“It demonstrates what can happen when talented architects are allowed to practice their craft uninhibited by creative restrictions (or, to be fair, by the high labor costs of most developed societies).”
-- Nicolai Ouroussoff,on Steven Holl Architects’ Vanke Center in Shenzhen, China
(The New York Times, June 27, 2011)
Who Builds Your Architecture? emerges in part from two recent petitions:Who’s Building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi? and Who’s Building the Global U?
Both initiatives have been organized by artists, scholars, and
activists and have garnered little engagement from the architectural
With architects building globally – often disconnected from their own cultural and political contexts – what is their responsibility toward the workers who construct their buildings? Frequently designed by star architects from far away, dazzling towers, university campuses, museums, and office complexes are rising in the United Arab Emirates, the Near and the Far East, but where do the workers who build them come from? Where do they live, and what is their legal status? This panel probes whether the architect’s “uninhibited creative expression” is dependent on cheap labor performed by seasonal laborers, and what the ethical possibilities of new technologies might be that are transforming design and engineering but also reduce manual labor-intensive construction methods.
Organized by the Vera List Center in collaboration with Kadambari Baxi (Barnard College), Mabel O. Wilson (Columbia University GSAPP) and curator and writer Beth Stryker, Who Builds Your Architecture? examines the links between construction practices and workers’ rights, and provokes broader questions about contemporary forms of globalization where architecture takes central stage. The panelists reflect on how architects imagine their role, particularly on how their buildings may transform society not just through their physical forms but through the ways in which they are constructed and used.Moderator:
- Reinhold Martin, Director, The Buell Center, GSAPP, Columbia University
- Peggy Deamer, principal, Deamer Studios, and Professor, School of Architecture, Yale University
- Fred Levrat, principal, ARX New York
- Andrew Ross, professor, Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University
- Bill Van Esveld, Senior Researcher in the Middle East & North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch
* Presented on the occasion of the Vera List Center’s 2011-2013 focus theme “Thingness.”
Image credit: Construction workers on Saadyit Island, Abu Dhabi, 2009. Photo courtesy of Samer Muscati, Human Rights Watch