Architecture of Power

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Architecture and power are very closely related. In China, this relationship is not only visible in the architectural icons that it produces; its relationship is very much apparent in the omnipresent government buildings.

Every Chinese city is constructing and renewing its government buildings, and in especially in the case of new city districts, governments and planners try to create new governmental icons in their cities. Based on the Confucian tradition, these buildings contain certain classic features, like fengshui and yin and yang. Especially the idea of hierarchy is strongly expressed in the architecture of government buildings in China. A horizontal, symmetrical organization, with the building facing south, are some examples.

But there’re more. In general you could say a government building in a new district is part of a collection of buildings: a conference centre, a theatre, a top notch hotel. The building itself is indeed symmetrical, it has a big square in front of it, and it has steps leading up to the central gate. On the symmetry axis there is a flag post with the national flag.

The material used is in general grey stone. The front (south) facade sometimes consists of columns. The architecture is either non-descript, not very much expressive or ‘Euro-style’ – referring to classical Roman architecture or French castles.

In the book ‘Confucian Utopia’, a ten year retrospective on the urban planning practice of Tongji University, the writers call this development the ‘rebuilding of the “Patriarchical” City’.

City governments tried to rebuild the spatial structure of the “Patriarchal” City by establishing the governments’ patriarchal buildings. Such planning well satisfied […] the confidence from the governmental development by taking the city as ‘home’ and taking the governments’ building as ‘parent’.

The results are visible in cities and new districts over China.The book made an analysis of 42 government buildings all over Beijing, and their architectural features, that express this Confucian elements. All of the 42 buildings had a square in front of them, 35 were symmetrical.

We came across some beautiful examples of these architectural expressions of power in Kunming, Yinchuan and Chengdu and other cities. And we’re not the only ones. Recently, Chinese netizens have been collecting pictures of these kind of buildings in their online campaign “Photograph Your Area’s Government Office Building” From ChinaSmack:

Chinese netizen phenomenon “exposes” the government office buildings found in various provinces, counties, cities, and towns throughout China that “cause people to stare in awe”. It is said that these photos reveal that the scale and splendor of government office buildings even in impoverished areas of China’s western interior certainly do not “lose in the slightest” to those in China’s wealthier coastal areas.

These are some of the government buildings we came across over the past two years:






Yinchuan, Communist Party HQ


Chengdu, City Government (architect: Paul Andreu)








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