Sincerely Disappointed

serpentine Gallery Garden Pavillion, photo copyright Iwan Baan

Sepentine Gallery Garden Pavillion, photo copyright Iwan Baan

I was born at the end of 1960’s, an era one critic – I can’t remember who – called a “time of unprecedented sincerity”, he wasn’t being complimentary. I can’t help but think this attitude of sincerity was fundamentally unhelpful. It left me unprepared to grapple with the underlying relationships and motivations behind the things people were saying.
I first became aware of architecture with a capital A early in high-school and through reading, probably the worst time and way into almost any field. I loved Gropius (sorry, I know…) and the early Modernists utopian visions and really believed the sincerity of those words about improving society and transforming the world. It seems like only sheer luck in retrospect that I didn’t stumble onto more dangerous writing, like Ayn Rand.
It remained with me for many years that Modernism, contemporary architecture, represented a belief in social good and the betterment of the contemporary world. I know enough now to recognize the utopian naiveté of that association between aesthetic pursuit and political pursuit. Some modernism works well for Fascist purposes, and some modernists were Fascists.
So with apologies for the adolescent quality of this complaint, I feel disappointed about the work of Sou Fujimoto. Not so much the work really, but the gulf between the work and the means of its production. This past month the online architecture magazine Dezeen published an interview with Fujimoto on the opening of his firm’s design for Serpentine Gallery garden pavilion in London. In the interview Fujimoto is quoted as saying: “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.”
Is it too much to hope that people are still paid for their labour? Is that, in the face of the free market, now just utopia too?
Mr. Fujimoto is not alone of course, many modern firms designing contemporary projects indulge in pre-modern labour practices, but what does this really suggest other than that good design is too expensive and free labour must be made part of the equation to achieve it.
Is it too much to ask that “modern” architects leave behind pre-modern habits like not paying for work done?


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