back to

Architecture for the one percent


At the Jacobin website, Alex Cocotas looks at buildings designed by Zaha Hadid and other “starchitects”—which are often poorly constructed and massively overbudget—to ask why mainstream architecture today is so shaped by the priorities and worldview of the ultra-rich. Here’s an excerpt:

Many leading architects, and most architecture critics, fail to acknowledge the basic reality that architecture isn’t just a vacuum of aesthetic virtues and vague adjectives — it is a product of its political, economic, and social context.

This context is overwhelmingly shaped by elite prerogatives. For example, Hadid’s $450 million Dongdaenum Design Plaza in Seoul was the pet project of former mayor Oh Se-hoon, who resigned after opposing a free school lunch program. Its construction displaced more than nine hundred merchants in local markets and occasioned the destruction of a historic baseball stadium still used by the community.

Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan is an even starker example of the insidiousness of contemporary architecture. Hadid worked on that project with Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev — a flagrant human rights abuser whose corruption and nepotism has been likened to that of a feudal state — to help transform Azerbaijan’s capital city into the next “global cultural hot-spot” (in the words of Baku, a quarterly magazine edited by the president’s daughter and published by Conde Naste).

Hadid’s design for the center, named for President Aliyev’s father, delighted architecture critics and won the London Design Museum’s 2014 Design of the Year award — cold comfort for the 250 families expelled from their homes to make way for its construction.

Hadid’s giant Galaxy Soho mall in Beijing is also sited on contested land. The mall displaced a neighborhood of traditional hutongs, whose residents say their land was coercively expropriated. Her firm insists that the area was already cleared by the time they got involved and that it complied with government regulations, but corrupt land deals are endemic in China.

Image: Rem Koolhaas’s CCTV building in Beijing, China.