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Not Enough.

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Not tested on Interns

It is not news, and definitely not a surprise, that a lot of high-end media-driven architecture offices sustain what we at n+1 consider predatory work policies and that unpaid internships are a keystone to those policies.

It is not something hidden. It isn’t difficult to find out. It’s public and notorious.

Aravena, or most precisely his office Elemental, had until recently a description of internships in his website: No pay for a duration of at least 4 months. It also showed a staggering list of nearly 150 interns during several years (Elemental started in 2005 and the list was there in 2015, do the math). Benedetta Tagliabue freely spoke in an interview in DiarioDesign about having “altruistic workers” in her office (if ever there was a euphemism) which actually meant unpaid interns. She even described her office being half and half workers and unpaid interns. Sou Fujimoto clearly stated that working and not getting payed as an intern was “A nice opportunity” and that his own office had “many many interns”.

Aravena is a Pritzker Prize laureate (2016) and a RIBA Jencks Award laureate (2018). Benedetta Tagliabue is a RIBA Jencks Award laureate (2013). Sou Fujimoto designed the Serpentine Pavilion in 2013.

Both RIBA and The Serpentine Gallery publicly sustain a policy condemning unpaid internships. What we should be asking, giving what we know (what everybody knows), is if those policies are just plain social washing and they vanish into thin air when it comes to dealing with reality.

Because, the Aravena internships were just there in 2015. In his webpage. For all to see.


Even more, an alleged chain of mails between Elemental and an architect applying to the internship was made public in 2015 that confirmed those conditions. It wasn’t in the deepweb.


Tagliabue’s interview in DIarioDesign from 2013 is still there and has been since that same year.


Foujimoto made his statement about unpaid interns in an interview with Dezeen in 2013. Same year his Serpentine pavilion was commissioned.

Maybe we should consider there is no interest whatsoever in enforcing those policies and sending a clear message to the profession: An honest job deserves a fair pay and this kind of practices should not be rewarded.

Or maybe RIBA and Serpentine Gallery directors have been taking a very long nap.

This year’s Serpentine Pavilion was commissioned to Junya Ishigami and it was all nice renders and high expectations until Architecture Journal published a piece about an email between Ishigami’s office and a student that revealed the conditions for an internship in his office. The mail was published first by Adam Nathaniel Furman in his Instagram account as part of his #archislavery campaign.

The conditions were appalling. A six-day working week, hours from 11 a.m. to midnight, no pay whatsoever and students should provide their own computers and software. For a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks. Or more.

The Serpentine Gallery quickly responded and just a few days later, today the 27th of march, Dezeen publishes that “Serpentine Gallery tells Junya Ishigami to pay all staff working on this year’s pavilion”.

The piece quoted a spokesperson for the gallery: «Junya Ishigami + Associates are now aware of the Serpentine’s policy that all positions working on the Serpentine Pavilion 2019 must be paid.»

I’m sorry but it is not enough.

Not enough at all. Even more, it is a bad joke. It is simply cheating.

Just to be clear, Mr. Ishigami is getting this commission because of his previous work, a work he apparently developed by using unpaid interns. The fact that he is paying some of them for just this work makes no difference at all.

Because, what about if there are other interns? What if they are not working in the Serpentine Pavilion project? Do they still remain an unpaid workforce?

What about if an intern is working half day in the Serpentine Pavilion project and the other half in other project? He gets paid for the first and not the latter?

The solution sounds ridiculous because it stinks of cheating. Of trying to find an excuse to not apply the only honest solution: withdraw the commission. For good.

Because it is about time these unfair practices have consequences. It is about time we stop honoring and rewarding those who impoverish our profession. Because what this joke of a solution (and the prizes above mentioned) clearly says is that the end (if it looks nice and makes for a good photograph) justifies the means, no matter how unfair they are.

It is actually quite simple. Take a stand. Enforce your own policies if you want them to be more than a piece of paper. Commission a practice that pays interns. Systematically. As a moral and professional principle. Not just because they have been caught red-handed and not just for one project.

In other words, a practice that pays all their staff. Because they know it is the fair thing to do, not because they are forced to do so.

It reveals the hypocrisy this profession has reached when we take pride of architecture’s social commitment and, at the same time, we have to explain that working means getting paid. Otherwise work is not work and it has another name. A very ugly one.

There is little room for grey areas, little space for middle ground. Either you support a predatory system that preys on its young and degrades our discipline or you stand by a very old, very clear principle: A fair work deserves a fair pay.

Years ago, we proposed to enforce the use of these stickers. They were to be added to plans and documents if and when a practice was committed to fair labor practices. At the time it was a hyperbolic idea, kind of dramatized, to bring attention to the unpaid work problem in architecture. It was made only to raise debate.


It was six (SIX!) years ago. And apparently nothing has changed. So, we are bringing the stickers back and this time they are not just a prop to start a debate. It feels late for that. It feels we have been cheated more than enough when those who profit the most from this system (and it is a system and not an isolated case) are being rewarded again. And again. And again.

This time we actually mean to use them.

Because it is time to draw a red line. And it must be a very thin one.

Written by Jose María Echarte

marzo 27, 2019 a 20:03

2 respuestas

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  1. «REX does not accept offers for unpaid internships. This practice devalues our profession and provides lawbreakers an unfair market advantage.»

    Lawbreakers. That’s what they’re called.

    Daniel Moyano (@d_moyano)

    marzo 28, 2019 at 10:04

  2. […] caso de Ishigami en el Serpentine Pavilion del que hablamos hace poco ha tenido un giro […]

    Real Work. | n+1

    marzo 29, 2019 at 15:04

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