Posts tagged with "Labor Issues":
While architectural workers have attempted to unionize before and other varieties of unions like the construction-sector UCATT have tried to attract architects to join them, no effort has ever come to fruition quite like SAW. The breadth of professionals enveloped and supported by SAW, from architects to BIM technicians and cleaners, are using this platform to help support each other and therefore support their industry from top to bottom. “It will transform the environment in which we work, encouraging and empowering us all to step up and speak out to confront systemic social injustices and inequality, climate breakdown and biodiversity loss,” said SAW, asserting that unionization will allow architects and their firms to focus on the projects that really matter, rather than who stays at their desk the latest.
After protests broke out in September of last year where Turkish police used violence against the workers, the situation drew international attention and received criticism from Human Rights Watch. With more eyes on the scene, it was confirmed this January that 55 people had died during construction, though AJ has found that the actual number could be as high as 400 or more. Over the last few months, the architecture firms involved with the airport have continued to promote the project despite rumors of the workers’ conditions. Posts have gone up on social media, design work has been exhibited, and the projects have been entered for further awards. AJ questioned whether this was ethically appropriate given the deaths on-site, posing the question, “What do the workers who endured life in ‘the cemetery’–as the project was nicknamed–think of the involvement of the international architects?” Eyal Weizman, founder of Forensic Architecture, told AJ the profession has a major problem in its constant push for publicity and larger-scale megaprojects. Global contemporary architecture, he said, exists in a disturbing “pharaonic dimension.” “These projects are made mainly for the affluent sections of society and are built by a poorer migrant workforce under grueling conditions and schedules,” said Weizman. “A building like this should be a monument or a memorial. It should be dedicated to the casualties that its architecture and its delivery demanded.”
#Turkey: Unions report 38 people died building the new Istanbul airport.Behind the glass and steel of President Erdogan’s newest mega-project, 30 construction workers and a union leader are sitting in jail for protesting poor working conditions https://t.co/NnUASIrSx1 🇹🇷 pic.twitter.com/l6TvubHk5z — Human Rights Watch (@hrw) October 29, 2018
The 2018 Global Slavery Index estimated that 24.9 million people around the world are enslaved in forced labor. Although the practice underpins much of the global 21st-century building economy—for example, the index noted that of all imports to the United States that are at risk of being produced under conditions of modern slavery, timber was the fifth largest by value—its invisibility to many in the U.S. has kept the issue from attracting widespread professional attention.
But as consumers become more concerned with where their pants are being made, who grows their coffee beans, and their electricity use, it’s reasonable to expect them to demand that the architecture they inhabit is realized without slave labor, too. The U.S. garment industry—which last year imported $47 billion worth of slave-produced pieces from China, India, Thailand, and Vietnam, among other countries—has been slowly responding to awareness around its corrupt supply chains, and the New Canaan, Connecticut–based Grace Farms Foundation (GFF) wants the building industry to be next.
The design world was recently clued in to the grave issue of labor justice when the late Zaha Hadid said she had “nothing to do” with the hundreds of migrant workers who died on the construction sites of World Cup facilities in Qatar. Many were outraged. Ambassador (ret.) Luis C.deBaca, a senior justice adviser at GFF with expertise in disrupting contemporary slavery and a Robina Fellow at Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, said the initial activism that stemmed from controversial megaprojects in the Gulf States shed light on a broader problem in the industry.
“For many in the human rights community, Hadid’s tone-deaf response to the plight of those workers laboring on World Cup projects not only symbolizes the profession’s abdication of responsibility,” C.deBaca said, “but is proof of an ivory-tower nihilism that undercuts architecture’s claim to leadership in designing for community as opposed to wealth.”
C.deBaca is part of an expanding working group of high-profile construction and design professionals, scholars, human rights experts, and industry association leaders gathered by Sharon Prince, GFF president and cofounder, and AN editor-in-chief Bill Menking. To address exploitation in building supply chains, the two brought together many of the principals of the firms that designed and built Grace Farms to educate the industry and develop better practices. They aim to create a LEED-like score sheet to evaluate forced labor’s role in buildings and products, as well as guidelines on how to infuse antislavery language into design briefs, competition rules, contracts, and more.
“It is time to recognize our responsibility,” Prince said, “and subsidizing construction projects with forced labor on job sites is only half of the slavery issue. Illuminating forced labor in building material supply chains, that design teams specify, has not yet begun. We must turn our attention to the built environment and eradicate modern slavery’s permanent imprint.”
To do this, the team is promoting total transparency from the ground up (and even from below the ground; 4 percent of forced labor occurs in the global mining industry, per the International Labour Organization). Brad Guy, former chair of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Materials and Resources Technical Advisory Group, recently joined GFF’s initiative. He’s also a member of the AIA Materials Knowledge Working Group and is developing a pledge that will try to channel interest in the environmental and social impact of building materials. This includes spreading the word on the “dirty dozen”: bricks, copper, electronics, fiber and textiles, glass, granite, gravel, iron, minerals, precursor chemicals, tin, rubber, steel, and stone. He said these often-specified materials are at risk of being sourced unethically on job sites around the world.
“I’m pretty sure that most people would not consciously choose to purchase these building products if they were the product of forced or child labor,” Guy said. “The core of an architect’s standard of care is the health, safety, and welfare of the public, and the point of incorporating human rights as a fundamental criterion in the production of buildings and materials is for that reason.”
According to Nat Oppenheimer, executive vice president of structural engineering firm Silman, highlighting a tight list of materials can help clarify how much easier it has become to track their origins. “It can change the frame for the design community, hopefully motivating others to ask about other materials and start doing their own research, which in turn may spur further innovation on tracking technology and the creation of new clean versions,” Oppenheimer said.
Though the Grace Farms Foundation Architecture + Construction Working Group, as it’s officially called, has been active for only a year, its efforts are moving forward quickly thanks to the diligence of its members and, in part, because there is already substantial awareness out there. “We’re seeing increasing government regulation around the world, whether in specific modern slavery legislation, such as in Australia and the United Kingdom, or in broader business and human rights initiatives coming out of the European Union and the United Nations,” said C.deBaca, who led the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons during the Obama Administration. “Anyone doing projects overseas or who has multiple offices, or even who sources materials from outside of the U.S., needs to know about this problem.”
So the team is busy spreading the news. Oppenheimer and C.deBaca will present their work at the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering Congress in New York this September, while Deborah Berke, also a member of the working group, is planning a spring series of discussions on the topic at the Yale School of Architecture. Hayes Slade, 2019 president of AIA NY, and Benjamin Prosky, AIA NY executive director, will host a meeting to discuss existing antislavery laws and the more than 45 ethical product and materials certifications or reporting mechanisms that can be applied in the U.S. alone.
“As architects, it’s impossible to look at our work from the products selected to the job site to the completed project and not think about how it all came together,” said Slade. “We are also at a point where information is more readily available and so our expectations and aspirations for transparency are increasing.”
It’s an achievable goal, Prince believes, to get more people on board and boost consciousness of the issue in a short amount of time. She says it will take a serious communication and organization strategy, and that’s why the more experts involved, the better.
“This is an opportunity for industry leaders to use their design and construction wherewithal for significant humanitarian effect through the material procurement and specification process,” Prince said. “And we want to find new projects to test this on. Perhaps Amazon’s new HQ2 in Crystal City, Virginia, is a good place to start since they have distinctly made a commitment to responsible sourcing and developed one of the most sophisticated data platforms that could be tuned to illuminate and audit the building material supply chain. We’re looking for that kind of dedication.”
Sydney Franklin is a member of the GFF Architecture + Construction Working Group, of which AN’s editor-in-chief William Menking is a cofounder. Read more about the group's efforts to end modern slavery in architecture here.
When you next see someone using a mobile phone—in the street or in a country lane, on a bus or a plane—go up to this person and ask, ‘Where are you going?’… and if the reply is ‘I’m going to my office,’ on no account say, ‘But you are already in your office.’
—David Greene, Archigram, 1999
Here, Archigram’s David Greene concludes a polemical argument for a 21st-century architecture liberated from market capitalism by its technologically enabled transience. For Greene, the then-still-not-ubiquitous—nor smart—mobile phone held the potential to untether global financiers from a fixed place of work materialized in architecture.
Almost 20 years later, rereading this fable, we find its uncanny prescience accurately describes our current condition. A combination of economic pressures and accelerated technologies has transformed virtually every inch of the planet, public and private, into an office. We never leave the office. Every profession has been subjected to the tether of the phone, and those, such as architecture—already defined by its culture of late nights and long hours—ever more so. It is a culture into which generations of architects have been initiated in school. Yet until recently, it has been little questioned. Students are expected to arrive to final reviews with the minimum possible sleep. Recent grads flock to offices that offer the benefits of “free dinner” and paid taxi rides home when the workday extends to benchmark hours late into the evening and night. As ethical imperatives have entered into architectural practices (piggybacking on environmental considerations), exploitation, environmental and human, and physical and immaterial labor become issues we can no longer ignore.
Peggy Deamer’s The Architect as Worker asks us to address these concerns, to unflinchingly consider the way we work, concomitant with the systems of labor that we enable. Following on the heels of two other edited volumes she published on the economic and social structures that define the profession, this 250-page book with 17 contributors is a denser and more polemical exploration of the protocols and practices that structure the labor of architectural design and construction. Deamer has organized the texts into five sections that consider the relation of architecture and labor in theory and in practice. The perspectives traverse the broader issues of defining immaterial labor to discipline-specific speculations that suggest new models for the profession. Fittingly, the essays begin with the implication for the university and end with practice. Some of the essays are more philosophical (Franco Berardi), others historical (Richard Biernacki, Andreas Rumpfhuber), or contemporary and pragmatic (Deamer, Neil Leach, and Phillip Bernstein). Though the sections do not specifically seek to respond to each other, the connections and resonances that emerge between essays are some of the more satisfying moments in the book.
Whereas Berardi’s contribution brings our consciousness to the exploitation labor of the academic, Daniel van der Velden and Vinca Kruk of Metahaven do so through a drift through various observations on design culture and its attendant value-added design surfaces as commodity objects and their relation on politics and society.
Far from a rant about low pay and long hours (not that these conditions aren’t substantiated as a genuine problem) or a what-if exposé on the “submission of knowledge to economics,” the essays collectively look at the larger shift in how work has changed in a post-Fordist economy. The tone remains positive as some of the essays pose alternatives (solutions) to the current conditions, while others explore the underlying structures of the discipline in an enlightening and shocking depth (Pier Vittorio Aureli, Mabel Wilson, Jordan Carver, Kadambari Baxi), revealing the global network of actors involved in even the smallest of projects. We are left with the uncertain awareness that the information age is also a knowledge economy—and therefore a commodity, like any other.
Some essays manage to do both, such as Leach’s The (ac)Cred(itation) Card, which offers a rethinking of educational models to address the ironic disconnect between accreditations boards’ ever-tightening grip on disciplinary educational and licensing criteria while the professional as such is increasingly marginalized in the building industry and the minimum basic educational standards are increasingly irrelevant or insufficient for students. As well, Deamer’s own essay is both a broad survey of the history of artisanal work and an exploration of the transformation of architectural work by the knowledge economy. For Deamer, the shifting of the architect from object designer to project designer offers an opportunity to change the compensation structure for firms and individuals.
Rather than devolving into a solipsistic rumination, the essays collectively ask us to shift not the way we work, but how we conceptualize our contribution and place in the global economy. The book provides a mounting argument against architecture as a “calling” (page 61), revealing the exploitation we have been subjected to as well as that which we have indirectly subjected others to. Given the density of the text and imagistic duotone cover photo, one wonders if the book’s primary audience—those who are likely to recognize the image as Hans Hollein’s mobile office from 1973 (complete with landline)—are already are familiar with and sympathetic to the issues it raises. Yet, as a volume that asks the questions of a discipline regarding the work we do and equally the work that our work fosters, it belongs on every architect’s bookshelf.