After 2019 Serpentine Pavilion designer Junya Ishigami came under fire last week for hiring unpaid interns, the online fury, and response from Ishigami, has been swift. The Serpentine Gallery has told the Tokyo-based Junya Ishigami + Associates that it must pay anyone working on a Serpentine project, and the surrounding discussion has raised larger questions over the value of labor in architecture. The furor began on March 22, after architect Adam Nathaniel Furman revealed an internship posting for Ishigami + Associates on Instagram. Prospective employees were expected to work 13-hour days, six days a week for free, and would have to supply their own computers and software. Internships were expected to last 8-to-12 weeks, “or more.”
The Serpentine Gallery, which only uses paid labor on its installations, told the Architect’s Journal that it was unaware of the practice and would contact Ishigami + Associates over the matter. Now it appears that the gallery has ordered Ishigami to pay any interns working on the pavilion. While the problem has been framed as something that’s ubiquitous in Japan—the 2013 pavilion designer Sou Fujimoto was also criticized at the time for using unpaid labor—that doesn’t mean unpaid internships aren’t prevalent elsewhere. After the news originally broke, commentators and architects spoke out and provided examples of studios that still don’t pay their interns.
Alejandro Aravena’s Elemental reached out to Dezeen yesterday in a collective open letter and announced that it would be taking the drastic step of ending all internships. The studio, which claims that it has hosted over 150 interns over the years, framed the move as not wanting to be seen as exploiting its interns in an atmosphere of hysterics. The firm laid out a number of benefits that its interns had received in the past, including a “transfer of knowledge,” but also conceded that prospective applicants would need to move to Chile and support themselves for 4 months. In a quote pulled from a comment below the recently recirculated 2016 Archinect editorial, “Brexit: a chance to roll back the interventionist state and unleash entrepreneurial creativity,” Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid Architects laid out his stance on the issue. In his defense of unpaid or low-paid internships, Schumacher claimed they are the result of a well-functioning market, where such internships are transactions between employers and their employees, and that students had the option of not accepting them. Additionally, he claims that mandating internships be paid would be the government meddling in the free and open competition between companies. “I’m just happy that there is some momentum on this,” said Adam Nathaniel Furman, who has regularly been posting exploitative job listings via Instagram under the hashtag of #archislavery. “It seems to pop up every few years but nothing is done, however now with the model of metoo and other forms of communal pressure, I think it is time to end these practices which are exclusionary of those from less well-off backgrounds (I have heard so many stories of those from less well-off backgrounds leaving the profession because of encountering this culture), and exploitative of those who do take them up. I’m hoping this will start a chain reaction where the whole ecosystem of low paid cultural commissions, unpaid competitions and free pitch work that this sustains, is finally blown to smithereens and consigned to the scrapheap of history where it belongs...”
Junya Ishigami + Associates declined to comment when reached for this story.