When Zaha Hadid, architect of Qatar’s major stadium for the 2022 World Cup, was asked about the deaths of hundreds of Indian and Nepalese migrant workers who reportedly died in connection with construction work, she responded:
“I have nothing to do with the workers; it’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.”
The architect’s disavowal of social responsibility seems almost unremarkable today, but once upon a time architecture was driven by a moral imperative, a belief that rational, efficient buildings could provide as many people as possible with a home and even transform the world.
According to architect and theorist Rainier de Graaf, architecture has instead become a story of compromise and banal setbacks, governed by commercial interests at the expense of public good.
The profession has always been fuelled by a collective sense of grandeur; young architects graduate with what de Graaf describes as near-megalomaniacal ambitions, omnipotent fantasies of being able to, quite literally, construct the world. The reality they encounter, however, is far more prosaic.
“It’s often considered an elevated art form, above everything else, when of course the reality is it’s amidst everything else,” says de Graaf, the author of Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession.
“Architecture, like everything else, is very much a product of the circumstances in which it is produced.
“Basically we’re talking about a discipline that isn’t autonomous.”
De Graaf believes most architects still produce stylistically “modern” buildings, but it’s a modern architecture devoid of its original intent, untethered from social responsibility and the dream of a decent standard of living and affordable housing for all.
This architecture remains cheap, efficient and rational, but it’s in the service of profits rather than people.
“The logic of a building no longer primarily reflects its intended use but instead serves mostly to promote a generic desirability in economic terms. Judgement of architecture is deferred to the market,” de Graaf says.
Architecture as an agent of inequality
Reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital, de Graaf was struck by the parallels between Piketty’s economic analysis and the progression of architectural history. The 1970s, he suggests, marked a decisive turning point in the history of architecture and housing.
“In 1972 the Pruitt-Igoe public housing estate in St Louis is demolished, an event that critics generally herald as the end of modern architecture and, on a larger scale, the end of modern utopian visions for the city,” he says.
“Through the general deployment of the term ‘real estate’, the definition of the architect is replaced by that of the economist.
“There may ultimately be no such thing as modern or post-modern architecture, but simply architecture before and after its annexation by capital.”
As a result, architecture has increasingly become a subject of protest.
Originally Published by ABC News, continue reading here.