The architectural nature of many modern buildings has its roots in the phallic symbols employed by Ancient Near Eastern civilizations in the earliest fertility rites. Artistic manifestations of the phallus can be found from Tunisia to Mesopotamia to India and beyond in the form of sculpture and wall relief’s, and are frequently mentioned in ancient literature (the “sacred poles” of many Biblical accounts, for example). These representations originally served religious functions, in company with the famous fertility goddess statuettes of the ancient world and such other symbols of virility as the Minoan bull or Germanic rabbit.
As time passed, cultures rose and fell and new ways of thinking began to dominate the minds of ancient peoples. The phallus largely lost its religious significance with the rise and evolution of new world religions and systems of thought based on reason that transformed the ancient world. One of its last manifestations was the exaggerated phallus props worn by some Greek stage actors during the Classical Age – a tradition with roots in the Dionysian fertility rites of ancient Greek drama, but which gradually faded to merely an entertaining and comedic prop, and from there into nothing.
With the rise of world religions that highlighted the virtue of abstinence and disdained uninhibited sexuality – religions such as Christianity and Islam – the phallus as a symbol largely disappeared from conscious human thought, although the ancient obsession with fertility and the symbols associated with it lingered subtly in the fabric of the new societies that formed the precursor to today’s nation states. One need look no further than the Christian holiday of Easter, with its adoption of the pagan fertility symbols of the egg and the rabbit, for confirming evidence of the lasting imprint of sexual symbols upon the human consciousness.
With the dawn of the 20th century, as the human population began its steady increase and new societal systems – industrial production, for example – spawned technological possibilities unheard of merely a century previous, the stage was set for the reintroduction of that most ancient of human fertility symbols – the phallus. As man contemplated the construction of new megaliths for the practical purpose of conserving space in his ever-more-crowded cities, the phallus began to reassert itself in the form of a new concept – the skyscraper.
Naturally, the towering edifices that dominate the skylines of all major centers in our day serve practical purposes – in stacking people on top of one another (to use an unintentionally punny turn of phrase), space within crowded cities can be more easily conserved while accommodations for offices and studios can continue to be produced. And yet it is impossible to look at the skyscraper – that most modern symbol of progress in our century – without seeing in it a strong reminiscence of that most ancient of human symbols, the phallus, and its inextricable association with man’s subconscious respect for human virility.
The skyscraper’s towering height, its association with strength and power, and its shape all contain a rather Freudian element representative of the phallus and its connotations of male power and virility. Whether you see it or not, it’s there – the adoption of the ancient symbol out of regard for the subconscious psychological imprint, the legacy of our ancient ancestors, passed down to us along with the foundations of our civilization.