All Pritzker Prize winners. All named in the Human Rights Watch’s new report on violations of basic workers’ rights in the document The Island of Happiness Exploitation of Migrant Workers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. One of eight Pritzker winners of all time. They are supposed lions of our industry. They are supposedly shining stars, not mere functionaries of capital. Not just massive corporate juggernauts who are fairly honest in their lack of scruples. These are not architects known for building prisons, animal testing facilities, or cockfighting rings (like a problematic example from another Pritzker winner). And yet the chickens come home to roost on their doorsteps, too.
I certainly cannot cast the first stone. And I’m sure very few architects who build can. But we have to come to grips with this. What we do can make us fat wholly in the service of people who exploit others. Or it can be in service of humanity alone – and with very few exceptions, we will starve. How do we bridge this divide? How can we change the current modes of production that set human rights and profits at odds? How do we, as problem solvers and team-builders take it upon ourselves to push an agenda of not just the pablum “change” – but of reform?
We need to turn every stone. For example, we need do come to terms not just with the environmental impact of the materials we specify, but with their impact on the people who handle them. We need to come to terms not just with slave wages in developing countries, but with the prison industrial complex in our own. Architects are idealists and optimists, even if they won’t admit it or do not seem to be such. So we need to foment a movement wherein architects are not disposable in the construction process, and can set the agenda of fairness and sustainability in construction and the conceptualization of the edification of the expressions of modern capital called buildings. We need novel and groundbreaking solutions, not just incremental improvements.
Please – tell me your thoughts. What are the possibilities of sustaining our monetary livelihoods while enriching the practice of architecture, and in the process bringing the least hurt to the fewest people that we can? I am certain there are ways, I know that we can make doing right a viable free market choice. How do we bridge this gap?
I put my voice out there to try and begin the dialog. I want to hear yours too – architect or not – you have something to say.