The Kirkpatrick Chapel on the Old Queens campus

In the following work which analyzes the use of architecture and public space in creating a narrative that describes our environment the work of three authors will be used. The work of Paul R. Jones “The Sociology of Architecture and the Politics of Building: The Discursive Construction of Ground Zero” will inform the essay. Also, “Mapping monuments: the shaping of public space and cultural identities” by Nuala C. Johnson and the text “What Buildings Do” by Thomas F. Gieryn will also be worked with to create an informative essay.

The Kirkpatrick Chapel is a monumental structure that serves as a nondenominational chapel and therefore has been an attractive site due to the rich history portrayed by the symbolism of the structure. The interest the chapel strikes in visitors is astounding as a majority of them seek to learn more about the structure. It is possible that the location of the chapel together with other facilities that surround it harness its value to visitors. Given that it is located at the top of a hill, it facilitates a great view of the Raritan River which contributes to the worth of the structure in informing about design and public space. Structures are said to stabilize social life; this is according to Thomas Gieryn. He also asserts that social institutions gain structure, persistence patterns of behavior and become durable to social networks. As such, the Kirkpatrick chapel is seen to stabilize social life in the university where it is located. The Kirkpatrick Chapel architecture informs a lot about design and public space, with its rich history it serves to direct that buildings form identities which are shaped by people’s history. The ground the Kirkpatrick Chapel is built is a historic ground on its own. It is believed that at this spot, Alexander Hamilton was able to delay the British Troops across Raritan River with heavy horse artillery. Thus the concept derived from this is that design and public spaces act as landmarks that carry historical and geographical significance which reinforces social memory. The presence of other historic sites around the chapel shows that building and spaces can gain greater importance depending on the surrounding structural elements. The presence of a museum and a train station increase the value of the chapel as visitors have a variety of options


Buildings are a reconstruction of history, they are created to commemorate memories, and therefore the design and space used for a memorial structure is of significance. As such, there is a significant relationship between buildings and history. Historically, it is found that collective identities are expressed through architecture by political institutions. It has been one of the fundamental methods used to show collective identities for many centuries. Historical, political information has for long been preserved through structures that permeate through time and pass on the message to generation. Thus space and designs significantly promote historical ideas as it provides both physical and symbolic expression of a historical event. The Kirkpatrick Chapel also connects history ideas by being a structure that is based on the memory of a historical figure. Additionally, its use and purpose have changed over the decades with its initial goal completely changing. From being a place of worship to serving as a library and eventually an area for conducting various activities.  Therefore, one can perceive that the environment surrounding the chapel has historically changed and thus causing a change to the uses of the chapel.

The process of assigning historical meaning to spaces and buildings has a long history, and it is one of the main concern for designers when trying to ascribe historical significance to structures. Paul R. Jones states that “states use landmark buildings to supplement the historical narrative of collective memory.” According to him, one of the most significant values of architecture is being able to express collective identities. The development of national code can be partly attributed to the construction of landmark building as historically, states have used the structures to showcase their national identity. The idea expressed by Jones corresponds to the concept advanced by Nuala Johnson that public structures are not merely aesthetic figures to fill public places, but there is a structural, cultural and political meaning attached. He argues that spaces have a purpose and that they denote a physical location and at the same time provide a point of interpreting historical occurrences.


Design and symbolism are significant elements in structures as they carry immense meaning tied to the structure. The history of a building and the people is explained by the design and symbol of an architectural structure. As such symbols represent a particular event in history which the people can connect to and derive meaning. The symbolism of design and is meant to retain memory to the people who identify with the event. Nuala Johnson asserts that memory is not only the remembrance of past events, but it is also contained in locations, and perceived in bronze and masonry. The history of a building and the people are represented through the performance of remembrance rituals and observance of acts that relate to the purpose of the structure. Similarly, Thomas Gieryn identifies that structures are not autonomous forces, but there is a mutual relationship between them and people. The structures shape social structures as they are external forces.


Tradition plays a crucial role in architectural structures as they are exposed to many rituals by the community interacting with the structure. For example, the engraving stones of Kirkpatrick Chapel have a special place in the hearts of the alumni of Rutgers University. Given that every graduating class places an engraving stone at the chapel, then the university has set a tradition that is tied to the structure. The role of such a tradition emphasizes the importance of the building and makes it have a continuous significance to the society where it is located. Traditions create a social bond between a structure and the people; society finds a significant purpose of a building when they can draw social fulfillment from it. Tradition also allows people to connect by engaging in an activity related to the structure. Therefore, the traditions held by people are essential in perpetuating the value of architectural structure that may otherwise lose meaning if there is not much association between them and the people.


Design and space have a strong association with a community and collective identity as it is used to drive symbolic recognition that reinforces collective identity. Communities are increasingly becoming fragmented and as such, common identities are now more fluid. Therefore there is a need to create national elements that do not favor any particular identity but form a collective identity. In this period when efforts to stabilize identity is impeded by community disintegration, there is need to use design and space to create symbolic structures that reinforce the diversity and at the same time promote collective identity. Hence, design and space find a significant application in community and collective identity ideas.


Public space and architecture are essential in informing about the surrounding environment. Structures are informative on so many levels as they commemorate memories and therefore reconstruct histories. Since structures are often based on historical events or grounds, public spaces are rich in history and thus create a strong connection with people. Public spaces and designs also form collective social identities since they can accentuate different cultures that promote collective identity. People find a strong attachment to architecture as they can give them symbolic meaning through traditions that are significant to the community. Design and space play a crucial role in the society mainly because physical and symbolic meaning that can be interpreted by people.



Gieryn, Thomas F. “What buildings do.” Theory and society31.1 (2002): 35-74.

Johnson, Nuala C. “Mapping monuments: the shaping of public space and cultural identities.” Visual communication 1.3 (2002): 293-298.

Jones, Paul R. “The sociology of architecture and the politics of building: The discursive construction of Ground Zero.” Sociology 40.3 (2006): 549-565.