In Hot Water

Junya Ishigami’s use of unpaid interns draws criticism after Serpentine selection

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Junya Ishigami's proposal for the 2019 Serpentine Pavilion resembles both a cave as well as a billowing canopy of stone. (Courtesy Junya Ishigami + Associates)
Junya Ishigami's proposal for the 2019 Serpentine Pavilion resembles both a cave as well as a billowing canopy of stone. (Courtesy Junya Ishigami + Associates)

Junya Ishigami, this year’s Serpentine Pavilion designer, has come under fire after an Architect’s Journal report brought the Tokyo-based Junya Ishigami + Associates’ internship policy to light.

A student who reached out to the firm to apply for an internship reportedly told the Journal that they would be expected to work six days a week, from 11 AM to midnight, for free and would have to supply their own computer and accompanying software. The internship would last for 8 to 12 weeks, “or longer,” according to emails reviewed by the Journal.

Prospective interns would also be on their own in relocating to Japan and in acquiring a visa. The student ultimately decided not to apply, citing the extreme workload and high price of living in Tokyo.

Headshot of Junya Ishigami

Japanese architect Junya Ishigami will be the 19th pavilion designer since 2000. (Courtesy Junya Ishigami + Associates)

Unpaid internship culture is still pervasive in Japan, but a number of British organizations have come out against the practice, including the Serpentine Gallery. A Serpentine spokesperson told the Journal that they weren’t aware of Ishigami + Associates’ use of unpaid labor and would be looking into the situation. Additionally, they noted that “the Serpentine only supports paid positions on all of its projects and commissions, and is a London Living Wage employer.”

This isn’t the first time a Japanese Serpentine Pavilion designer has drawn flak for using unpaid interns. The 2013 pavilion architect, Sou Fujimoto, was accused of doing the same and defended himself in Dezeen, saying that “in Japan we have a long history of interns and usually the students work for free for several periods. It’s a nice opportunity for both of us: [for the employer] to know younger generations and for them to know how architects in Japan or different countries are working.”

AN has reached out Junya Ishigami + Associates for comment and will update this article accordingly.

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