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Junya Ishigami cancels MIT lecture over unpaid internship pushback

The proposed interior of the 2019 Serpentine Pavilion, which has been envisioned as a canopy of stone. (Courtesy Junya Ishigami + Associates)

The fallout over Junya Ishigami’s use of unpaid intern labor continues, as the Japanese architect canceled a lecture originally scheduled for April 18 at MIT over the issue.

In March, it came out that Ishigami, who had been chosen to design this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, was recruiting unpaid interns to work 13 hour days, 6 days a week. On Instagram, Adam Nathaniel Furman revealed that prospective interns were also expected to supply their own computers and software, and that the firm would be unable to help prospective interns relocate to Tokyo for the 8-to-12-week internship.

After facing harsh blowback online, the Serpentine Gallery stepped in to announce that it was unaware of the practice at the time of Ishigami’s selection and would require Junya Ishigami + Associates to pay anyone working on the pavilion.

The news quickly sparked a discussion over unpaid labor, and a number of other studios defended their decision not to pay interns, or to admit their culpability.



Ishigami + Associates has stayed silent on the matter and refused a request for comment when the news originally broke. According to Archinect, students and faculty at MIT had viewed the lecture on April 18 as a chance to ask the firm about the controversy and wanted to schedule a separate event to discuss the issue. The studio demanded that there be no Q&A session at the original talk, which was to have been an account of its work, and declined to participate in a secondary discussion. Ishigami + Associates ultimately canceled the original event.

On April 25, the Architecture Lobby released a statement on unpaid internships to Archinect.

“Meanwhile,” the open letter reads, “as recently reported by Dezeen, Karim Rashid insists that unpaid internships are a ‘fork of furthering education.’ Rashid offers a four-month unpaid internship in his office, justified by his claim that ‘an intern can learn in three months more than a year or two of education, and education in USA is costing that student $60,000 to $100,000 a year,’ making universities, in his view, ‘far more’ exploitative.

“There is no lesser evil in worker exploitation and a prohibitively expensive education system, and there is plenty of work to be done in fighting to change both.”

The full statement can be read here.

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