edifice complex

I thought I just heard US Rep Donna Shalala (D-FL) say on NPR that Donald Trump has an Oedipus complex. It gradually became clear that what she had actually said was “edifice complex”—which is pretty clever, but perhaps not a great choice of phrase for radio, where a slightly staticky signal could easily result in sounding like “Oedipus complex.”

At any rate, the joke is clever enough that I was surprised I hadn’t heard anyone else say it. So I did a web search on the phrase, and discovered that there’s a Wikipedia article about it. The phrase goes back much further than I’d have expected:

In the Philippines, the term “edifice complex” was coined in the 1970s to describe Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos’ practice of using publicly funded construction projects as political and election propaganda.

The phrase has, of course, also been applied to Trump, including in a New York Times opinion piece by Paul Krugman from December. But the joke’s connection to Trump goes back much further; in particular, a 2002 article about Trump et al selling the Empire State Building (I hadn’t known he had co-owned it!) has a headline that starts with the phrase “Complex Edifice.”

One Response to “edifice complex”

  1. Scott Knaster

    I’ve often heard a different meaning for “edifice complex” in Silicon Valley: what happens when a young company achieves some success and moves out of modest offices into an impressive, expensive building. This is usually followed by crashing failure, with the strong suggestion that the crash is due to hubris from the too-fancy building. So, a cautionary tale.


Join the Conversation