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What is wrong with architecture symbolism?

Updated: Jul 4


Shama Patwardhan, Palak Gupta, Anchal Srivastava, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Agency, Profession, Pedagogy, Practice, Education, Professional, Discourse, Contingency, Externality, Educational, School, College, University, Firm, Company, Client, Customer, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

The answer lies in an Indie-Rock song!


The American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright said,

"The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.”

Well, this discipline does combine aesthetics with mathematical precision. This profession provides buildings for people and their environment. It is about ideas and imagination at the intersection of various disciplines. Architecture is the act of designing and building physical structures.


Architectural symbolism is rightly used in the song ‘Times to Die.’ The deep-rooted biases are evident in our profession and the song captures their essence beautifully. It is a popular track that features 5th on the list of the famed indie-rock band Car Seat Headrest’s signature album, ‘Teens of Style.’ It originally appeared on Car Seat Headrest’s 2012 album Monomania.


“All of my friends are getting married

All of my friends are right with God

All of my friends are making money

But art gets what it wants and art gets what it deserves


I think I’m gonna build a giant hotel

Lest we be scattered, I’ll stack it sky-high

It’s not symbolic, it’s just human nature

Under the foundations, there is a graveyard...”

Shama Patwardhan, Palak Gupta, Anchal Srivastava, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Agency, Profession, Pedagogy, Practice, Education, Professional, Discourse, Contingency, Externality, Educational, School, College, University, Firm, Company, Client, Customer, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

This song has layered meanings. It is a meditation on religion and defines life blatantly. The song was developed from an early fragment titled ‘Fuck Merge Records.’ The band's vocalist Will Toledo wrote the song after he failed to submit his music to the North Carolina label at the age of 16. Car Seat Headrest has an unusual following at the fringe of arts, and their success is well deserved. Their song is dedicated to the struggle for originality, voice, visibility, and success. It is a battle in the tyrannous, fascist, and cult culture of all creative and arts fields. Would you think architecture to be an exception? It is not indeed.

Shama Patwardhan, Palak Gupta, Anchal Srivastava, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Agency, Profession, Pedagogy, Practice, Education, Professional, Discourse, Contingency, Externality, Educational, School, College, University, Firm, Company, Client, Customer, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

The song’s opening lines reveal deep-rooted biases prevalent in architectural symbolism. They reveal the discourses’ dependencies.


The protagonist desires to see architecture as a landmark. The landmark's obvious culmination into a ‘giant skyscraper’ is the present reality. It is a literal and symbolic crown that towers and commands everything around it. Why is that relevant today? It shows that the perspectives and the voices of others, of all contingencies, are muffled. At this height, the environment develops into a mere background for the architecture. The architecture is the display focus. The next precise point to observe is that the skyscraper is a hotel. Why? To display a false parade of hospitality and empathy. A hotel stands for a self-attained commercial utopia. The first 4 lines beautifully reveal this notion.


The protagonist feels powerless and is at a loss of all social developments. Hence, they compare themselves to their friends outside art, who are all married, rich, and pious. The skyscraper aims to detach oneself from the reality of the environment, city streets, and the differences. The detachment for the creator and all its users is used to retreat from the reality of the world.

Shama Patwardhan, Palak Gupta, Anchal Srivastava, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Agency, Profession, Pedagogy, Practice, Education, Professional, Discourse, Contingency, Externality, Educational, School, College, University, Firm, Company, Client, Customer, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

These depravities in turn fuel desires in architects and artists to achieve autonomy. They establish themselves as remote figures of authority in front of the world. They also believe that they will be able to control all contingencies of life. All this effort is to secure complete control and mask their shortcomings in life, and the real world. ‘But art gets what it wants and art gets what it deserves’ rightly portrays art and architecture’s self-proclaimed autonomy. It is a justification for the artists’ desires and symbolism. It also gives validation for the depravity of its matters in general walks of life.

Shama Patwardhan, Palak Gupta, Anchal Srivastava, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Agency, Profession, Pedagogy, Practice, Education, Professional, Discourse, Contingency, Externality, Educational, School, College, University, Firm, Company, Client, Customer, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

Sky-high’ followed by the line, ‘It’s not symbolic, it’s just human nature,’ exposes the declaration of autonomy and detachment. The removal from the procedures of public developments acts as a defense. The writer is trying to justify it. It provides an explanation and validation to the supposed autonomy as if it was the right thing to do. Toledo attempts to shed light on the early stages of an artist’s education and their upbringing in the profession. He highlights how it makes people retreat into a rarefied and self-referential world of their own.


Under the foundations, there is a graveyard’ adds on to criticise this world as one having a rustic foundation, as something built on an arcane, privileged, and passed-on aesthetic code. By hinting at the graveyard, Toledo brings focus not to the field but its practitioners. He does this by evoking their dead and decaying bodies as the bedrock over which the foundation is laid. He is hinting at the notion that the promise to future generations is misled. It is not an original scheme, but only a superimposition on the despair of the former generation.


At the heart of this malaise is the hand-me-down education and culture of architecture.




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About the Writer

Anchal Srivastava is an architect, urban planner, writer, researcher and scholar. She is a certified GIS specialist from IIRS, ISRO, Dehradun. She is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University (APJAKTU), Uttar Pradesh. She has experience working at the Town and Country Planning Organisation Delhi, Jabalpur Smart City Limited, Suresh Goel & Associates (SGA), APS Green Architects & Associates, and as the head architect at SSAP and Shantiniketan Buildtech Pvt. Ltd.


About the Editor

Shama Patwardhan is an architect and writer from Mumbai. She is a graduate of the Rachana Sansad's Academy of Architecture (AoA), Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Heritage Conservation Society, India. She has experience working with Rethinking The Future (RTF), Abhikalpan Architects and Planners, and Manasaram Architects.


About the Illustrator

Palak Gupta is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is also a graphic designer, illustrator and a painter. She has experience working on the packaging design and branding for NutriTown Organics.



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