Who Builds Your Architecture? Sustainability and Sustaining Human Life

“Workers’ rights and safety should be a pivotal point for any sustainability discussion: the environment is not just the air, ground, and water, but the people with whom we work and live.”


by The New School

Sustainability means to support, uphold, and endure. This roundtable discussion with professionals, scholars, students, and the audience examines current issues in ethics, in particular the links between construction practices and workers’ rights, and provokes broader questions about contemporary forms of globalization where architecture takes central stage.

The logics of sustainability pertain to our collective roles as consumers and producers in order to maintain human life and preserve the environment that supports us. The green building movement has had a fundamental impact on how architects build buildings. The U.S. Green Council’s LEED designation (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has fostered the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings that now comply with broadly recognized standards of low-energy usage and minimal environmental impact. Not only do these criteria impact buildings and their occupants, but LEED practices and professional certification have also radically impacted how architects work in the U.S and internationally. They have established what architects do as part of a complex system of relationships that include dwellers and owners, energy and material sources, climatic and site conditions, and architects and buildings.

Drawing inspiration from the green building movement, writer and designer Ann Lui makes the compelling argument that “workers’ rights and safety should be a pivotal point for any sustainability discussion: the environment is not just the air, ground, and water, but the people with whom we work and live.” With architects building globally—often disconnected from their own cultural and political contexts—what is their responsibility toward the workers who construct their buildings? Who Builds Your Architecture 2.0? asks: Should the production of buildings also sustain the human lives of those who build our architecture?

Who Builds Your Architecture? emerges in part from two ongoing petitions: Who’s Building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi? by a coalition of international artists and curators, and Who’s Building the Global U? by New York University faculty and students. Both initiatives are organized by artists, scholars, and activists, while many architecture professionals have remained quiet. This roundtable aims to generate discussion around these issues by engaging the architectural community at large and to formulate, with audience participation, strategies for further action.

Sustainability and Sustaining Human Life is the second iteration of this inquiry into architectural building practices. For more information on the first Who Builds Your Architecture, which occurred a year ago on May 3, 2012, visit the Vera List Center online archive.

“Workers’ rights and safety should be a pivotal point for any sustainability discussion: the environment is not just the air, ground, and water, but the people with whom we work and live.”

—Ann Lui, “Sustainability of Workers’ Rights,” Architect, May 2011

Sustainability means to support, uphold, and endure. This roundtable discussion with professionals, scholars, students, and the audience examines current issues in ethics, in particular the links between construction practices and workers’ rights, and provokes broader questions about contemporary forms of globalization where architecture takes central stage.

The logics of sustainability pertain to our collective roles as consumers and producers in order to maintain human life and preserve the environment that supports us. The green building movement has had a fundamental impact on how architects build buildings. The U.S. Green Council’s LEED designation (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has fostered the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings that now comply with broadly recognized standards of low-energy usage and minimal environmental impact. Not only do these criteria impact buildings and their occupants, but LEED practices and professional certification have also radically impacted how architects work in the U.S and internationally. They have established what architects do as part of a complex system of relationships that include dwellers and owners, energy and material sources, climatic and site conditions, and architects and buildings.

Drawing inspiration from the green building movement, writer and designer Ann Lui makes the compelling argument that “workers’ rights and safety should be a pivotal point for any sustainability discussion: the environment is not just the air, ground, and water, but the people with whom we work and live.” With architects building globally—often disconnected from their own cultural and political contexts—what is their responsibility toward the workers who construct their buildings? Who Builds Your Architecture 2.0? asks: Should the production of buildings also sustain the human lives of those who build our architecture?

Who Builds Your Architecture? emerges in part from two ongoing petitions: Who’s Building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi? by a coalition of international artists and curators, and Who’s Building the Global U? by New York University faculty and students. Both initiatives are organized by artists, scholars, and activists, while many architecture professionals have remained quiet. This roundtable aims to generate discussion around these issues by engaging the architectural community at large and to formulate, with audience participation, strategies for further action.

Sustainability and Sustaining Human Life is the second iteration of this inquiry into architectural building practices. For more information on the first Who Builds Your Architecture, which occurred a year ago on May 3, 2012, visit the Vera List Center online archive.

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