R-022/21/The Worker’s Project
RESEARCH | 2021 | berlin, GER
TOPIC: Labour, Authorship
In architecture labour is (mostly) invisible. By hiding its labour, architects throughout history have succeeded in asserting sole authorship over work through the channels of media representation, i.e. interviews, photographs, books and so on. In so doing, architects have established a narrative of a single productive figure, a single genius, which ultimately also masks their own internal exploitation of precarious labour conditions. Made by the many, possessed by the few, architects not only have unwilfully deprived their discipline of a basis for fair pay but concurrently forgotten about the largest part of ‘their’ work: The process of building and the life after completion. The notion of a linear design process coupled with the platonic idea of a fixed object in space and time not only has blinded them to the beauty that lies in the arbitrariness of designing and the process of making on site but concurrently also suppressed the very multi-authorial nature of a project.
The Worker’s Project draws attention to this blind spot, making visible those who publicly never claim authorship over a work, but play a decisive role in actually bringing ideas to life: The construction workers. Using media tools normally only accessible to the creative class and their channels of representation, this project explores and exposes the hidden authorships of a housing project in Berlin.
A series of studio flash portrait photographs shows the involved workers in classic posture. The portraits were taken on site and in between work shifts. Their documentary and neutral character
– no heroic black and white or cast shadow style as often used by architects to emphasise their own perceived genius – conveys the multiple and equal authorships as well as a more subtle claim. Alongside a documentation of the work on site these portraits give the workers an identity and thus a stake in the project. The pictures were handed out to each worker together with planning material allowing them to claim authorship of their work.
Even though many more participated in the construction process, the workers portrayed resemble the core group who realised the main structural work and who stayed on site for most of the time. Others came on a daily basis, constantly switching sites and teams reconstituting the precarious situation of migrant workers – human work force on demand. The project series is set out to continue in other projects with the aim to debunk the myth of a single authorship and expose the labour, stories and significance of all those involved in a project.