- November 4, 2020
For many in the field of architecture, working on big name exhibitions and competitions might be a great achievement, one they would be willing to participate in without any form of monetary compensation.
A few years ago, I was part of a team that for five months produced graphic material for an international exhibition. The team was initiated by a group of leaders who brought us in as co-collaborators to develop and produce the material. We worked late hours and weekends with minimal compensation until the budget ran dry. We continued to work despite the lack of income because we took pride in the work we were producing and reckoned that the recognition we would get will be worth all this effort. On the day the exhibition material was announced, we realized that our names were omitted from all publications except those of the exhibition leaders. Disappointed, frustrated, and faced with the fact that we were working without compensation, we complained to the leaders while asserting our right for recognition for the work we have done. We were shocked by their response, which denounced us for being greedy and only thinking about money; they expressed that we should feel “lucky” for the opportunity to have worked on such an exhibition. In the end, was it really luck that we had, or was it the illusion of pride and devotion which led to exploitation?
This story echoes the experience of many in our profession and the design world at large. There has long been a focus on collaboration as the main part of the thinking/design process. Yet only few get credited for the work when it’s done. Does this mean Architecture is inherently an “unlucky” profession for many? Who stands to benefit from it? Does the allure of working on high profile projects and exhibitions lead to a predetermined “fate”? Or are we all guilty of perpetuating this outcome?
In her article, Death to the Calling: A Job in Architecture is Still a Job, Marisa Cortright mentions a study by Duke University titled “Understanding contemporary forms of exploitation: Attributions of passion serve to legitimize the poor treatment of workers.”1 She writes that the “authors found employers ‘“[assumed] that passionate workers would have volunteered for [demeaning tasks that are irrelevant to their job description or [worked] extra hours without pay] if given the chance’” as well as believe that “for passionate workers, work itself is its own reward.” 2 . She infers that the only way meaningful change is achieved, is if architects reset their expectations about the nature of their work, which would provoke them to “claim their due rights” and “end the cycle of abuses of power”3 . This is the wake up call we need, a “happy accident” waiting to happen, to reverse the fate of Architecture!