The Signature of Power: Buildings, Communications, and Policy

The Signature of Power: Buildings, Communications, and Policy


Publication Date



Advanced industrial societies are becoming aware of the impact of what they do to the physical and biological environment, and also what that environment does to individuals. In The Signature of Power, Harold D. Lasswell examines the symbolic use people make of their surroundings and the complexity of the way they interpret an altered environment. Transformed habitats can change experiences and behaviours. All people seek to maximize their preferred events, such as power and wealth, when they use the environment – be it through glass skyscrapers or Gothic estates. In all cases, physical structures give expression to the perspectives of influential individuals and groups.

This volume considers the complex interplay between the material and the symbolic. Physical changes introduced for political purposes by architects, planners, and engineers are guided by the perspectives of designers. These and other interactions in human society are simultaneous acts of communication and collaboration. Regardless of whether physical resources are used to transmit messages, such interactions nevertheless have a degree of communicative impact.

Physical structures may be profoundly affected by the purposes, assumptions, and identities of those people who plan or change them. Environmental design, says Lasswell, is an instrument of political power.


Architecture | Environmental Law | Law | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology




Transaction, Inc.


New Brunswick, NJ


"A major innovation by a major innovator. All of Lasswell's great ingenuity has gone into these illuminating conceptions of buildings among which we live.... It is a "must" book for planners, social scientists, architects, ecologists, and all readers who care about our environment."
Daniel Lerner, International Cultural Foundation

"Our understanding of politics and governance is heightened by experiencing, observing, and interpreting architecture in the larger context of the impact of the complex interplay of the material and the symbolic, and of values and institutions on environmental design."
Richard C. Snyder, Ohio State University

"The numerous references and notes reflect the author's extensive acquaintance with a multitude of analytic traditions and with hosts of works on public artifacts and habitats across time and place."
David Cooperman, Contemporary Sociology

"The development of theory to bridge political and architectural thought is certainly needed, and this work provides a definitive link."
James M. Mayo, Jr., JAE

"The late Harold D. Lasswell has provided a fascinating and highly useful interpretation of the symbolic uses of architecture in numerous societies over many years. This work opens up new vistas for social scientists who may have been unaware of the importance of buildings as indicators of power relationships.... In many ways, this is one of the richest and most innovative works of Lasswell's later years."
Miriam Ershkowitz, The Journal of Politics

The Signature of Power: Buildings, Communications, and Policy

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