Cyber capabilities, weapons of war, and economic horsepower are often studied as tools used by countries vying for influence, strength, and power on the world stage. Ignored, however, are the many forms of soft power used skillfully by leaders, diplomats, and artists alike to project a particular image to the rest of the world. This is certainly worth researching, as how other countries perceive us—and how we perceive them—is essential to how we communicate and negotiate the challenges ahead.
The form of soft power I will focus on has not yet been decided—in fact, it shifts quite often. Currently, I am fascinated by how architecture shapes national identity; how everything from the scale to the colors to the building materials reflect a rich history. For some countries, the legacy of colonialism remains, with buildings for distinct social castes; for others, attempts at modernization and technological development are apparent in sleek, minimalist designs. Whatever the narrative, one thing is for certain: architecture is a visible, tangible projection of a country’s past, present, and future. For now, my research question shall be: how have, and how can, nations use architecture to define their narrative and national identity?
Puzzles abound with this research question. First, the concept of a national identity must be defined; some scholars even argue that the idea of a cohesive identity is merely imagined and impossible to define in areas with vast linguistic, ethnic, and cultural diversity. Which of these histories should architecture choose to reflect? The second puzzle is the trade-off of historical identity and modernity: in the pursuit of sustainability, efficacy, and technological capability, many buildings must be reconstructed or redesigned entirely. How, then, can that happen without erasing the history of the original structure? Finally, how can architecture—or the destruction of it—be used as a weapon in times of political turmoil or war? What do the materials, layouts, light sources, color palettes, and silhouettes communicate? Do architects and artists have a responsibility to adhere to a community’s identity and preference when crafting these structures? Do architects who begin projects in developing countries have an ethical responsibility to strengthen the technological capacity and sustainability of their buildings, and if they do, might it create a form of architectural imperialism in doing so?
These questions are inextricable from the transcendental-situated knowledge debate that Abbott has presented to us. Because architecture is perhaps one of the most resilient art forms we have, and because by nature, it is designed to last throughout decades and centuries, it is critical that I consider whether the historical meaning of these creations still remains throughout time, or whether it changes with new political and social eras.
I first began thinking about architecture and its relationship to identity as I moved up here, to Washington, D.C., from the South. The difference in residential areas was striking: in the South, houses are wide, white, and columned, with huge grassy lawns—not unlike the images of the plantation era. Here, I saw brick, multilevel houses that seemed narrow and industrial—I wondered how much that might have to do with the constraints that crowded-city living places on individuals. Then, I read a piece in Architectural Review about how to destroy architecture is to destroy a community, which referenced a Syrian monument destroyed in a terrorist attack. I realized that residential, commercial, and religious structures alike are inherent to the way we perceive ourselves and our communities, and that the issue transcends geographic boundaries—so it may be worth researching.
 Mogliozzi, Zaira. “To Destroy Architecture Is to Attack the Cultural Identity of a Nation.” Architectural Review, February 13, 2016. https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/reviews/to-destroy-architecture-is-to-attack-the-cultural-identity-of-a-nation/10002660.article.