On May 19th, 2009 Human Rights Watch published an 80 page report detailing the exploitation of migrant workers in Abu Dhabi. The publication targets a number of companies and organizations, including the Government of France, Gehry Partners LLP, Zaha Hadid Architects, and a number of construction companies. The publication is noteworthy because, in addition to the usual suspects, high profile architects Gehry and Hadid are also being called to task. This brought up some interesting discussion in the office concerning the ultimate culpability on the design side of multi-billion dollar development projects. Can and should people who are “just” architects/designers/creatives be held accountable for their role, as indirect as it may be, in contributing to the exploitation of workers and human rights abuses?
For me, the answer is a clear yes. No man is an island, and no designer works in a bubble (though I think most would like to). In a trans-national globalized world, the rippling impact of our work must be considered. With particular regards to the Abu Dhabi case, to be ignorant of both the environmental and human impact of such a huge development project is negligible at best. I’m not saying that architects should bear the brunt of the responsibility, just that they do have responsibility. We all do, for every aspect of our work and the world that work purports to create.
What do you think: do designers, architects, and other creatives bear responsibility for the work they choose to take on, no matter how small or large a role they may play in the overall product?