War and Design: Towards a Geopolitics of Modern Architecture

A debate is currently ongoing about whether the Marine Corps should be stationed in the building to guard it — this would be seen as a provocation by China.

This is the latest event in a rising conflict between China and the U.S. What kind of conflict are we really seeing? Is it just about about trade, or is it about a broader strategic confrontation between these two countries?

American Institute American Institute in Taiwan 2018 Building. The Wahsington Post

To answer this question, let's look at some events on the U.S side:

Trump at the United Nations:

Not long ago, Venezuela was one of the richest countries on Earth. Today, socialism has bankrupted the oil-rich nation and driven its people into abject poverty. Virtually everywhere socialism or communism has been tried, it has produced suffering, corruption, and decay. Socialism’s thirst for power leads to expansion, incursion, and oppression. All nations of the world should resist socialism and the misery that it brings to everyone.

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China’s aggression was on display this week, when a Chinese naval vessel came within 45 yards of the USS Decatur […] We will not be intimidated and we will not stand down. […] America will always believe that Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people. (Applause.) Now these are only a few of the ways that China has sought to advance its strategic interests across the world, with growing intensity and sophistication. Yet previous administrations all but ignored China’s actions. And in many cases, they abetted them. But those days are over.

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This tells us that a broader strategic confrontation between this countries is happening. This compels us to study the history of the Cold War and other wars and how war forms impact society, culture, design and architecture.

A new approach to architectural history

The nation has always been the key category of architectural history — We read about the architecture of Japan, American Architecture etc. Can we develop a borderless & networked trans-cultural, trans-naotinal map of modern architecture?

THis lecture attempts a geopolitical mapping of modern architecture of a cluster of states in East Asia.

Cartographic/Geographic THinking

War Types/Forms

War Types/Forms

Paul Hirst (2005) offers a comprehensive study of war: Space and Power: Politics, War and Architecture. Talks about the shifting forms of war: Empirial (land) war, Indusrtial Wars (WW1, WW2), Cold War (nuclear bomb threat), Post-Cold war: Securitisation of urban space.

War and Aesthetics

Bunkers are so appealing […] I was most impressed by a feeling of being .. rished. The immensity of the project is what defies common sense. Total war was revealed here in its mythical dimension […]these concrete blocks were in fact the final throw-offs […] The casemate […] was scandalous here, and its modern-ness was due to […] its siluhette. The curved profile brought with it into the harbor's quarters a trace of the curves of dunes and nearby hills, and thre, in this natural-ness was the scandal of the bunker.

Goes on to say about Albert Speer:

His passion for architeture and for politics are one and the same.

Albert Speer is a key case here. He is the head of the "Chief Office for Construction" from 1934 to 1939, Chief Wartime Architect 1939-1942, Minister of Arms and war production 1942-1945. His role shifts from architecture to wartime organisation.

Stadium Nuremberg Stadium (1930). Source

Also: Reichskanzlei, New Berlin. Also military architecture: Atlantic Wall, underground works, bunkers

He combines in one person the production of war machinery, defensive works and architecture. Speer buidls these neoclassical works, but also "functional" anti-aircaft towers and bunkers.

Geopolitics of modern architecture of a cluster of states in East Asia

Timeline Slide

Spacial Lines


This coincides with danwei urban planning & functionalist architecture. A lot of the urban planning from this era is very functiona;


In the captialist countries

In the 70s, the distinction between captialist and and communist countries becomes complicated. National style happens in Taiwan, hile China adopt modernism

Hotel Baiyun Hotel, Guangzhou, 1976. Architect: Mo Bozhi. Source

Modernism happens in Beijing:

Third World Theory (aid) projects:

This chinese modernism is a mixture between communist functionalism and western id-centru modernism

Railway stations built by communist china in africa

After the cold war:

IM Pei (1982): Fragant hill hotel Beijning This is vernacular, post-modernist architecture. Here nationalist symbols start to be deconstructed.


Unit 61398 Source

A building in shanghai that the U.S thinks is a base if cyber attacks against the US, Unit 61398.

At the same time, Chinese architects are building in the West: Paris, Canada:

Towers Absolute Towers by MAD Architects. ArchDaily

There is cultural exchange happening at the same time as confrontation.

Toward a critical pragmatism: Contemporary architecture in China in Harvard At the same time: Military tensions in the south china sea

Indeterminate signals, war in quotation mars: trade, cyber, military posturing.


What we've attempted is a geopolitical, historical mapping of architecture in this cluster of countries in South Asia. We observe:

Writers on today's war forms and implications on architecture and society: Baudrillard, Virillio, Sun-Tzu