Populism’s Building Complex; or: Is there such a thing as Populist Architecture?

By Jan-Werner Müller is Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences and professor of politics at Princeton University.  Recent publications include Democracy Rules (2021) and Furcht und Freiheit (2019). | August 31, 2023

This article argues that there is a distinctive populist approach to the built environment.  Populists claim that they alone represent what they often call “the real people.”  Hence, there is a need for them to specify who “the real people” are.  If they have sufficient power (and time) while in government, they will reshape the built environment – architecture, no less than urban and rural environments more broadly — in line with their understanding of “the real people.”  In particular, they will create spaces (some obviously political, some not so obvious, such as football stadiums) that can serve as sites for the collective affirmation of a particular understanding of peoplehood.  The article also asks how post-populist governments should relate to a built environment reshaped by populists.


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