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 persistently and convincingly managed to claim 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, eventually also covering 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 has blinded them to the beauty that lies in the arbitrariness of designing and the process of making.
In this, the plan – once introduced by the Italian renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti to separate the expertise of the architect from that of the builder on site eventually imposing an instrument of control and thus of exclusive author- and ownership – is re-visited on site as a medium of ultimate interpretation rather than precise numeric definition. Through the display of the work on site the gap between plan and execution, between ideal and reality becomes visible: Alberti in reverse.
The Worker’s Project shifts focus to this blind spot and makes visible those who publicly never claim authorship over a work but who play a decisive role in actually bringing ideas to life: The construction workers. The project documents their contribution and ingenuity to the creation of a project, in this case the Berlin Coda project. Instead of simply documenting them at work, in addition, the workers themselves are portrayed giving them an identity and a stake in the project. To avoid yet another layer of commodification and exploitation in this process, the workers were briefed about the project and its idea which was affirmatively received and even joyfully carried out. The pictures were handed out to each person together with planning material allowing them to claim authorship over the work.
Even though many more participated in the process of construction the portrayed workers 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 – including their tools of making.