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Iconology as an approach for analyzing contemporary architecture in the context of political theory

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Abstract

The presentation is based upon my M.A. thesis entitled “Contemporary western architecture in Beijing. An attempt of analysis in the context of international relations theory using the example of the new CCTV/TVCC-Headquarters of the chinese state-run television”. Specifically i want to deal with the accordant interdisciplinary methodic and theoretic framework. I want to discuss the merit of the combination of iconology and international relations theory for analyzing current iconic architecture in the context of political theory. Considering the present globalized architecture, political theory unfortunantely remains mostly silent. This is due to the fact that along with the worldwide spread of modernist architecture its analysis in the context of politics has become more and more difficult. Until then political iconography provided an instrument to investigate monumental regime architecture studying traditional symbols of power illustrated by the building’s facade and structure. Modernist architecture broadly abandoned similar symbols and decorative elements on the facade. Furthermore the principals of large scale buildings were no longer states but companies, and the dispersion of democracy rendered monumental architecture unnecessary. Considering a dieback of political symbolism in the present era, modernist architecture and its worldwide adoption is mostly perceived as indicator for the implementation of capitalism and for economic globalization. This economic and more or less value-free analysis disregards two important aspects: There is still an inter-connection between economic and political liberalism, and states and state-connected institutions are still building architecture for the purpose of state representation. An interesting example is the hiring of western avantgarde-architects by authoritarian regimes for constructing large scale projects like in the People’s Republic of China. In this regard western architecture in non-democratic states could also serve to demonstrate a de-facto- or quasi-approach to democratic values and political liberalism. But how analyzing the role of modern architecture in politics while generally conceiving the subject of study as unpolitical and of mere economic and aestetic relevance?