Protests & Authoritarian Architecture

Protests and Authoritarian Architecture

By: Jake Granoff & Nick Renda


People that are unrecognized by their government pursue change by protesting in public spaces designed for the exhibition of state authority to acquire the appropriate rights that they deserve.  In conjunction with such acts, architecture plays the role of displaying values of the government as well as a location for new ideas and theologies to be incorporated.  There are three specific events through out history which embody this relationship between protest and architecture representing a present problem and a possible future change.  The Protestant Reformation of 1517 begins with the words of John Wycliffe in 1377 as he presents his theses to Parliament before pursuing any further publication for his new movement.  In 1789, the common people of Paris, France revolt against the unfavorable ruling of King Louis XVI by storming the Bastille, a prison symbolizing the King’s absolute power and providing them with weaponry to fight.  At the Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing 1989, thousands of students protest the communist dictatorship of Deng Xiaoping and are killed by his army in their fight for democracy in China.


Protestant Reformation

Parliament, London,England, 1517


Although there were many advocates who delegated the history of the Protestant Reformation, John Wycliffe was among the first to truly rebel against the hypocrisies of the Catholic Church and its relation to the English government and people.  Wycliffe not only studied at Oxford University but also taught at the college.  It is at the university in which he first imposed and spread his beliefs of the Church and how it could be reformed to his students.  Wycliffe’sDe Civili Dominio was the book which contained his eighteen theses which strongly reprimanded a variety of problems with the Church including its governing tactics and temporal possessions.  It was not long until monks and other clergy members started to hear about Wycliffe’s writings.  An instant outrage from all church-related positions occurred, especially since the luxurious life of such members was what Wycliffeaimed to change and rationalize with his writings.  Although the Church did not agree at all with Wycliffe, he focused on the people of England to publicly accept him by presenting his theses to Parliament.  Parliament resembles a staple in how the English maintain the connection between the government, the people, and the ordinances which run the nation.  Parliament is broken up into two houses: House of Commons and House of Lords.  Through this two-house system, Parliament mediates the government and whichlaws should be passed or not.  In bringing such a matter of the Church to a government organization, Wycliffe left room for the Parliament officials to be honest and challenge their views of the Church as well.  Although this act of introducing such reform to Parliament in 1377 was just the beginning, it still symbolizes the domino-effect in which Protestant leaders along with the King and Parliament break away from the Church at a time when the Church was corrupt in needed reform as well.  So in the case of Protestant Reform, one man being John Wycliffe took his argument to Parliament, a place where the people of England’s rights and shortcomings could be heard, to start a full break from the current Church and State relation.



Storming of the Bastille

the Bastille, Paris, France, 1789


July 14th, 1789, otherwise known as Bastille Day, the day when 800 angry, revolting Parisians siege King Louis XVI main prison, spurring the French revolution.  But before this momentous revolt, Paris in the 18th century, the Bastille and King Louis XVI need to be explained and grasped in order to fully understand just how truly momentous this day was.  Paris and the rest of France based their government and policy making off the Ancient Regime system which consists of consolidating the countries social, political and economical powers amongst the monarch, clergy and aristocracy.  France in the 1700’s was divided into three estates.  The first estate was the Roman Catholic Church.  The second estate was the king, his nobility and his court.  The third estate was the rest of the population consisting of the vast majority of the country, approximately 97%, that also managed to be in mass poverty due to the other two estates poor, disconnected decision-making.  The third estate was stuck in the third estate because the second estate deemed that all privilege was determined by birth and not talent.  Throughout the 18th century, France’s population increased from 20 million to 30 million and with that so did its taxes, causing the peasants living off the land to no longer be able to sustain living due to starvation and malnutrition.  But while the peasants and the rest of the third estate were famished, King Louis XVI was spending an unforgivable amount of the nation’s budget on Versailles’s upkeep and the king’s entire naval support plus resources on America’s War of Independence.  This put France in a terrible position of acquiring mass debt.  King Louis XVI assembled the Estates General meeting, which hadn’t been called together in over 300 years, to figure out the fiscal crisis, but only ended up angering the third estate even more, causing them to band closer and become the Nation Assembly.  As the monarch kept refusing to relieve himself of all his power, the Nation Assembly gained traction and revolution was slowly bubbling in the mind of every peasant.  On July 14th, 1789, the Bastille was stormed and taken by force.  The Bastille itself was important because it was symbolic of King Louis XVI’s absolute and arbitrary power holding many political prisoners the king and his men detained unjustly.  The Bastille, originally constructed in 1383, was built as a gate and fortress to Paris and Versailles, but was shortly converted to a prison for people the government found untrustworthy and dangerous to the nation.  But on July 14th, the peasants were storming it for its resources being blades, guns and ammunition.  The prison became an armory for the first and second estate within weeks before the outrage as King Louis XVI was frightened and prepared defense for himself and his clergy.  The siege was no problem for the attackers and took under three hours for the 800 furious peasants to break in to the old prison and defeat the some 80 guards on duty.  The event caused nation wide revolt on the countryside and began the French Revolution against the monarch.  The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was finished August 26th, 1789. Some how, the monarch was officially removed three years after the Storming of Bastille on Aug 10th, 1792 and King Louis XVI was executed Jan 21st, 1793.  The French Revolution of Bastille Day commemorates how an entire lower class position in a society fought for their own civil rights to live with assets found in one of the King’s present prisons for detaining political reform leaders.



Tiananmen Square Protest

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 1989


200 years later, thousands of protesting, unarmed Chinese students and civilians were gunned down by military infantry and tanks.  The protest initially started April 15th, 1989 when Communist Party General Secretary, Hu Yaobang, viewed as a liberal democrat, past away and students gather in Tiananmen Square to mourn and to attest recent problems with the country.  Tiananmen Square historically located in the center of Beijing, translated into the Gate of Heavenly Peace, was originally built as a gate to the Forbidden City during the Ming Dynasty in 1415.  The gate evolved into a square by the 1600’s and was redesigned and enlarged in the 1950’s to be four times the original size, equally about 110 acres of land.  Throughout time, the square has been used for ceremonies, political rallies, protests, and camping grounds for armed forces.  But when Hu died, students rallied, protested, and spoke out against inflation, limitation, and corruption while demanding freedom of press, freedom of speech and the restoration of industrial control to the workers, not the government.  At the height of the protest, approximately one million people united in the square in disdain with their government. Once Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader at the time, grasped the full scale of the situation, he deployed 300,000 troops in Beijing to settle conflict and maintain control of the circumstance.  But as protesters kept on rallying and growing in ferocity, on June 4th, 1989 Deng mobilized hundreds of tanks to clear out the square in a few hours.  During the clearing of Tiananmen square, no official number has been released as to how many deaths occurred but it is assumed to be 1000-3000 citizens.  The reason the death count is unobtainable is because after the treacherous act, the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge the event’s existence and has strict censorship over any reference or memorial to the massacre in public and in schools.  The after math of the mass killing lead the government to oust any political supporters of the protest, while students and workers were tried, and either sentenced to time or executed.  Media coverage was destroyed totaling in 32 million books and 3 million video/audio documentation and media workers were fired due to there involvement and supposed aid in the protest’s movement.  As a result, the students and citizens who protested have been silenced either literally with death or have remained silent out of fear that the government’s repercussion will result in death.  So as millions of students and young people come to holt with their protests in the open square of Tiananmen, their post of protest serves as a memorial to those who died almost in vain for freedom.


Protests of vast variety continue till this day all over the world.  With the internet and technology growing to be a groundbreaking thread in which to connect the media and voices of citizens across miles, seas, and borders away, protests are viral and are not going unheard.  Whether it be local, state, federal, national, or international, reform can be achieved by its people of conquest.  Architecture gives people an opportunity to have a conversation with fellow man about how man can be better; however, sometimes even when the reform is a positive one it is not heard because too much power rests in the hands of ignorant people.  It does not matter if it is one person or an entire city of people, architecture gives an opportunity to its visitors to be noticed: that is why there are government buildings in defense for the people being governed and open spaces outside where the public remain in control and free to organize.



Protestant Reformation, 1517, Germany/Europe

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Storming of Bastille, 1789, Paris, France, “Storming of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789.” Accessed October 7, 2013.

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Beijing student protest at Tiananmen Square, 1989, Beijing, China

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