Guiding Question- How have repressive labor conditions produced prominent architectural expressions of freedom?
Slavery and labor have unfortunately gone hand in hand ever since the dawn of mankind. To avoid the oppressive conditions of their original countries, they strove to build new, better, and less constrained circumstances to live in. Yet this often came at the expense of people who didn’t really matter to the upper class. Slaves and other oppressed workers were a huge part in building structures like the Pyramids, the White House, and the Brooklyn Bridge. These architectural symbols of freedom and advancement were built in ways that somewhat contradicted the ideals behind the structure.
Between 20 and 30 thousand laborers were needed to construct the massive pyramids of Egypt (Sciencedaily.com). The pyramids were built as memorials to their pharos, or kings, to have a great place to rest in the afterlife. When marveling in the brilliance of the pyramids it’s easy to forget the sacrifice they were made from. For 23 years the pyramids of Giza were under construction and during that time an estimated several thousand workers died (but no death records were kept). One can confidently imagine that the people who built the structures didn’t love their leaders THAT much.
Moving on to the new world, America, the similarities in some structures are incredible. The White House was built as a place to house the president (originally called The President’s House). Yet did you know that the White House was built by slaves, oppressed by the government because of the way they were born? Where President Obama gave his inauguration speech used to be a tent city for slaves. Every citizen was granted so many new freedoms that had never been seen before in the old world, but apparently people forced from their quiet homes on another continent were allowed to be ordered around; enduring their awful living conditions and performing difficult labor because of where they were from. That doesn’t seem so “American”.
Another huge city symbolic of American ideals is New York City. Home to many of the world’s most famous architectural feats. One that may be overlooked as such a feat is the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1874 this “connector” was finally built by the men of Washington Roebling. Today it is used to connect Brooklyn and Manhattan and services millions upon millions of people with their daily commutes. These people mostly go to jobs where they work in offices for a while and get paid nice big salaries. Obviously many working class people use the bridge too but it is easy to say that their working conditions are much better then those experienced by those who built the bridge. Using what was considered modern technology advancements the workers were sent over 70 feet down into the river and told they were safe. Yet the people who informed them they were safe must have had to bite their tongue 20 to 30 times (estimated amount of laborer deaths during construction). From explosions, lack of air, and water break ins, laborers in these poor conditions were always at a severe risk of losing their life. Even the architect who designed the bridge died before its completion. Shouldn’t that have sent a message?
These amazing structures were, and still are, truly remarkable. The fact that the pyramids are still standing is just insane. The White House still serves as a symbol of hope for many around the world, and the Brooklyn Bridge provides easier transportation for millions and millions of New Yorkers each year. But clearly they came at a hefty price.