Guggenheim Museum Boycott

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
March 17, 2011
Trang Tran and Krista Wong

    Abu Dhabi: The “Utopia” for Everyone?

A group of more than 130 artists claim that they will protest against the construction of the Guggenheim museum unless the conditions for the workers will improve. The artists say that until their demands are met, they will refuse to participate in museum events or to sell their work in the museum. In response to the event, it not only brings forth the issue of labor rights, but also reveals the triggering impacts of design on working conditions during the construction process.

Panoramic view of the Guggenheim Museum
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi – Rendering courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP

The Guggenheim Museum boycott in Abu Dhabi in March 2011 has drawn attention to the worker’s reactions in response to the construction and is now at the forefront of the issue, made known from around the world. A group of more than 130 artists claim that they would protest against the construction of the museum unless the conditions for the workers were to be improved. The artists say that until their demands are met, they will refuse to participate in museum events or to have their works presented. The dispute was not only caused by a disagreement on wages between contractors and workers, but it also refers to various broader issues in the field of labor rights and how that ties in with how the architectural design of the building effects its community around it. In fact the issue with the construction workers being under paid is so serious it supersedes the initial purpose of the museum so now at this point the idea for a functional, well-admired museum has been over looked with disgust because of the demands the museum requires while constructing.  Although the topic of who ultimately has more say or control of the situation we have chosen to avoid the controversial topic and focus in on how the architectural features of the museum influence the worker’s rebellious behaviors.   By comparing wages with neighboring countries we can start to understand the situations that aggravate the workers. Therefore, by understanding where the frustrations originate from, we can take that knowledge and apply that to the fundamentals of structural assembly and  in terms of how the Guggenheim museum design incorporates this idea into its overall building scheme. Thus ultimately drawing a stance on how ornamentation may not be always the best architecturally sound idea when it is put into the context of an environment where designer versus workers have equal say in the matter.

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is considered one of the most flourishing cities in the world. The booming economy attracts workers from around the world. However, in contrast to the neighboring city, Qatari, citizens whose average income is around $83,000/yr., migrant workers living in Abu Dhabi have to deal with 60-cent-an-hour wage, despite their difficult financial situations. Since most job recruiters charge fees with high interests, laborers have to take out loans, which cannot really be paid off with their under payment status.

Working conditions in Abu Dhabi
Moore, Andrew. Abu Dhabi Workers. N.d. N/A, Abu Dhabi. Andrew L. Moore. Web. 12 Sept. 2013.

In addition to poor facilities, they also face dangerous working conditions. Approximately, 140 laborers’ deaths were reported in 2010, so this approximation shows that work, even though they are paid, is hazardous to one’s life and ultimately the construction process may suffer from the lack of workers that get assigned to a project. While migrant workers make up 80% of United Arab Emirates’ total population, there have not been enough laws and actions established to protect laborers’ rights. Numerous issues were ignored until recent years, in which witnessed riots and boycotts requiring positive transformations from the government. International organizations that support immigrants have been born, changing people’s acknowledgement of the issues and even the outlook of how workers should be taken with the utmost respect because after all they are the ones that build and make what contractors and designers propose on paper be built in reality. The workers draw that fine line between whether or not a project becomes successful and are the “backbones” or determinant factors of how the economy would fluctuate.

While labor is the essence of the problem, the design of the museum itself is also a contributing factor. Designed by the famous deconstructivist architect Frank Ghery, the museum is expected to be the city’s cultural landmark. It would be considered the largest Guggenheim museum ever built, housing a collection of world arts that tells the story of globalization. Similar to many other designs of Ghery, Abu Dhabi’s Guggenheim is a revolutionary negation to basic principles in architecture, such as proportions, geometry and balance that challenge the regular modular system. The extreme manipulation in forms and shapes result in the complexity of construction since it requires modifications of materials and structural components. Although it is feasible to apply the standard columns and beams to the system, the assemblage process requires more intricacy in terms of connecting the components for special structural requirements. Is it necessary for a building to be that complex? Organic forms become redundant because as long as a building is well constructed and satisfies the functions required by occupants, it is considered a successful manifestation of assembly pieces that come together as one to form a single structure that works.

 

An example of a modular constructive system.  Blogger. An example of a Chinese House. N.d. Straits Club, United States. Stairts Club Restuarant and Bar. Web. 12 Sept. 2013.
An example of a modular constructive system.
Blogger. An example of a Chinese House. N.d. Straits Club, United States. Stairts Club Restuarant and Bar. Web. 12 Sept. 2013.
An Example of deconstructivist structure. Frank Gehry, Opera House.
Titanium Man: Frank Gehry Turns 80. 2009. Walt Disney Concert Opera House, Las Angelas. Opera Chic 28 Feb. 2009: n. pag. Print.

By abandoning the highly respectable concept of reconstructing geometries and proportions and the techniques of difficult assemblage, as designers and contractors, they can solely concentrate on the “charming” aspects of a building that emulates its aesthetic purism within the building while ignoring the geometric, proportional, and balances that the Guggenheim museum calls for in its design. This movement is more destructive than it is good for the economy and workers. It takes labor, money, and materials and the more we use it the more the economy or the workers are going to suffer from the impact and even time cannot heal the effects of ornamentation.  In Adolf Loos’ article, Ornamentation and Crime, it states, “It is a crime against the national economy that it should result in a waste of human labor, money, and materials. Time cannot make good of this damage.” This elaborates on the idea that time cannot heal the damage that ornamentation has already caused and the revival of it is developing more as is the aesthetic of buildings. Loos continues on to say that ornamentation needs regular maintenance meaning that there would have to be workers that are willing to work long labor hours and be willing to assemble the building with the best materials, which unfortunately means that the contractors would have to yield more revenue to fund for the costs spent. Even though ornamentation yields aesthetically pleasing results, the process at which it takes to achieve this is not beautiful, in fact for the workers it is saddening. Like Loos states, “Ornamented things first create a truly unaesthetic effect when they have been effectively executed.”

An example of modular construction.
JOTHOUSE. JOT HOUSE. N.d. Jothouse, n/a. JOTHOUSE. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.

The assemblage process required to construct an organic formed building is more of an investment than a conventional building with linear forms, which can be built, using standard components. Then what looms behind the dispute is the underlining question: If these workers are suffering so much, are long, taxing labor hours, worth the extra work that is not equivalent to the lower incomes the workers are receiving?

 

 

 

 

RESEARCH RESOURCES

Journalism

Webb, Ted. “Sweatshops of the Desert: Foreign Workers in the Gulf States.”Indyposted 1 (2010). http://www.indyposted.com/108237/sweatshops-of-the-desert-foreign-workers-in-the-gulf-states/ (accessed September 15, 2013).

This is a more insightful overview of the ongoing matter. In contrast to Qatari citizens whose average income is around $83,000/yr., immigrant workers have to deal with 60-cent-an-hour wage, despite their difficult financial situations. Since most job recruiters charge fees with high interests, laborers have to take out loans, which cannot really be paid off with their underpayment. In addition to poor facilities, they also face dangerous working conditions. 140 laborers’ deaths were reported in 2010.

Buck, Louisa. “Artist interview, Walid Raad: a mediator between worlds.” The Art Newspaper, January 15, 2013. http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Artist-interview-Walid-Raad-a-mediator-between-worlds/28352 (accessed September 6, 2013).

The article not only is about a bibliography of Wadid Raad-an influential figure in the field of visual arts, but also mentions his perspective as he is one of the 130 artists petitioned for migrant workers’ rights.

“If the Gulf is interested in building the most progressive, the most fantastic infrastructure for the arts, then it must not just include the most amazing building, the most amazing works, curators and engineers, but also the most amazing and progressive laws on the basis of which these buildings are being built,” –Wadid Raad

Encyclopedia Entries

Wikipedia, 1 ed., s.v. “Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.” N/A: Wikipedia, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guggenheim_Abu_Dhabi (accessed September 12, 2013).

Basic information about the project, such as the client, location, costs and overall concept can be found here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_the_United_Arab_Emirates#Labor_Law_issues
While migrant workers make up 80% of United Arab Emirates’ total population, there have not been enough laws and actions taken to protect laborers’ rights. Numerous issues were ignored until recent years, in which witnessed riots and boycotts requiring positive transformations from the government. International organizations that support immigrants have been born, changing people’s acknowledgement of the issues.

Scholarly Articles

Loos, Adolf, and Adolf Opel. Ornament and crime: selected essays. Riverside, Calif.: Ariadne Press, 1998. http://www.gwu.edu/~art/Temporary_SL/177/pdfs/Loos.pdf
Loo’s perspective on the non-essential accessory of ornamentation.

Sönmez, Sevil, Yorghos Apostopoulos, Diane Tran, and Shantyana Rentrope. “Human rights and health disparities for migrant workers in the UAE.” Health and Human Rights 13, no. 2 (2011). http://www.hhrjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2013/06/Sonmez21.pdf (accessed September 10, 2013).

This article is related our topic at hand, but also ties into a broader issue discussing human rights issues and migrant labor working conditions in the United Arab Emirates. By using this resource, we can develop another perspective that we might not have recognized before.

Furlan, Julia. “Artists Boycott Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Over Migrant Workers’ Rights.” WNYC  (2011). http://www.wnyc.org/articles/features/2011/mar/19/artists-boycott-abu-dhabi-guggenheim-migrant-workers-rights/

This article touches more on the dispute between employers and workers, but also raises all the other organizations that are helping to deal with it. For instance, the Human Rights Watch and the Tourist and Development Investment Company, each factor plays a huge role in establishing a middle ground between the disputes.

Orthographic Documentation

http://www.andrewlmoore.com/photography/abu-dhabi/

Working conditions in Abu Dhabi
Moore, Andrew. Abu Dhabi Workers. N.d. N/A, Abu Dhabi. Andrew L. Moore. Web. 12 Sept. 2013.

http://operachic.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451c83e69e2011168a0440a970c-450wi

An Example of deconstructivist structure. Frank Gehry, Opera House.
Titanium Man: Frank Gehry Turns 80. 2009. Walt Disney Concert Opera House, Las Angelas. Opera Chic 28 Feb. 2009: n. pag. Print.

http://straitsclub.blogspot.com/2011/01/something-special-at-chinese-house.html

An example of a modular constructive system.
Blogger. An example of a Chinese House. N.d. Straits Club, United States. Stairts Club Restuarant and Bar. Web. 12 Sept. 2013.

http://www.jothouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/jot-building-system-2.jpg

An example of modular construction.
JOTHOUSE. JOT HOUSE. N.d. Jothouse, n/a. JOTHOUSE. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.

http://www.guggenheim.org/images/content/Affiliates/Las_Vegas/abu_dhabi/ad_home.jpg

Panoramic view of the Guggenheim Museum
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi – Rendering courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP

Video and Audio

“Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat .” Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp3P_YWd4Xo (accessed September 20, 2013).

It is a visual walk through the whole building. Explaining the effects on the society by presenting a model with renderings and programmed spaces. We start to take notice of all the details and supporting structure that enables the viewer to experience the site as the narrator gives a synopsis of the building.

“Abu Dhabi Between Tradition and 21st Century (Full Documentary) – YouTube.” YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xa5spbl5ec8 (accessed September 23, 2013)
The video shows how the modernized Abu Dhabi is today.

“Migrant Workers in Abu Dhabi – YouTube.” YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7J1V59dI8U (accessed September 23, 2013).
We can get a glimpse to the workers’ everyday life.

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