Previous Page An Issue 16.
Public buildings reveal much about the attitudes and values of the society that builds them. Today's new schools, court houses, airports and libraries, for example, reflect the attitudes and values of today's society. Question
Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion stated above. Support your views with reasons and/ or examples from your own experience, observations or reading. Analysis
The extent to which new public buildings reflect societal values and attitudes depends on whether one considers a building's intended function or its design. In the former sense, new public buildings do mirror society while in the latter sense they do not.
The intended uses of new public buildings says something about our priorities and values as a society. For example, proliferation of public cultural centres and schools reflects a societal concern for the arts and education, respectively, while new prison construction indicates a heightened concern for safety and security.
The design of new public buildings, however, fails to mirror society, for two reasons. First, modern democratic states do not have the luxury of making cultural statements at any expense. Functionality and fiscal accountability dictate the face of public architecture today. Second, public participation in the process is limited. New buildings typically reflect the architect's eccentric vision or the preference of a few public officials, not the populace's values and attitudes.
In England, for example, Prince Charles oversees and approves the design of new public buildings. The resulting conventional designs suggest his unwillingness to break from tradition. Yet it would seem unfair to assign his lack of vision to English society. In Denver, the controversial design of a new airport met with public outcry for its appearance, expense and lack of functionality. Does the airport reflect the values of Denver's denizens? Probably not.
In conclusion, while modern public buildings seem to reflect the values and attitudes of a society in their function, they do not necessarily do so in their design.