Wolf Prix interview in Speigel International

Francis Kéré and the Pritzker Prize
April 4, 2022
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Wolf Prix interview in Speigel International

On 02APR22 Der Spiegel posted an interview with Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelb(l)au.


In that article he says:

“If we have to take the moral standards and political correctness into account, then we should instead be talking about where you can then even build at all. Then I can’t build in Russia, and I can’t build in China or Saudi Arabia. I’m not allowed to build for the Church, either, because it is morally depraved. My question for you is this: What am I supposed to do now?”

This seems in sharp contrast to the recent coverage of the 2022 Pritzker Prize winner, Francis Kéré and his focus on community.

“What am I supposed to do now?” asks Prix.  Ah, the question of ethics . . . ‘What should I do?’  It seems that, while he is aesthetically imaginative, he’s lacking in an ethical imagination.

First, you don’t have to avoid morality and social justice (or even zoning/building regulations) to accomplish something in architecture or any other field.  So, yes, every responsible profession must take moral standards (though I would say ‘principles’) into account.  A good set of principles was established in 1948 with the proclamation by the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The profession can build on those basic principles.

Second, as a legislated profession, architects have an ethical duty to a principled moral position in their work.  Architecture is, of course, an art.  But it is not like a painting in a museum or novel in a library, it is in the public domain in a much larger and unavoidable way.  Therefore, there is a significant component of architecture that must address the public interest and the common good.  I don’t think the common good can so easily be dismissed in order to accomplish something in architecture.  It is not a conditional (‘If we have to’, says Prix).  Ethics and moral principles are core to every legislated profession.

In answer to his question, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’, then, Wolf Prix might try giving some thought, considering Francis Kéré’s example, to community architecture. It is possible for architecture to support human rights.  Even though the oligarchs and autocrats of the world are loaded with cash, you don’t have to chase it so earnestly.

As the Police once put it:

“Walk the streets for money
You don’t care if it’s wrong or if it’s right”

Graeme Bristol
Graeme Bristol
Graeme Bristol is the ED/founder of the Centre for Architecture and Human Rights. He holds professional and research degrees in architecture from UBC and an LLM in human rights law from Queen’s University Belfast. He worked as an architect in Vancouver until 1994. Between 1994 and 1997 he was a supervising architect with the national Department of Works in Papua New Guinea where he was also a technical advisor to the PNG government at the Habitat II conference in Istanbul, and the Registrar of the PNG Board of Architects. He taught architecture at KMUTT in Bangkok where he worked with students mainly in slum communities and in construction camps with migrant workers and their families. He also worked with the UN during the tsunami recovery in Thailand. He has been writing and speaking on architecture and human rights for many years.

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