Architectural Classification of Memorials

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Memorials can be classified into various ways. Significant points that form the basis of classification can be identifies as:

  • Scope of audience
  • Permanence of the material
  • Evocation
  • Architecture

Memorials can be classified based on scope of audience in the following:

  • Public Memorial
  • Private Memorial

Memory is important to all human beings. All human beings preserve memorials in various forms. Human beings member their kin in the form of grave stories or Samadhi,etc. Persons of wide acclaim and known for important deeds are society commemorated by the society. This gives u two forms of memorials depending on the audience the memorial addresses. Private Memorials are limited to the smaller communities or smaller parts of the society, e.g. Thayillam family tower. Thayillam family tower is a tower remembrance erected by the family at Ayroor village in central Travancore, Kerla. The 32-foot tower has the names of 268 ancestors of the family spanning nine generations starting from 1600AD. Such memorials are rare as media other than architecture for preserving private memory are more popular and widespread.


What does actually make a memorial? By the virtue of which qualities do we call a structure a memorial? Are these qualities a measure of a structure being a memorial and functioning as one?

There are two main factors that go into the making of a memorial. These are the emotional factors and the architectural factors. Apart from the emotional aspects, it is the various architectural aspects, which are important in rendering a structure.

If the audience is directly hit by the event or is directly related to the person that the memorial commemorates the emotional factor becomes stronger than the architectural factor. However, the emotional factor diminishes or dies out with time (as generations pass) whereas the architectural features remain more permanent through time.

In public memorial, the entire society is the audience. Ideally, the memorial should express the view of the entire society and thus should address the whole society. Also the memorial has to be timeless i.e. to say it should be able to evoke the feeling in all the generations that it survives and live beyond its’ era. This is where architecture plays its part. Architecture becomes the medium of evoking the emotions attached to the event/person that the memorial commemorates.

Though memorials have a purpose, they often play certain different or added roles too. They may not be just a visual statement in the urbanscape but also a political and a historical statement. The following section throws some light on the functions, roles, symbolism, and the architectural principles the memorials are based on.


The prime function of a memorial is to commemorate an event or a person. This can be done through various mediums – architecture, art, sculpture, writings, lectures, etc. Commemoration of an event or a person is a very large term and the

Functions of various memorials can be further broken up into details.

  • Memorials are makers of memory
  • Memorials celebrate victory
  • Memorials mourn death
  • Memorials pay tribute or honour
  • Memorials express feelings
  • Memorials maintan history
  • Memorials display power
  • Memorials symbolize
  • Memorials are often national symbols

Life of a memorial can often be divided into phases. The impact of the memorial diminishes with time. When the memorial is made to commemorate an event, which has occurred recently it has the greatest impact possible. The impact of the memorial changes(diminishes usually) with advancing time, newer generations, change in sociopolitical order, culture, and other aspects. Over a period of time memorials become inert becoming more monuments, meager reminders of what happened in the past.

The three basic kinds of memorials are:

  • Memorials commemorating a person
  • Memorials commemorating an event
  • Memorials commemorating an emotion

These categories can be further divided identifiable types. These are:


Siting w.r.t the city fabric could be:

  • On the highway (en route)
  • In the natural surroundings (remote)

En route


Termination Point


Approach could be evaluated based on:

    1. Well defined
    2. Not so well defined
    3. Not defined
    1. Axial
    2. Bi-axial
    3. Spiral
    4. Indirect
    5. Radial
  • VIEW
    1. Direct
    2. Oblique
    3. Spiral
    4. Sequence of views
    1. Path object relation
    2. Path-goal relation(Termination of path w.r.t goal)
    1. Linear
    2. Centralized
    3. Radial
    4. Clustered
  • Sequence of Spaces

Based on:

  1. Hierarchy of spaces
  2. Flow of spaces
  3. Transitional spaces and elements
    1. Space within a space
    2. Inter-locking spaces
    3. Adjacent spaces
    4. Spaces linked by a common space
  • FORM

Form could be evaluated based on:

    1. Arrangement of the basic forms
    2. Nature of the form (additive or subtractive)
    1. Regular (centroidal or linear)
    2. Irregular
    1. Kind of enclosure
    2. Impact of form on space

Evaluated on the basis of:

    1. Human scale
    2. Monumental scale
    1. Existence of proportioning system and implication if any
    1. Symbolic content
    1. Associated values
    1. Associated values at the time of conception, when built, and in time
    1. Denotation
    2. Exemplification
    3. Metaphorical expression
    4. Mediated References

Memorials play various roles in the society or the urbanscape. These various roles played by memorials can be identified as:

  • Memorials as a political statement
  • Memorials as a historical statement
  • Memorials as a landmark

A memorial has always been and is the first and the foremost sign of power. History is a witness to the fact that only the mighty and rich have been commemorated in a big way and have been the ones behind those magnificent architectural manifestations. Monuments of any kind are an effort to immortalize man- to be celebrated by the future generations as a cultural testimony.

Anything – an object, an event of sheer faith - that is larger than life and has surer chances of survival has always fascinated human being and man has always tried to associate himself with such an object, event etc. in a monumental way. Miki Desai

Man has always tried to associate himself with something ‘that is larger than life’ and thus his efforts have been directed towards creating permanent architecture. This is one of the underlying causes of many memorials that have been erected all throughout history. Memorials are more or less governed by their need to be permanent. This fact has led to the immense use of stone, which is arguably one of the long lasting materials available, for memorials or for that matter of fact for any other form of architecture required being permanent.

Often memorials have been a means of self-propagation. When Bartolomeo Colleoni died, he left money to have a statue of himself erected in the main square at Venice. Apparently, unable to throw out the request altogether, the rulers of Venice decreed that th statue be placed in the second-best square.


Memorial mark history, are the milestones of history. Thus, history can never fade away. As said earlier memorials over a period become inert once the era has passed. After this point of time, the memorial becomes a mere historical milestone reminding the following generations.

Often memorials were made with the intention of leaving a mark behind for the coming generations, to be remembered longer than just the lifetime – an attempt to immortalize the person. Memorials serve as reminder of history and the present and help the new generations to learn from it.


Any memorial needs to be properly sited. If the memorial is not properly sited (properly located and has an appropriate context) it may be unable to have any impact on its audience. Siting is adjusted with respect to the city fabric. The memorial may be sited away from the city fabric or within the city fabric with each having it’s the own yielding.

One of the fine examples of good siting is the great Sanchi Stupa. King Ashoka very strategically and intelligently sited this whole complex (monasteries, temples, and stupas). Sanchi hill was located on an important crossing of road and river routes. Vidisha the ancient capital was just 7 kilometers away and was strategically situated along a major trade route joining the Patliputra and the western coastal ports.

Siting can be evaluated based on:

  • Siting w.r.t City Fabric

Which could be:

  1. Away from the city fabric
  2. Within the city fabric

The memorial sited away from the city fabric could be either of the following:

  1. On the highway( en route)
  2. In the natural surroundings(remote)

Rajiv Gandhi memorial which has been sited away from the city fabric lies on the highway and thus could be described en route. Devals of Badabagh (Jaisalmer area) could be described as a remote location, away in the natural surroundings.


The memorial sited within the city fabric could be:

  1. En route
  2. Junctional
  3. Termination Point

The Dandi Yatra Statue could be described as a memorial sited en route within the city fabric. India gate is a good example of a junctional siting while, the Jaipur column is a good example of termination point.


Symbolism in memorials can be explained as the symbolic content of the memorials. The form, scale, material, motifs or the total arrangement of form, space, approaches, landscape etc. in unison could be symbolic.

Symbolism of memorials on the other hand would be the perception of the memorial in totality by the audience it addresses. Every memorial will represent an idea or an emotion and could be associated with certain values and meanings. Though meanings may fluctuate from person to person, the essential value would remain pretty much constant.

Values and meanings of a memorial of a memorial could change with passing of time or with a shift of power. Thus the memorial may not be associated with same meanings and values as it may have been when it was built. For example, the Jaipur Column in New Delhi (located in Rashtrapati Bhawan forecourt) could be associated with Imperial rule, but today with a shift of power it stands merely as a memorial which marked the building of New Delhi. It evokes a feeling of respect from the masses instead of a feeling of resentment (towards the British rule), as it would have been in the times when it was built.


There are different ways in which the memorials may convey meanings, which depends on the choice made by the designer. The four different ways in which this can be done is:

  1. Denotation(direct)
  2. Exemplification (architecturally illustrating)
  3. Metaphorical Expression
  4. Mediated refrences

Memorials or parts of it may be often read literally or denoted directly. In the case of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. for example meanings are denoted by extracts from Lincoln’s Speeches Lincoln carved into its walls and by the presence of a large statue of Lincoln himself.

Memorials often play up certain properties to gain attention. The method relies upon architectural techniques and principles. Uses of strong axis, monumental scale, creating a sense of curiosity using the apt media are some of the methods that could be used. Lincoln memorial uses a solid-void rhythm on its east fascade drawing attention to its center and to the statue placed inside the building.

A more common means of conveying the meaning is its metaphoric expression. Most of the memorials make use of this means. The Lincoln memorial is treated as a kind of analogue temple, with Lincoln taking the place of a classical deity. In this case the metaphor is missed, the method is quite literally carved onto the wall above the statue : IN THIS TEMPLE AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE…


Based on:

  1. Evaluation of the symbolic content

based on:

  1. Interpretation of the memorial in totality
  2. Identifiable associated values

Based on:

  1. Associated values at the time of conception (designers intention)
  2. Associated values after the edifice has been built
  3. Associated values at the period of time
    1. Denotation
    2. Exemplification
    3. Metaphorical expression
    4. Mediated references


Memorials are an important part of a man’s society and urbanscape. They play an important role architecturally, politically, historically and society. The prime function is to express and they do it subtly yet very effectively. Architecture plays an important role in the expression of the memorial. The main features of the design of the memorial are:

  • Siting
  • Approach
  • Space
  • Form
  • Scale
  • Symbolism

How and where the memorial is located is important for the design of the memorial. A memorial is a strong visual statement and thus needs to attract attention so that it can convey what it stands for. This can be done in two possible ways - either by siting the memorial at a strategic location where it is possible for it to gain that attention or having a monumental scale such that the memorial makes a powerful visual statement or in other words attains that character of monumentality. Ideally, it would be best for a memorial to have a strategic location and have a grand scale,but both scale nd siting can be used to complement each other. Often monumentality is attained ina a memorial by clearly isolating it from other options.

Scale is also s device of signification, a means of denoting supremacy, power, or simplicity. Monumental scales attempt to overpower the visitor through the effect can be underplayed by using certain materials and other features such as the landscape depending on the intent. A simple human scale is more comprehendible for the visitor enabling him to relate to the memorial.

Transition is important for the memorials to make an impact on the visitore totals’ mind and to derive total attention. This is done through approach, which act as transitional spaces that would allow the visiotr to change the frame of mind. Often te whole space has a certain sequence of appearance with identifiable transition elements and spaces. Often memorials are marked by evident hierarchy and a gradual flow of spaces.

Forms used for memorials are symbolic. Most of them over a period have been imbibed with certain meanings, while there is also an ongoing process of innovating newer forms vested with meanings. Forms like obelisks, triumphal arches, columns, statues are famous forms of memorials. Architectural and art movements result in newer forms for memorials. Abstract sculptures a newer form of memorials came in use after their use in art since early 20th century.

Most significant factor of the design of a memorial is its symbolism, the very factor that makes it distinct from other pieces of architecture, symbolism is used to convey the emotions or other non-physical aspects, which form the origin of that particular memorial. Symbolism is the invisible interactive part of the memorial. Symbolism in memorials can be identified as inherent symbolism, which comes through the use of form, scale, materials, location, orientation, etc. and non-inherent symbolism, which appears in form of messages on plaques or other media and are uually imbibed into the designer. A memorial uses certain symbolswhich are often common and hold same meanings for everyone e.g. the inveted rifle capped with a soldier’s hemet in the war memorials indicates the unknown soldier. The memorial may display its symbolic aspects in various ways. These could be a direct denotation, architecturally illustrated or a metaphorical expression.

Design of the memorial reflects the intention of te memorial. Often memorials are deceptive and the visible intent of the memorial is not its actual intent. Sepulchral monumnets or memorials honouringthe dead are often made by the succecors, indicating more often their authority than the ritual to honor the dead predecessor. Memorials, in the days of the viewpoint and authority of those in power on their masses. Today with democracy as the predominant form of the political order in the world and strong emotions of nantionalism among citizens, th memorials too have changed their behavior. They are often vested with interests concerning the whole the whole society than those few in the power. This is not to say that memorials are not a means of displaying authority, but that there is a significant change in their use. In additon, there is a significant relation between memorials and politics.

Th changing times have also had an impact on memorials. With the rapid urban agglomerations, memorials have been made to come out and decorateour road intersections. This could be rated as a sight’degradation’ in the design of the memorialson one hand and as a means to decide the importance of the memorials on the other. As has been already discussed how important it is for memorials too have transitional spaces and elements, which create the certain ambience and the visitors, undergo an experience. The siting of te memorials on roundabouts lacks this property. The experince is incomplete as the transition time is cut down phenomenally. Thus, these memorials become mere ornaments of our urbanscpae devoid of their basic properties, which their counterparts possess. This trend could be argued as a means of deciding the importance of the memorials, but that would be discriminatory and cannot be entertained. Arguably, this trend is not new in the urban design and has been followed throughout history, but it must be pointed out that th modes of tranport wer also slower than todays’.