Architectural Form and Meaning

Analyzing Perceptual Cues of Power in the Design of Provincial Capitol Buildings in Mindanao, Southern Philippines

  • Nory Loyd Narvaez-Pernes University of the Philippines Mindanao
  • Mottie Idasanka P Santos University of the Philippines Mindanao


This study explored how tangible architectural objects represent the abstract concept of power. A semiological approach to form analysis was developed to speculate how this translation process happens between the signifier (architectural object) and signified (power). Eighteen buildings located in the provinces of Mindanao, Southern Philippines, were chosen as samples of institutions mediating power from the national government to the local government units. Aided by computer software, the data gathered on-site were drafted and translated into two-dimensional drawings. The drafted building forms were then analyzed through a five-phase semiological approach (i.e., object identification, visual sensation, form perception, meaning mediation, and meaning endowment). A survey was also conducted and given to 120 randomly selected residents from the study areas to gather and explore their perceptions on the social, historical, cultural, emotional, physical, conceptual, and behavioral influence of the provincial buildings. The results show how certain architectural components (e.g., columns, roof, and ceiling) create visual qualities (e.g., symmetry, axis, scale) and gestalt properties that coincide with the physical dimensions of power (e.g., dominance, stability, authenticity). At the conceptual level, at least three collective meanings of power were attributed by the public to the provincial buildings, including the nature of power (e.g., service, leadership, oppression), the function of power (e.g., social center, point of services), and metaphor for social identity (e.g., equality among citizens, “our province”).

Keywords: architecture · power · semiology · sign · symbol · visual quality

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