Words by The WYBA? Collaborative Group
As construction becomes increasingly global, a coalition of New York-based designers and educators has formed to ask one urgent question: Who Builds Your Architecture?
Whether majestic skyscrapers, eye-catching museums or sprawling residential complexes, buildings emerge from intricate, lengthy processes of design and construction that involve a host of different actors, from architects and engineers, to clients and banks, to contractors and construction workers. These relationships operate within a global network of knowledge transfer, manufacturing and labour — people and materials moving around the world, often in uneven and unequal ways.
Founded in 2011, WBYA? is a New York-based coalition of architects, activists, scholars and educators that tackles the pressing question: who builds your architecture? As major projects unfold in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and around the globe, with architects from the US increasingly working abroad, we examine the links between labour, architecture and the global networks that form around building buildings. From workers’ rights to construction practices to design processes to new technologies, WBYA? explores the ethical, social and political questions that emerge under these relatively new circumstances.
We named our group with a question in order to jump-start a discussion among our colleagues in architecture and related disciplines. For us, this one question sparks many others. As a field, we need to rethink ethics, new technologies, professional practice, activism and education, especially in relation to architecture and labour. Ultimately our aim is to investigate contemporary forms of globalization where architecture takes central stage. What are the architects’ ethical responsibilities towards those who erect their buildings around the world? Where do these construction workers come from and what does architecture demand from them?
How do new technologies transform construction methods as well as communication? Do they address labour-intensive manual labour, workers’ rights or site oversight? And if low-cost labour enables architects’ uninhibited creative expression, what is the human cost?
The WBYA? Collaborative Group is Kadambari Baxi, Jordan Carver, Laura Diamond Dixit, Tiffany Rattray, Lindsey Wikstrom and Mabel O. Wilson