In recent history, global urban areas have become increasingly homogenized. Instead of each major city having its own unique feel, global cities are all starting to look the same, whether they are located in the global north or the global south. Thanks to globalization, architectural styles and components are not restricted to certain areas, but can be sent across the world in a very short time. This has allowed cities of the global south to build shiny new buildings in a largely successful attempt to look like cities of the global north. Globalization has also spread certain ideas from the global north about transportation, housing, and lifestyles, which can all affect the form of a city.
Today, cities want to have icons to distinguish themselves from the mass of homogenized global cities. Many older cities are lucky and can rely on older icons to fulfill this function. For some cities, the surrounding landscape can serve as an icon. These cities are usually surrounded by mountains, a harbor, or both. The landscape can be enhanced with constructed monuments, like the Cristo Redentor statue in Rio de Janeiro on top of a mountain. Very old cities can rely on historical monuments to serve as icons. Rome, for example, has the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica, Paris has Notre Dame, and Athens has the Acropolis. Other cities can rely on not just individual buildings as icons, but whole districts of the city. Some of these cities include Miami Beach, which has the Art Deco District, and New Orleans, which has the French Quarter.
In the 19th century, the idea of creating constructed icons for a city started becoming more popular. A city could choose what represented it to the world. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was constructed to serve as the centerpiece for the World’s Fair, and is now the most well known icon of the city. As more time progressed, the skyscraper quickly became the ideal icon, for both cities and corporations. The Chrysler Building in New York City represented both Chrysler and the city to the people around the world who were awe-struck by its art deco elegance.
After World War II, global cities really began to focus on the construction of icons as a way to brand and distinguish themselves. Skyscrapers remained a popular choice for this, such as the Shard and the Gherkin in London, the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco, Taipei 101, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. For some cities, the skyline, instead of individual buildings, can serve as an icon. The best example of this is New York City, whose skyline contains many iconic skyscrapers, including the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the new One World Trade Center. Other types of buildings, not just skyscrapers, can serve as icons as well, like the Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai and the Sydney Opera House. Certain infrastructure can also become iconic, especially bridges. Because they connect the city to the outside world and bring people in, bridges are often iconic. The Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, Tower Bridge, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and many others serve as icons for their cities.