On April 22nd, Bill Sharples had the opportunity sit in on a round table discussion entitled “WBYA 2.0, Who Builds Your Architecture? Part 2: Sustainability and Sustaining Human Life. The focal topic, ethics in architecture, is one that is woven tightly into our office culture and we are excited to share and expand upon the discussion that Bill participated in.
To provide you with a brief synopsis, one of the troubling issues that is currently haunting the architecture (and global) community is that there are areas of the world where slavery is still considered a means of labor. Though this may seem like an outdated term of biblical proportion, it is indeed a serious issue that has permeated the walls of the field of architecture. The round table discussion centering on this is meant to do a few things. First, to bring to light that these injustices are occurring, and occurring in what seems like a widespread manor. Second, to begin to qualify just why they are happening. The short answer to why this is happening is laced heavily with a lack of responsibility, and though it’s easy to point fingers and make accusations, SHoP is more interested in focusing in on exactly where in the process this disconnect occurs.
Our model of design is inextricably linked with our model of production. What this means is that we are involved in all of the phases of project, that from the very first sketch to the last brick, SHoP is involved in the entire process. This symbiotic relationship allows for us to infuse our intrinsic values from the bottom up and from the top down, and through this cycle, we are able to oversee and involve ourselves in a much more encompassing and impactful way. For example, as we pursue more and more projects abroad, we make sure that our ideals seamlessly translate into our mission. As we move through the production process, we ask ourselves questions like, how do we utilize local labor? How do we engage the culture? How can we echo the surrounding culture and translate it into our projects?
A good example of this is reflected in our work in Konza. We are currently building a state of the art exhibition pavilion, the defining element of which is a 4,000 square meter canopy that hovers over the structure. The purpose of this canopy is to be totally permeable – wind transparent as well as rain transparent while still providing shade from the sun. The canopy is an intricate piece of geometry, meaning more specifically that no two components are alike. The structure, cladding, etc all belong to the same family, but all the pieces are different. Since this is a complex product, the production of these panels is complex as well. Konza is not industrially evolved yet, so the manufacturing process becomes a bit more tricky. Cost rises and the issue of quality control is also raised. SHoP’s solution to this predicament is to engage the local work force and focus on creating a knowledge transfer between ourselves and the community we are building in. By involving local university students as well as enlisting the help of local fabricators and contractors, we are given the opportunity to teach them about our manufacturing process. Instead of outsourcing our labor, we are presented with the chance to involve and uplift the community as well as share with them new and innovative skills.
The act of creating architecture does not end when the drawing sets leave our office. The men and women in the field who build our buildings are an extension of our own workforce, who execute, with their skill, care and knowledge, sometimes at the risk of their lives, what we have dreamed and planned and organized. As professionals, we have an ethic that governs the way we conduct our business and treat our employees. We cannot then, look the other way, if that ethic is to be violated in the construction stage of our work. Civilized communities cannot be built on the backs of slave labor.
We can choose our projects to avoid that if possible. We should not give our names, and our implicit stamp of approval, to practices we morally oppose. Furthermore, we can actively seek out ways to change the model, to empower governments and their people with the knowledge and skills to overcome broken systems and extend our collaborative process and protective care to all of our partners who undertake with us to build our Architecture.
Find out more about the Round Table Discussions here.
See below for a rendering of the Konza Pavillion.