Libeskind working on building in Hong Kong
Hypocrisy charge for architect who said he would never work in China
Daniel Libeskind is working on a 25,000sq m public building in Hong Kong, despite the signature architect’s recent call for architects to boycott China.
Speaking in Belfast in February, Libeskind had urged architects to think twice about working in China, calling it a “totalitarian regime”.
But his New York-based practice Studio Daniel Libeskind was quick to defend its stance after it emerged that its huge Creative Media Centre — a scheme for the City University of Hong Kong — had started on site last week.
The development came as Amnesty International urged Gordon Brown and other world leaders on Tuesday to speak out against human rights abuses in Tibet and elsewhere in China ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
Libeskind’s wife Nina, who manages the practice, told BD her husband did not consider that taking on work in Hong Kong was a contradiction, despite its status as a Special Administrative Region of China.
“This is not a dogmatic idea for Daniel,” she said. “It’s a personal thing for him. We’ve seen what has happened in Tibet, but there is a rule of law in Hong Kong that Daniel is comfortable with.”
Reiterating the firm’s commitment to refusing work in undemocratic regimes she continued:
“This is not just about China. There are many other places, Azerbaijan for example, where foreign architects are making pots of money.”
But Abe Hayeem, architect and chairman of campaigning group Architects & Planners for Justice in Palestine, accused Libeskind of double standards. “It’s hypocrisy of the first order. Hong Kong is part of China. China is in the top league of human rights abusers… I am surprised that the big names in architecture haven’t already taken a stand.”
Anne Holmes, acting director of campaign group Free Tibet, said: “If someone said no western company or individual should invest in Tibet until the situation with Chinese occupation is resolved, that’s very clear and not open to misinterpretation.
“If you call for a ban on architects working in China — full stop — then you have to accept that includes Hong Kong.”
And Erick van Egeraat, who recently questioned the wisdom of Libeskind’s original comments, said that the episode illustrated the dangers of proposing such a boycott. “If you are going to start with such strong stances and want to hold people accountable, then you yourself will be held accountable,” he said.
“Nobody is pleased with what is happening with Tibet at the moment but in every country there’s something going on of which you might have to disapprove.”
But Libeskind’s position was defended by leading journalist and commentator Simon Jenkins, who called Hong Kong “much more democratic” than the rest of China.
“People made distinctions between the two areas when Britain was ruling the place so why shouldn’t they now?” he asked.
“What I find dodgy is that architects on the whole seem to be willing to go and work for pretty much any country.”
Hong Kong law
Designated as a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong has its own “basic law” and a high degree of autonomy but with foreign policy and the military controlled by China.
A crown colony of the UK until the transfer to Chinese rule in 1997, the two countries agreed Hong Kong will retain its capitalist system for 50 years.
China still has ultimate control over Hong Kong, with residents admitting free speech and other rights are affected by this.