Architecture is Social Discrimination?

Andy Kim and Caroline Jeon (link if not working)


The impact of architecture is not relative to the size and scope of the project, but more of the impact that it has in the community. By developing one area, another is doomed to underdevelopment, creating a socioeconomic barrier that is a direct result of architecture. Through studies of Sanford, Florida and its surrounding area, it can be deduced that the underdevelopment of Sanford is a result due to the development of surrounding areas such as Orlando and the opening of Disney World. With this kind of pressure on the lower income class, criminal activity tends to result from such a pressed lifestyle, creating social discrimination, not being the cause of it. Throughout history, it can be seen that architecture creates areas of discrimination socially and economically. The Venetian Ghetto in Venice, Italy is a prime example of this. The influence of the Jewish community had a negative impact in Venice, where crime rates were high. Being pinpointed as the cause of these crime rates, the Jews were segregated into the island of Cannaregio so that they could be monitored and kept away from the central part of Venice. Furthermore, during California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, the desire for fast and immense wealth spread by word of mouth to the point that the Chinese were immigrating to the United States in masses to get a cut of this goldmine. As can be expected, the native Caucasians of the area were not too fond of these new Chinese immigrants as the increased number of people working in the goldmine creating stiffer competition amongst everyone. This resulted in inhumane laws, and often physical interaction to hinder the lifestyle and progress of the Chinese Community. With this social discrimination, the Chinese were forced to create their own businesses such as restaurants and laundries to avoid competition from the white people. The most sincere form of architectural segregation comes from the erection of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. By dividing East and West Berlin, this act of creating a physical barrier between the two areas in itself sent a message of socioeconomic discrimination. In conclusion it can be hypothesized that though variables such as violence or criminal activity can be considered as the reasons for underdeveloped areas, the result of social discrimination by the influence of architecture is the deeper problem in the socioeconomic spectrum of architecture.

The Venetian Ghetto
Venice, Italy, 1516

Venetian Ghetto Sign

As the Jewish population in Venice began to increase in 1516, the Jewish communities were pushed to the outskirts of Venice in the island of Cannaregio for freedom of practice in their faith in secrecy as well as protection in the case of war. The pronunciation of the Venetian term “geto” became turned into “ghetto,” which has become a derivative for various places of lower class life. Early Jews complied with the decree set upon their people, as the conditions were more than favorable for the Jews. However, an increase in population of the Jewish population met with a less than positive reaction. Crime became pinned on the Jewish people as laws became inhumane that hindered the process of living through jeopardizing the safety of the Jewish community as well as making stark increases in living expense. To prevent any Jews from entering the city, the entrance gates were locked and night boats patrolled the surrounding canals. Naturally and culturally being raised as traders, the Jews were also only allowed to lend money at low interest rates by further hindering their basic needs for survival.

Waterways in Cannaregio

By looking at the plan of Venice during the 1500s, the architectural impact wasn’t a physical monument or restoration, but an active act of segregation and inconvenience for the Jewish population. The island of Cannaregio is separated internally by straights and manmade water paths with the overall island being separated entirely from central Venice by the Canal Grande. Though preexisting before the Jews, Cannaregio can be seen as an excuse to push the Jews into this secluded area. Not only does it mask the impression that they are still residing ‘in’ Venice, giving the sense of being part of the Italian people, but is also serves as leverage to argue the point that they would be protected in case of war. The compliance that Cannaregio becomes a place of silence and seclusion is also an act of diversion to mask the fact that the straights and canals were used as means of spying to prevent Jews from entering the main portion of Venice. This false sense of security is only made possible by the execution in which the Jews were settled in Cannaregio, making a life of privacy a near impossibility.

More Concentrated Area of the Venetian Ghetto


California Gold Rush
Chinatown, California, United States, 1848-1855

Chinese Exclusion Act
Chinese Laundry

With the bloom of the gold rush in California, many people moved to California for the search of wealth, even the Chinese. From an estimated 4,000 Chinese nationals in 1851, that number grew to 25,000 in just one year. Before this massive influx in Chinese population, Chinese miners were relatively small in number and didn’t attract that much attention, but those that did take notice found them amusing. However, as their population increased, violence, hostility and envy began to increase in consistency. The hostility toward the Chinese truly peaked when Governor John Bigler declared in 1852 that the Chinese were a menace to the state. This accelerated anti-Chinese activity and became subject to discrimination through increased miner’s taxes that were levied unevenly on miners. Rather than retaliate in a hateful manner, the Chinese people found ways to avoid conflict. Many whom were chased away from the mines began to start laundries and Chinese restaurants as they required low capital investment, little space and allowed the Chinese to avoid competition with competing white people for jobs.

Chinatown During the Gold Rush

This effect of the minority being pushed out of communities is very similar to the effect seen in Sanford, Florida. Similar to how the development of the middle class in Orlando forced the lower income class into Sanford, many Chinese were forced out of the mines to create communities of their own. While white people were actively seeking their own personal benefits, the lack of collaboration or willingness to do so created tension that could have led to conflict that would evidently result in a negative outcome for both parties.  With the creation of “chinatowns,” the Chinese made it a priority to distance themselves from the white people.  This created a severe social segregation between the white people of California and the Chinese immigrants. However, the outcome was more than great for the Chinese. Much like the Venetian Ghetto is still existing in a more positive light in modern day Italy, these pockets of Chinese communities that were once home of the outcast Chinese, developed into what is now modern day Chinatown in San Francisco. With a successful adaptation of the conditions around them, modern day San Francisco continues the trend. Despite Chinatown now being a hot tourist attraction, the social split in ethnic residency is still presently divided along the line of where Chinatown begins and where it ends. This segregation come from an architectural development that revolved around the Chinese community and created in itself a continuously socially discriminated area.

Berlin Wall
West Berlin, East Berlin, August 13, 1961, Erich Honecker and Egon Krenz

File:Structure of Berlin Wall.svg
Diagrammatic Drawing of East and West Separation

On August 13, 1961, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic, most commonly known as East Germany, began to build a barbed wire and concrete “Antifascistischer Schutzwall,” or “antifascist bulwark,” between East and West Berlin. The official purpose of this Berlin Wall was to keep Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from the East to the West. To this day, the Berlin Wall remains one of the most powerful and enduring symbols of the Cold War. As a totalitarian system is strongly centralized on a singular figure, the Berlin Wall, to an extent became an equally powerful symbol of the East German regime.

Unemployment Rate

East Berlin’s physical erection of a wall to keep the “fascists” from the West side away from the East side is in itself one hundred percent unapologetically meant to create a stance in social discrimination. The Berlin Wall is such a symbolic force of social discrimination that it defined the Iron Curtain of the Cold War. The primarily Soviet Union dominated Eastern Bloc used this form of propaganda to subdue countries to their bidding. With the physical segregation through the Berlin Wall, this only further tightened the Soviet Union’s grasp on the Eastern Bloc. Even when citizens were finally able to freely move from East and West Berlin in 1989, the effect that the Berlin Wall had on its citizens in a socioeconomical standpoint could not be erased.

The sudden collapse of the communist regime created uncertainty among the Easter Germans. This resulted in an increase in crime rate and a decrease in birthrate when compared to their Western German counterparts. Women, in a state of disarray weren’t confident in starting a family, whereas others turned to crime as they too weren’t sure exactly what to do. This simple act of placing a physical barrier created an immense psychological impact on the German people that by default was imminent in creating social discrimination.


Despite media attention on racial or other profound aspects that result in hindered living of the lower class, underdevelopment or sheer rejection of accommodating the lower class results in further separation of the middle and lower classes. Because these boundaries have existed for centuries, racial conflict becomes an issue. Even so, the situation that is the lower class is not a separate issue from the current hot topics of race, but a hand in hand dilemma that can’t be solved without one or the other.



Venetian Ghetto

Moment.  “Venice, Harlem and Beyond.”  Last modified May 2013.

Ruderman, David B.  Essential Papers on Jewish Culture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy.  New York, 1992.

Wikipedia.  “History of the Jews in Venice.”  Last modified May 2011.

California Gold Rush

Chao, Adam and Dan Spencer.  “The Chinese.”

Korton, Henry K.  The Story of California From the Earliest Days to the Present. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co, 1924.

Weebly.  “Timeline 1800s – 1900s.”

Berlin Wall

BBC.  “The Berlin Wall,” History, BBC.  2013.

History.  “Berlin Wall,” History, A&E Television Networks.  1996-2013.

Vasagar, Jeevan.  “How the fall of the Berlin Wall may have raised a generation of criminals,”  The Telegraph.  Last modified November 11, 2013.

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