Sunday, June 22, 2008

Political Ethics and Architecture

The NYTimes has an article about the ethics of architects who work for countries where democracy or people's rights are repressed. Daniel Libeskind (he designed the horrendous Crystal at the ROM in Toronto) says he 'won't work for totalitarian regimes' at an event in Northern Ireland. which apparently led the debate into whether it is ethically or politically correct to work for countries like Dubai, Abu Dhabi or China etc.

Basically the two sides are:
A. It is wrong to work with countries that are not nice to their own people defined by westerners. On the micro scale, the local people who actually construct the buildings are treated inhumanely. On the macro-scale some liken it to building for Hitler or things like Versailles.
B. The flip side is that the architects who work in these countries say that the buildings may inspire hope, change, new ideas etc. Also, the more pragmatic thinking is that if the regime/government/leaders like your design, it won't be changed by neighbours or rival politicians or funding cuts. Basically, the purity and true design exists as is which obviously makes the architect happy.

My view: Aren't almost all great architecture built by totalitarian regimes? Don't Kings and Queens and wealthy families build shrines, monuments, homes to impress and suppress everyone else? If you look back in history, most things that amaze or impress us were created by self-centered people who wanted the world to know how great they are, particularly buildings. It all about ego. And who has more ego than people who have control of the lives of millions of people?

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