Urban Occupation – Lviv, Ukraine
Soviet occupation radically altered Lviv’s long-standing western orientation. The new soviet urban plan for the city involved mass demolition of the historic town centre, to be replaced by the construction of a massive new public square, and a new central axis culminating in an imposing statue of Lenin. The primary purpose of the plan was to impose order and control through an organised street hierarchy, spaces for political exposure and indoctrination, and symbols of fear. Public and cultural events were centred around political activities until 1990 when the population took possession back of its city from Moscow. The soviet era symbols of fear, control, occupation and oppression were replaced by symbols of freedom, hope, identity & independence.
> Oppressive Urbanism – Baghdad, Iraq
A modern-day example of this is the city of Baghdad. Its citizens, when presented with the opportunity, tore down all symbols of and monuments to an oppressive era. Statues and murals depicting Saddam Hussein as leader were destroyed, and the world awaits a time when they will be replaced by symbols of a new Iraq. In the meantime, interim mobile monuments are paraded around the streets in the form of foreign soldiers and flags.
> Monumentality Monumental?
The city can be interpreted on many levels through the close study of its monuments. Cultural, social, economic and political orientation can be elucidated through a city’s use of symbols and icons. Monuments within cities possess the ability to mobilise the masses. Whether they represent cultural values, political agendas or historic traditions, they are a vital element of a city’s psyche - urban design should recognise this. Harnessing the potential of monumentality in the moulding of cities means not only being sensitive to cultural icons, but also understanding the positive and negative effects upon urban life as a result of the existence of such artefacts.
In an increasingly networked world, the monument is becoming difficult to materialise, rapidly existing in a permanent state of flux. In the future, more mobile and flexible monuments may be required to maintain a city’s links with its traditions, culture, and political and economic trajectories.
|+ Happy: Cities + Public Happiness in Post-war Europe - population mobilisation via use of monumentality? [CTW 2010]|