It is impossible to deny the profound extent to which our surroundings shape both us and our lived experiences. This is why the role of the architect and city planner goes so far beyond that of the aesthetic designer; those charged with shaping our world decoratively inherently take on the role of determining the messages conveyed by their works. Never apolitical, architecture is not created in a vacuum. It not only reflects the societies it was created by, but goes so far as to push the agendas of those who create it, whether for good or evil. On one end of the spectrum, architecture inspired by egalitarian or otherwise pure motives can be conducive to harmony and happiness. On the other end, totalitarian regimes have regularly utilized the built world to further enforce their ideologies.
When looking at the rise of the Nazi Party, it is crucial to note how pivotal a role architecture played. This is not to say that architecture was the most consequential technique of the Party. However, to ignore it as a powerful factor is to reduce the Party’s success to political and military might, and, more detrimentally, to deny the enormous amount of power and influence that architecture has on its users. Adolf Hitler was obsessed with architecture, believing it as essential to the Party’s success. To him, architecture was not just about buildings, but reshaping Germany’s cities and landscapes in order to achieve and uphold his vision.
Through the Laidlaw Scholars Program, I have been researching the specific ways in which the Third Reich utilized architecture and city-building as a means of propaganda, indoctrination, and greater societal control. Elite officials of the Nazi Party deeply understood the implications of reshaping the built world of Germany as crucial to the Party’s long-term success. Massive projects taken on during the prewar years helped push the notion of the Reich’s superiority – and thus, the futility of resistance – while the post-war plans of the Nazi Party reveal an entirely reconstructed Germany which would center every aspect of life around the Party.
My research this past summer took me to Berlin, Nuremberg, Munich, Schleiden, and Frankfurt to see first-hand the surviving sites of Nazi architecture and city building. Further, I observed the stark differences between how many of these cities exist today versus how they would have existed should Germany had won the war. With these observations in mind, I will continue my research this upcoming summer through intensive study of academia relating to my greatest takeaways from my travels in Germany. While my experience thus far has been undoubtedly challenging, it has been equally rewarding, and I greatly look forward to my next summer of research.