Building for the bad
Alexander Hosch looks at the uneasy marriage between autocrats and star architects
The politically correct architect of today is confronted with the
following kinds of questions. Can I glaze the towers of the new
headquarters of the Russian energy leviathan Gazprom with a
clean conscience? Should I abandon my construction sites in Thailand
because of the military putsch? How about buildings for squeaky clean
Western democracies erecting extra-territorial torture chambers in Cuba? There are, as we see, good reasons for architects to repress politics from time to time.
To treat building as a moral issue in these globalised times is no easy
matter. Is it really so objectionable to build luxury hotels in Dubai,
or a business HQ in St. Petersburg or an Olympic stadium in Beijing?
Fifteen of the twenty world's largest architectural firms have projects
in China. Almost all the stars are involved and many Germans are
providing the plans for model cities. As in the United Arab Emirates,
the insane tempo of the economy of world's fastest growing population
is having nasty side effects, the migrant workers have no rights and
are paid slave wages if at all. But China wants new cities. Abu Dhabi
wants a Louvre by Jean Nouvel and a Guggenheim by Frank Gehry. The recent Munich Expo Real was awash with XXL plans for Dubai. There too the leading firms and Pritzker prizewinners are up to their necks.
will always be possible to find an architect to do what you want. The
question of realism versus opportunism goes to the core of the
profession. A comprehensive guide to this can be found in Observer
journalist Deyan Sudjic's book "The Edifice Complex.
How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World" (Penguin 2005), which
demonstrates how consistently taste has won over justice. In the
history of construction, the masters of style were also set designers,
charged with brand-marking power. From Nebuchadnezzar in
Babylon to Nero, from the Popes and French kings to Hitler and Stalin,
not only tyrants but all leaders exercised power over the master
builders. The Chancellery in Berlin would have looked very different without Helmut Kohl. That goes for Peter Eisenman's Holocaust memorial as well. And the TrÃ¨s Grande BibliothÃ¨que of Paris is the very image of Mitterrand.