Which Abu Dhabi?

Academic | UC Berkeley, instructor Prof. C. Greig Crysler, 2015

We are living in a world increasingly flattened by social media with a saturation of images. Information can be easily manipulated to feed to the public in a constructed narrative. On the surface, Abu Dhabi, with its name meaning “happiness”, is known as a luxury retreat covered with clusters of star architects’ work. This 9-square poster responds to a series of journalism revealing labour exploitation in Abu Dhabi’s architecture construction that remains largely covered by the media. Construction workers, who mostly migrated from underprivileged countries through lucrative agencies, only ended up labouring excessive long hours in cruel working conditions, underpaid with no insurance nor employment rights, living in overcrowded, shabby dormitory, even with their passports illegally detained. As this investigation caused a sensation, a few star architects voiced different opinions on this situation which provoked massive debates. Frank Gehry argued that architects should actively involve in protecting workers’ rights whereas Zaha Hadid stated it was the government’s responsibility to oversee and regulate, as architects have no power over it. This poster not only reflects on the consumption of images and brands in our society, but also questions the role of architects, their power and/or powerlessness.

© 2022 Daisy Zhang