Starchitects’ Worries Over Building in Troubled Foreign Lands


In case you missed it, Robin Pogrebin had a really interesting piece in the NY Times entitled “Architects Debeate Building for Autocratic Clients.” It concerns that growing wave of questions being thrust at starchitects (or those soon to be) about their doing work for places like China and Dubai — in other words, places with some cash to throw around to build the kinds of crazy buildings these celebrity designers like to tinker with, but also making them deal with governments and countries whose human and civil rights histories might not be the greatest. So there’s a lot of discussion about things like KoolhaasCCTV building, which he’s already caught some flak about. There’s even a bit about Robert A.M. Stern winning the commission to design George W. Bush‘s presidential library in Texas, simply because of the pressures involved when you work in the US with an unpopular political figure. By and large, the lot of the starchitects defend themselves, offering up a whole slew of thoughts on why it’s a good thing to build within a possibly damaged system (or for the unpopular), thus allowing them to keep on doing what they’re doing. However, the other side of the argument doesn’t agree so much:

William Menking, the founder and editor of Architect’s Newspaper, wrote recently, “To suggest that providing high-quality design justifies working” in China “is slippery ethics.”

Albert Speer designing for Hitler might have said the same thing. His building itself is not political, but the act of building it, for a regime like that, is a political act.”