Nationalism and Architecture

Nationalism and Architecture (Part 1 of 2), by Raghavendra Kuppuswamy

Nationalism and Architecture, Raghavendra Kuppusway’s essay on NATION, NATIONALISM AND NATION BUILDING.
Nationalism and Architecture
Nationalism and Architecture (Part 1 of 2), by Raghavendra Kuppuswamy 1
Dr Albert Speer (left), Hitler’s chief architect, presents his model of the German Pavilion, designed for the World’s Fair in Paris in 1937. Date: 1937


We find ourselves at a unique junction in the history of our times. There are disruptions to our way of life at scales we do not fully comprehend yet; in domains, we had previously assumed to be inviolate. We, architects, are threatened by obsolescence and irrelevance in the age of BIM (Building Information Modelling) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) (Valentine, 2018) (Chattopadhyay, 2019). But, more importantly, we as humans are threatened by the same looming obsolescence and irrelevance (Soininvaara, 2019). Peter Drucker held that the greatest danger in times of turbulence was not the turbulence itself, but the tendency to steer with conventional logic (Drucker, 1980). And so it is that in our turbulent times, we are buffeted by the unreined storms of technological advance; but pinned by our unquestioning adherence to archaic laws, education, and livelihoods.

Strong indeed is the urge, to yield to nationalism and to calls for an ancient common culture; in an effort to make sense of a world that rushes forth before we have found our footing. We ought to explore through this essay, the understanding of our concept of a nation, of India – her past, present and future, and develop a firm grasp of the meaning of nation-building. This discussion would provide the foundation on which we can raise the edifice of our architectural services to our nation.


The Global Policy Forum considers a nation to be ‘an imagined community or a tribe at a grand scale’ (Global Policy Forum, 2009). This community usually belongs to specific land and has self-identifying members with a shared culture. The philosopher Ernest Renan contended that the nation is the ‘daily plebiscite’ by its members, of a common will to live together (Renan, 1882). We must note how this is different from the validity and stability that a country enjoys – a geographically defined political entity (Definitions, 2008). A nation needs its members to actively and experientially engage in its existence; the country is a legally definite but experientially abstract entity for its citizens.

This distinction is important as our national identities are today increasingly chained to selected events of a past that are relayed to us by vested interests. Our identities are cooped into this collective identity to protect us from the threats of an unseen other or the unknown future. We have to remember that it is the active daily engagement in nation-building that makes us its members; and not just our identification with a certain label. This daily ‘plebiscite’ should be defined not by who we were born to or where we were born but by our active contribution to the common good. A patriotic adaptation of the ideas of Adam Smith would ask us to ethically render our services (as architects or otherwise) to the nation to serve its best interests; instead of specific and overt exercises intended to build our nation (Smith, 1759).


The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed, ‘The most powerful men have always inspired the architects; the architect has always been influenced by power’ (Nietzsche, 1889). The Taj Mahal, the Qutub Minar, the Brihadeeswara temple, and even the city of Jaipur itself are familiar Indian examples of the relationship between powerful patrons and exemplary architecture. This relationship isn’t limited to our past. Our first Prime Minister Pt. Nehru once mentioned in a speech how we may not build a Taj Mahal today; as it would not fit in with the society of today (Nehru, 1959). Yet, Pt. Nehru was the powerful political patron who conceptualised Chandigarh as ‘the nation’s faith in the future’, and vested in this one city the symbolism of an India ‘unfettered by the traditions of the past’ (Khosla, 2015). William Danielson’s research details how a small cadre of industrialists and mill owners (who profoundly influenced the economy and the politics of Ahmedabad) sought to project the status of Ahmedabad as an important node worldwide by becoming patrons of ‘modern architecture’ (Williamson, 2016). The chosen international architects, such as Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, were part of the same global milieu that these businessmen sought to attract to their city (Williamson, 2016). Mehrotra et al’s analysis of the ‘regional’ in architecture, also found architecture to be ‘an excellent instrument to execute power’ (Gupte, Mehrotra, & Shetty, 2004).

This massive force that architectural symbolism conveys, has also been used in other countries to encourage a national identity, and influence their destiny. Architect Albert Speer produced the Reich Chancellery to showcase the might and splendour of the German Reich at Adolf Hitler’s directions (Fest, 2007); while the tallest building in the world – the Burj Dubai, was renamed the Burj Khalifa when its construction had to be financed by Sheikh Khalifa – the ruler of the United Arab Emirates (Sotoudehnia & Rose‐Redwood, 2019). History has rewarded us with architectural artefacts so powerful, that our dreams of a past era are aided in interpretations by the books which survived, and in experiences by the buildings which survived. Yet, it sometimes becomes difficult to separate the artefact from the ideology; especially when the ideology was prevalently known as nationalism in its time.

This intersection of nationalism, nation-building, and architecture is especially important because the nation is made of the many; yet this architecture is the identity of the few. The writer Victor Hugo maintained that ‘The greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation’s effort, than the inspired flash of a man of genius.’ (Hugo, 1831). This is a message to remember when we are impelled to create massive masterpieces signed by ‘starchitects’ or envisioned by leaders, that do not serve the social fabric in which they are embedded; and are only broadcasting a message or a concept.


Bij, A., & Bij, A. (2018, March 12). Illegal Architectural Practices in India. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from

Chattopadhyay, T. (2019, October 16). Is AI replacing Architects? Retrieved May 31, 2020, from

Council of Architecture – India. (2010). Amendments to the Architects Act (1972) proposed by Council of Architecture. 2013: Council of Architecture.

Definitions. (2008, May 19). Definitions for the country. Retrieved May 31, 2020, from

Drucker, P. (1980). Managing in Turbulent Times. Harper Business.

Fearon, J. D. (1999). What is Identity (As we now use the word)? Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Fest, J. (2007). Albert Speer: Conversations with Hitler’s Architect. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Global Policy Forum. (2009, June 10). What Is a “Nation”? Retrieved May 31, 2020, from

Gupte, R., Mehrotra, R., & Shetty, P. (2004). Architecture and Contemporary Indian Identity. Berlin.

Hugo, V. (1831). The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Paris: Gosselin.

Kale, A. (2018, March 13). B.V. Doshi’s Ultimate Lesson To Us. Retrieved May 31, 2020, from ArchDaily:

Khosla, R. (2015). The New Metropolis: Nehru and the Aftermath. Social Scientist, 11-32.

Lang, J., Desai, M., & Desai, M. (1998). Architecture and Independence: The Search for Identity – India 1880 to 1980. Oxford: Oxford Univ Press.

Maslow, A. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review.

Mehta, J. (2006). Architectural Education in India, an Overview. Vadodara.

Mies van der Rohe, L. (1924). Architecture and the Times. In P. Johnson, Mies van der Rohe. New York: Museum of Modern Art.

Ministry of Finance – India. (2020). Annual Financial Statement of the Central Government for the year 2020-21. New Delhi: Government of India.

Nehru, J. (1959). Inaugural Address. In A. Kanvinde, Seminar on Architecture (pp. 5-9). New Delhi: Lalit Kala Akademi.

Nietzsche, F. (1889). Twilight of the Idols or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer. Germany: Penguin Classics.

Overseas Indian Affairs – Ministry of External Affairs. (2016, March 15). Tracing the Roots. Retrieved May 31, 2020, from Ministry of External Affairs – Government of India:

Prasad, V. (2016). Investigating Contemporary Architecture Education Challenges In India. World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology – International Journal of Educational and Pedagogical Sciences, 1055-1058.

Renan, E. (1882). What is a Nation? Cooper Union.

Sambrani, C. (1994). Tracing The Indian Modern: Group 1890. Baroda: M.S. University.

Shukla, S. (2016, March 31). Architecture at crossroads. Retrieved May 4, 2020, from

Shukla, S. (2018, April 26). Open letter to Council of Architecture. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from

Smith, A. (1759). The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Edinburgh: Andrew Millar, in the Strand; and Alexander Kincaid and J. Bell.

Soininvaara, O. (2019, April 4). AI and human obsolescence – what you should know. Retrieved May 31, 2020, from

Sotoudehnia, M., & Rose‐Redwood, R. (2019). ‘I am Burj Khalifa’: Entrepreneurial Urbanism, Toponymic Commodification and the Worlding of Dubai. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 1014-1027.

Tzu, L. (600 BC). Tao Te Ching. Chengzhou: Yinxi.

V K, P., & Mehta, P. R. (1999). Status and Future of Architectural Education in India – Need for radical change. Conference of Indian Architects Convention. Nagpur: Indian Institute of Architects – Nagpur Chapter.

Valentine, J. (2018, October 25). How companies are achieving advanced BIM with AI. Retrieved May 31, 2020, from Kreo:

Williamson, D. (2016). Modern Architecture and Capitalist Patronage in Ahmedabad, India 1947-1969. New York: New York University.

Wright, F. L. (1958). The Living City. New York: Horizon Press.

The article originally published HERE. Republished with the permission from Raghavendra Kuppuswamy.

Share your comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Should you join the architecture course? People speak! 

When considering whether to enroll in the course of architecture or not, opinions of the graduates are strikingly divided, as was revealed in a recent Instagram poll. These mixed responses highlight the challenging yet potentially rewarding nature of a career in architecture.

Read More »

UNCAFE, New Delhi, by TI:DO

The Delhi-based studio Tangible Intangible Design Office (TI:DO) has designed a new outlet for a health-forward cafe, commissioned by a women-led brand UNCAFE.

Read More »


ArchitectureLive! is hiring for various roles, starting from senior editors, content writers, research associates, graphic designer and more..