In the Loop: Graham Owen
350 N La Salle St
Chicago, IL 60654
“Uncamouflaged Freedom”: Design, Conscience, and Globalization
Responding in February 2014 to concerns about hundreds of migrant worker deaths on construction sites for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Zaha Hadid, designer of the Al-Wakrah stadium, reportedly said, "I have nothing to do with the workers….I think that's an issue the government—if there's a problem—should pick up….It's not my duty as an architect to look at it….I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it.”
In the wake of recent financial crises, architects have found themselves under even more pressure to seek out work in global markets, well beyond their home jurisdiction. Both before and after these events, developing economies have been exploiting the “branding” effect of “iconic” architecture and the cultural cachet that comes with international practitioners.
As groups such as Human Rights Watch, GulfLabor, and Who Builds Your Architecture? have pointed out, exploitative labor conditions, the displacement of rural populations in the name of “sustainability”, human rights abuses, and authoritarian governments leave architects implicated in both the means and the ends of the projects they agree to take on. But how could they say no? To what could they say no? And, at a time when designers increasingly see themselves as social entrepreneurs, on what professional, disciplinary, and philosophical grounds could they say no—or yes?
Graham Owen is an associate professor of architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans. He taught from 1988 to 1996 at the University of Toronto and in 1996-1997 at the Illinois Institute of Technology. A licensed architect in Canada and the US, he was involved in a wide variety of built projects, and his collaborative competition entries have been exhibited internationally. Editor of the inaugural edition of Architecture Canada: the Governor General’s Awards for Architecture, he has also published articles and projects in numerous North American and European venues. His edition of Architecture, Ethics and Globalization (Routledge, 2009), according to reviewers, “illustrates what serious architectural discussion actually is” and stands as “a reminder of how scarce real interdisciplinarity can be and how welcome it is when one finds it.” Essays on the ethics of reconstruction in New Orleans have appeared in the Journal of Architectural Education, Culture and Organization and The International Journal of the Constructed Environment.
Graham co-organized with Donna Robertson the inaugural Myron Goldsmith Conversations on Technology and Architecture at IIT. At Tulane, where he has twice won the Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching, Graham teaches architectural design, thesis research, and advanced electives on ethics in architecture.