February 24


Architecture and power - style epochs

By Frank

February 24, 2023

The most powerful people have always inspired architects ; the architect was always under the suggestion of power . Pride, victory over heaviness, the will to power should be visible in the building.

The interlocking of building form and power structure is by no means limited to absolutist and totalitarian systems such as in pharaonic Egypt, in absolutist France or in Nazi fascism, where it is most prominent.

AHA, cool,...

In architecture, the power of the factual is combined with the power of the symbolic . Psychologically, for consciousness, architecture is a matrix of perceptions, associations, meanings. This network of messages can be structured in terms of psychotechnical rhetoric in such a way that the architecture gains the ability to influence and manipulate the masses .

Buildings are important historical sources. Stones can make the past speak. Different architectural styles were popular in different eras:

Simple overview of the architectural styles




1000 - 1250


Round arches, barrel vaults, simple and massive stone masses

1140 - 1530


Pointed arches, cross vaults, higher towers, domes, decorations

1420 - 1610


Columns, capitals, triangular gables, churches and cathedrals, castles

1570 - 1770


Embellishments and ornamentation, opulence as a principle, symmetry

1730 - 1780


from baroque but elegant and playful, mostly smaller art objects

1770 - 1840


Longing for clear lines, simple forms, model of classical, Greek antiquity


Six "keys of architecture" for those in power

Architecture has a special affinity for power . As the “public art” and built model of the social pyramid , architecture has been the concentrated expression of political, economic, clerical and other powers throughout cultural history. It was considered the noblest mouthpiece of the potentates and was the favorite toy of the dictators , erected to denounce their power and glory.

aestheticization of politics

aestheticization in sport


Aestheticization can be seen as a sign of power as it helps control and shape the perception of people and objects.

Transport of an ideological message such as the mass marches in the Third Reich with the quasi-sacral mood of the gloomy pathos of architecture and the severity of the architectural order is also referred to as a medial total work of art or aestheticization of politics .

Aesthetics refers to the way we perceive and value beauty and sensuality . When a group or institution is in control of aesthetics , it can consolidate its power and authority and spread its messages and values through visual stimuli and other aesthetic means.

An example of this is the aesthetics of regimes and authoritarian governments , which often aim to create a unified, disciplined, and undeniable visual identity . This can be achieved through the use of symbols, colours, uniforms, architecture and other visual means to reinforce the sense of belonging and support of the population (eg also the costume in Bavaria) and to give the appearance of power and strength .

Palace and hut metaphor

Palace and hut are considered architectural metaphors for the contrast between ruler and ruled. The splendor of the palaces proves to be a multiple code:

Palaces are often large and magnificently built, meant to demonstrate the status and power of rulers and elites . They often have opulent details , are built with expensive materials, and often have many rooms for different purposes. Huts, on the other hand, are often small, simply built , and have few rooms and amenities. They are often built from inexpensive materials such as wood or clay and are primarily intended to be functional .

The artfully luxurious ambience is the ruler's self-aggrandizement through auto-suggestion, a status symbol against the envious competition and blinding of the subjects. This is repeated in the royal palace, in the banking palace, in the consumer palace of goods. The increase in power corresponds to the degradation of subjects .

Palace and hut metaphor in Herrenchiemsee

Palace and hut metaphor

High-rise - cell on plot

Cell on plot

Uniformization of the banal

The uniforming of the banal in architecture is a concept that refers to the tendency that modern buildings and cities often share similar, repetitive features that limit the individuality and originality of architecture. This phenomenon occurs due to a number of factors, such as the growing standardization of building materials , the demand for efficiency and economy in the construction industry, and adaptation to certain social and aesthetic trends.

In the cell, on the plot. The latent effect of massification and depersonalization . From the power-political calculation not only to house the masses equally , but at the same time to incapacitate them as nameless.


Opacity in architecture refers to the use of materials or design elements that limit the visibility and transparency of a building or space. An example of this is opaque walls or facades that prevent people from outside from seeing what's going on inside the building or space.

The dialectic of concealing and demonstrating is directly reflected in architecture, for example in the relationship between subterranean and aboveground spaces . The labyrinth of secret passages , cellars and bunkers established a zone of power that was dangerous because it could go undetected .

A city is thus split into an “ above-ground city for the soul ” (Albert Speer) and a subterranean, camouflaged zone of functional exercise of power . Opacity is a constitutive factor of power. They are places of isolation and hiding , which hide the apostates from the view of the rest of society.



Monument and Colossus

It is important to note that monuments and colossi are not always distinguishable from each other. A building can be considered both a monument and a colossus depending on the meanings and purposes ascribed to it.

A famous example is the Statue of Liberty in New York City , which is considered both a monument to freedom and democracy and a colossus to symbolically represent US power and strength .

In architecture, the monumental and the colossal are the preferred rhetorical figures for the expression of power. A double effect emanates from the monumental building, on the one hand the feeling of the smallness and insignificance of the individual person compared to the whole, on the other hand of the sublime and great that just transcends us.



Cult of the middle

The cult of the extroverted center is a sign of power architecture . The more centralized, the more absolute the exercise of power, the more clearly this character emerges. In the case of the absolutist Palace of Versailles, for example, the sovereign's bedchamber was the intersection of the axes.

In the ancient cultures of Central Asia, Iran, India and China, the idea of the Middle Kingdom existed as a geographical interpretation with cosmological symbolism. The cult of the center as a centralized practice draws contempt for the periphery .

Basically, it is an architectural concept that refers to the importance of the central axis or space in architecture. It assumes that the center of a building or room has a special meaning and is often considered to represent the center of the world or the divine center .

It is also widely used in European Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The cult of the middle also has a metaphorical meaning , related to the search for order and harmony in the world. By centering a building or structure, it is said to help create a connection between man and the world and embed man in a cosmic order .

Schloss Nympfenburg Mitte

Schloss Nymphenburg

Nymphenburg Palace is an example of the cult of the middle in architecture. The palace is designed in such a way that the central axis of the building is aligned with the central pavilion of the main building . The pavilion is accented by a raised dome and a series of windows that draw the eye to the central axis of the building.

The central axis of the palace then continues into the palace gardens, passing through various elements such as the palace canal and the Amalienburg Pavilion , before ending at the Badenburg Pavilion . The cult of the center is also emphasized by the symmetrical arrangement of the buildings and gardens on either side of the axis.

What's exciting to see


Since the fall of Rome in the 5th century and the consequent end of antiquity , it is regarded as the first European art epoch . The central work is the church building , which impresses with monumental stone walls and demonstrative military capability . The Romanesque architecture was characterized by massive stone walls and round arches . The load of a stone vaulted roof could only be borne by the curves laid next to one another.

The Romanesque church as a solid stone building was intended to offer the Christian community sheltered prayer rooms . At the same time, the sacral buildings of the Romanesque period served the founding families to accumulate fame and often contained treasury chambers for important relics.

Old Peter in Munich

Alter Peter in Munich city center

Since the idea of Christian rule was to be conveyed with the buildings, the choir occupied a special position and was strongly emphasized – after all, the priest performed his spiritual acts there . So it is no coincidence that the choir in cathedrals and churches points east towards the birthplace of Jesus Christ and the rising sun .

The oldest parish church in Munich , also known as " Alter Peter ", dates back to the 12th century, is one of Munich's most famous landmarks and offers fantastic views over the city.

Grünwald Castle in the Isar Valley would be another example of 12th-century Romanesque architecture. Today it serves as a museum.

Frauenkirche (mother hen)



The Gothic is the second epoch of medieval architecture . The prerequisites were far-reaching socio-economic and political change processes. The unity of church and state in Germany breaks down in long struggles between the emperor and the pope . The direction of the inner sense goes in the direction of dissolving all earthly heaviness and making it transparent , detached from all laws of gravity.

Cathedrals stretching towards the sky, churches flooded with light and filigree stained glass windows – with these and other stylistic devices, the Gothic era has immortalized itself in architectural history.

Unlike the accommodating Romanesque and the subsequent Renaissance, the Gothic is not based on antique models . The most outstanding creation of the Gothic period was the cathedral . A cathedral was seen as a total work of art made up of architecture, plastic and (glass) painting . Sacral building (church building) is the central theme of the epoch.

The architectural significance was on the vertical - the striving towards the sky . A central feature of Gothic architecture was the pointed arch , which replaced the typical Romanesque round arch on portals and windows. Due to the static peculiarities of the pointed arch, the walls could be built extremely thin .

The Frauenkirche in Munich is a Gothic church built in the 15th century . It is known for its imposing towers and unique tracery in the windows . The Frauenkirche serves as the episcopal church of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising and is a well-known landmark of the city.

The church has two towers , one of which bears the name "Saddle Head" and the other "Onion Tower" . The interior of the church is impressive and can accommodate up to 20,000 people . The Frauenkirche also has a famous organ built by the organ builder Georg Jann from Überlingen.

Brunnenhof in the Residenz, Munich, Bavaria, Germany, Europe, 29. April 2007

Residenz München, Brunnenhof


Literally translated , 'Renaissance' means rebirth. The Renaissance attributes a social revolution that puts people back at the center . Man begins to think deeply about himself. It is the time of discoverers and scholars . America is discovered, the printing press is invented . Art and culture are experiencing a revolution. The Renaissance is one of the most dazzling and harmless epochs of mankind.

Cultural elites provide a unique push for modernization . In the Renaissance it was no longer the sacral building alone that defined the style . Within a few decades, grandiose buildings, paintings and works of art are created that are among the most important works of mankind. It is the time of proto-capitalism, a fast-paced competition between cities, trading houses, families and rulers. Even today, our vocabulary knows terms from Italian banking such as giro and account, credit and bankruptcy - terms that were invented and coined by Italian bankers like the Medici.

The Medici became immensely wealthy because they rose to become the Pope's bankers —at a very important time in the papacy. Before the Fuggers , who will soon make a name for themselves in Augsburg, the Medici are the greatest magnates in Europe . A milestone in architecture was the dome of Florence Cathedral, for example. What was special was the 107 meter high dome with a diameter of 45 meters - it was built entirely without falsework (auxiliary scaffolding used in construction to wall arches and vaults).

Clear geometric structures, symmetry and harmonious proportions were sought in the Renaissance style to achieve perfect balance . Numerous buildings were created according to the rule of proportion of the golden ratio .

The facade of the Munich Residenz is impressive and shows the characteristic features of Renaissance architecture , such as columns, arches and pediments . Inside the residence you will find numerous ornate rooms, halls and chapels decorated with frescoes, stucco work and paintings.

Of particular note is the Antiquarium Hall , which is one of the largest Renaissance halls in Europe . Built in the 16th century as a reception hall for the Bavarian rulers , it is now a museum housing an impressive collection of ancient sculptures and paintings.

Social Development - Better understanding of the style epochs

Timeline epoch overview

Timeline epoch overview

In the Middle Ages (500 - 1500) the world view is characterized by a strict status system . The highest estate was the clergy . It included all representatives of the Catholic Church such as bishops, pastors, monks and abbots. Then came the nobility and finally the peasants.

In the Middle Ages, the Church was an extremely influential force in both spiritual and political life . Bishops were not only powerful princes with landed property and subjects, but sometimes even advised kings and emperors .

The ruler received an imperial crown from the hands of the pope , which repeatedly led to conflicts. The kingship, on the other hand, was not a matter for the Church! From the end of the 12th century, the election of the king was reserved for the German electors , whose number was limited to seven from 1257.

The profession of knight emerged from the 9th century when warfare on horseback became more and more important. Soldiers with warhorses and armor were of the utmost importance to warlords, and as a result they enjoyed far-reaching privileges .

But the Middle Ages also stand for pioneering developments such as the founding of the first universities or the flourishing of cities and thus also for the rise of trade and crafts .

In the late Middle Ages (1250 – 1500), faith had a strong competitor – science . In a world that was becoming more and more complex , people increasingly wanted to know more about the rules and connections behind the phenomena of nature - the reference to divine creation was no longer enough for many.


It is the age of staging . Showing power and splendor - not only the nobility, but also the church intended to convince their believers of their power. While rulers traveled around in the Middle Ages in order to be regularly present everywhere in their countries, from the 16th century onwards they built permanent residences into seats of power - magnificent castles, preferably away from the hustle and bustle of the city , with huge parks and opulently decorated ballrooms .

Gradually , states with central administrations , a standing army and professional civil servants developed. More and more nobles came here and built representative palaces ; sought the nearness of the king , who now no longer traveled near their estates.

Traditional rights , such as to posts or pensions, counted less and less , instead the monarch decided on the basis of loyalty and utility who received offices, military commands, clerical benefices or pensions . All these were forgiven at court . No wonder they all flocked.

Asamkrche Altar

Asam Church in Munich Sendlingerstr.

The Sun King and absolutism

With the Palace of Versailles and its residence, Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) created the prototype of an absolutist court that was imitated throughout Europe. Court etiquette compelled the wealthy nobles to spend immense sums of money on clothing and to spend their time at balls , dinners, and other festivities. No aristocrat , dependent on the king's favor , could risk his absence.

From the first moment the young king leaves no doubt about his absolute claim to sole rule . He deliberately pushed ahead with the disempowerment of the nobility , curtailed parliament's right of objection , levied new taxes on his own , broke the pope's power over the French church and got the country's clerics behind him.

The baroque period is defined by two opposite poles : absolutism as a secular form of government and the church as the governor of eternity and the afterlife . It is understandable that people long for order, safety and security , especially after the turmoil of the Thirty Years' War , systematic witch hunts , etc.

Secret code of absolute power in the Baroque:

  • It's always about the court : the places where you saw and were seen , to which everyone who wanted to make something in politics or society was drawn.
  • It's always about status: social standing was the main currency. The historian Andreas Pecar speaks of an “economy of honour” . More influence, more power, more opportunities .
  • It's always about relationships: In order to be able to assert oneself between all the parties and interests at court, personal relationships were essential . I give you something so that you give me something...
  • It's always about the show: the basis of all politics at court and thus throughout Europe was the staging. Power and influence could only be claimed by those who could demonstrate the necessary status .
  • It's always about politics: it was an informal form of politics that had nothing to do with treaties or laws. Politics, economy, religion, society and culture were not yet clearly separated from each other. Everything flowed into each other , had to do with each other.

Between the 17th and 18th centuries, baroque buildings were built according to a symmetrical design with curved shapes in the floor plan. The generously designed buildings were primarily used as monumental representative buildings for noble families and the Catholic Church. Interiors were lavishly decorated, often in precious materials such as marble and gold plating. Walls, facades and ceilings were decorated with cartouches - flat decorative frames - and filigree stucco work . Magnificent halls of mirrors were intended to expand the spatial effect.

The incidence of light in churches was an important design element for baroque architects. Effects of light and shadow should make going to church an impressive experience . Colossal order (columns or pilasters running over two floors), colonnades (portico with straight entablature), volute (decorative snail-shaped design element) Curved, large staircases outdoors are typical components and design elements.

The Asam Church is an important example of Baroque architecture. Located in Munich , it was built between 1733 and 1746 by brothers Cosmas Damian Asam and Egid Quirin Asam . The church is notable for its opulent design , which includes rich ornamentation, frescoes, plasterwork and sculpture . The church was conceived as a total work of art in which architecture, painting and sculpture work together in harmonious unity .

Today, the Asam Church is considered one of the most important examples of Bavarian Baroque and an outstanding monument of European art history . It attracts thousands of visitors every year who are impressed by the lush and magnificent design .


Strictly speaking, rococo is not a separate epoch , but a style of the baroque with certain characteristics that are simply lighter than in the baroque. The development of the Rococo as a new style of architecture can be understood as a reaction to the pompous, sublime style of the French absolutist King Louis (Louis) XIV, whose power had permeated every area of life and art .

After the representative, dignified grandeur of 17th-century architecture, Rococo architecture longed for more intimacy and lightness . The architecture should be elegant, comfortable and comfortable , especially in the interior design. Thus, in the Rococo period, the interior was given outstanding attention, with the individual arts such as sculpture, painting and handicrafts contributing to a veritable total work of art .



The real appeal of Rococo architecture lay and lies in the rather reserved façade design and the highly developed room decoration. While the baroque was primarily about showing the power of the prince through the splendor of his castles , it now became more important that the castles also looked cozy and homely .

All knowledge and skills, all sciences are used to enchant people . Baroque church buildings are less pedagogically oriented, they do not want to teach , but simply surprise . The fruits of redemption and grace are not enumerated, but should be visible at first glance .

The term rococo comes from the French word " rocaille ", which means something like " shell work ". The shell was particularly popular as an ornamental shape at the time. While people in the baroque preferred symmetry , the rococo is characterized by asymmetry and excessive ornamentation .

Particularly well known in Munich are the buildings designed by François de Cuvilliés , such as the Residenztheater , the Amalienburg in the Nymphenburg Palace Park and Lustheim Palace . These buildings are characterized by their delicate and filigree ornamentation and their pastel colors .


Glyptothek on Koenigsplatz

Koenigsplatz with Glyptothek

In the floor plan , classicist architecture only allows straight lines , right angles and, in the case of central buildings, circular lines . This geometric order leads to smooth, generous surfaces when viewed in elevation. Column arrangements are purely constructive , they carry entablature and are not just used to structure the wall . The symbolic, representative meaning was more important in classicism than the mere usefulness of a building . Classicist architecture was primarily modeled on the Greek temples of antiquity .

At the time of classicism, numerous buildings such as palaces, parliament buildings, churches, town halls, victory monuments and city gates were built based on the bygone era . The urge for monumentality , pomp and grandeur is particularly characteristic of classicism. The domed structure supported by columns and the temple front with the typical triangular gable, the tympanum, were popular.

In Munich, the Bavarian king Ludwig I. (1786-1868) as a patron of art and culture . He called numerous artists and architects to Munich and had buildings erected in the classical style.

The Glyptothek on the Königlicher Platz, the museum for the Greek sculpture collection of Ludwig I , has a classical, monumental character. The symmetrical building, with the entrance in the middle of the building , has a monumental gable front supported by eight Ionic columns .

The classical city gate Propyläen in Munich is framed by two monumental towers on both sides . A relatively flat, temple-like building in the center, with Doric columns and triangular pediments, is based on the Propylaea in Athens , the gateway to a sacred area of the Acropolis .

Architecture and Power - Summary

Architecture and power are closely related . Architecture was often used as a means of maintaining and exercising power . Examples of this were the imposing temples, palaces and public buildings built by ancient rulers such as the pharaohs of ancient Egypt or the Roman emperors to emphasize their authority and status.

Architectural elements such as towers, gates and walls were also used in the Middle Ages and modern times to fortify cities and castles , thus consolidating the rulers' power and control over their territories. Magnificent palaces and churches were built in the Baroque and Rococo periods to show the wealth and power of the nobles and the Church.

Even in modern times, architecture remains an instrument of power. Governments and corporations use architectural symbols such as skyscrapers, government buildings and monuments to demonstrate their power and authority and to communicate their messages.

Architecture is experienced and judged on three levels of perception : pragmatic , aesthetic and emotional . Put even more simply, this means: architecture should serve , should be beautiful and should move us.

In an analytical search one encounters three other levels of perception that are located in our visual center. They work together and increase from the rational to the existential to the spiritual .

“Architecture is the mother of all arts.

Without architecture, our civilization has no soul.”

About the author

It is more valuable to experience a place in detail than many small impressions of an incomprehensible whole.

Genius Loci - discovering, capturing and experiencing the spirit of a place. Perceive - understand - enjoy!

As a graduate industrial engineer with an additional MBA degree from a renowned university in England (EMBA, EQUIS and AACSB accredited), I have been showing other, often surprising, paths to success for more than 30 years at C-Level (Head of Marketing and Sales worldwide).

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