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Chapter 8 “Global” Architecture as a Contradictory Signifier: Lessons from Hamburg’s and Vienna’s Urban Megaprojects

Urban Megaprojects: A Worldwide View

ISBN: 978-1-78190-593-7, eISBN: 978-1-78190-594-4

Publication date: 16 May 2013


This chapter explores how architecture is used as a signifier in the development and promotion of urban megaprojects (UMPs). It argues that these projects rely on architecture to gain visibility. First, UMPs need to be highly visible in order to justify their exceptional status and second, they have to be visibly new and different in order to initiate the desired symbolic transformations with which they are attributed. Drawing on the case studies of HafenCity in Hamburg and Donau City in Vienna the chapter traces the logics of using architecture as a signifier and means of legitimizing the UMP. Data on the planning history of the two case studies, their administrative and institutional frameworks and the overall urban development strategies is combined with a qualitative text and image centered analysis of marketing material, planning documents, and press articles. The discussion shows how visibility is achieved by very different means. The question of how to distinguish the UMP from other projects and of how to make it uniquely identified with the particular city guides the debate in both cases. However, the lines of argument are not predictable or easily comparable from city to city and “global architecture” emerges as a contradictory and relative concept. Based on a succinct review of the related literature the chapter disputes the alleged uniformity of UMPs and argues for a meaning and discourse-oriented approach to the analysis of architecture as vehicle of urban change and political legitimation.



Grubbauer, M. (2013), "Chapter 8 “Global” Architecture as a Contradictory Signifier: Lessons from Hamburg’s and Vienna’s Urban Megaprojects", del Cerro Santamaría, G. (Ed.) Urban Megaprojects: A Worldwide View (Research in Urban Sociology, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 185-209.



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