This Is What Happens When Dictators Make Buildings

When a ruler is drunk with power, sometimes their poor choices end up in concrete and steel.

By Nathalie Nayman September 16, 2016
Pyongyang Ice Rink. Photo courtesy of Raphael Olivier /

Have you seen the polls lately? We here at Agorafy have. And yet, due to our journalistic impartiality, we are not at liberty to express out political views. Nonetheless, current political events have, shall we say, brought our attention to certain things.

What does future hold for us? Will NYC see a massive exodus of liberal-minded individuals? Should we learn archery to prepare for Hunger Games? Will the city’s landscape change? The last question is a serious one—and perhaps the easiest to answer.

Related: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Three NYC Buildings That Might Have Been

History tells us that certain political regimes can have a profound effect on architecture. According to Alice Ismail, for example, “Architecture is used to mediate forms of political power in order to propagate political ideologies to the pluralist society.” And, let’s be honest—a somewhat strict ideology does not seem like such a remote possibility right now.

Here at Agorafy we decided to take a look at architecture in a few dictatorial countries (just saying) from the defunct Soviet Union to contemporary North Korea. Is there a chance that NYC might end up looking like this? Only time will tell.

Rome EUR (Palace of Civilization,) Italy. Photo courtesy of

If you want to binge-enjoy eye-pleasing buildings, book a tour to Italy, right? That is, unless we speak of Benito Mussolini’s fascist architecture (which is actually a thing). This style, developed in fascist societies, featured elements like symmetry, simplicity and a general absence of imagination or joy. These buildings mean business. No time to ponder capricious décor elements, the implied message says, we have citizens to militarize and immigrants to deport.

Uzbekistan Hotel. Photo courtesy of
Uzbekistan Hotel. Photo courtesy of

As Urban Ghosts here cleverly point out, modesty isn’t something commonly associated with dictators. Be it reflection of their ego or certain overcompensating issues, buildings in the countries with dictatorial regimes tend to look huge. This enormous Hotel Uzbekistan in Tashkent is a proof that dictators love to build big as their egos. And, while we do have some impressive skyscrapers in New York, could there be more humorless monoliths in our future?

Moscow State University. Photo courtesy of

The infamous Soviet Union’s Stalinist architecture might look somewhat different from fascist buildings—in fact, in comparison to the latter, Stalinist structures look almost playful—but they definitely had a lot in common when it came to project execution. The Moscow State University main building, for example, was constructed by Gulag inmates. That’s one way to make sure that construction meets deadlines. One can only imagine what kind of buildings a dictatorial vision combined with forced labor might produce in NYC. Let’s hope we will never find out.

Pyongyang International Cinema House, a massive hall featuring several screening rooms able to fit up to 3000 seats for the largest, is a pure example of Pyongyang's brutalist architecture. All in bare raw concrete with modern shapes and sharp edges, brutalist buildings can be found all around the city but this one is probably the most impressive of them all, and could actually make for a perfect science fiction film set.

Who said that dictatorial architecture can’t produce some weird buildings? Well, it normally doesn’t—unless you take a country like North Korea. Here we see a socialist-inspired structure and, at the same time, allowance for some elements of traditional Korean design to sink in. The end result is a powerful control tool. These North Korean buildings look so quaint (yes, we couldn’t choose just one) they probably have the power to brainwash the local population by just sitting there.

American Plaza. Photo courtesy of
American Plaza. Photo courtesy of

Above everything else, dictatorial architecture must emanate the spirit of patriotism, preferably, in an overzealous and frenzied fashion. This A-shaped American-flagged colored America Plaza in the center of Manhattan is definitely patriotic. Just kidding. It hasn’t been built just yet. However, depending on how our election goes, NYC might just end up having this building overlooking the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps constructed with the forced labor of political opponents who couldn’t make it to Canada fast enough.




Nathalie Nayman

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Nathalie Nayman

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Nathalie Nayman

Nathalie is an international media trooper. After working as a journalist in Moscow, Nathalie participated in local politics and social movements in Cairo where she covered the protests and political upheaval of the Arab Spring. Nathalie is Agorafy's content manager. She produces and oversees unique and creative content for the Newsroom.

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