The most recent assumption about the people who built the Great Pyramid of Giza is that they weren’t in fact slaves. Sadly, the same cannot be said for those who built the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, which opened this month.
It’s beautiful! The annex of the Louvre, located on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island and designed by the French Jean Nouvel, is in a class of its own. Morning newspaper Le Figaro referred to it as “a museum of a pharaonic span.” The desert version of the French museum is made up of twenty-five buildings, covering a total of 8,600 square meters (28,215 square feet) of exhibition space, topped with a magnificent dome which, at a weight of 7,500 tons, is about as heavy as the entire Eiffel Tower. The total cost is about €600 million ($710.9 million), plus a bill of €400 million ($473.9 million) sent to Paris, just for Abu Dhabi to be allowed to use the name “Louvre.”
On the day of the opening, Human Rights Watch announced just what the state of human rights is in the emirate.
Specifically, their report criticizes the building of the museum (an annex for the Guggenheim is in the works, too) on the island. However, the situation for immigrant workers happens to be dire in general. Laborers die in unsafe work environments. Their passports are taken from them, and their meagre accommodation is locked for the night. It goes without saying that their pay is just as meagre.
Thankfully, not all grandiose architecture requires slavery. Following an earthquake destroying almost every building in the Chinese village of Guangming, a prototype house was built, its structure based on new insights. Traditional, local materials and construction methods turned out to make for great resistance against seismic activity. The building won the Chinese University of Hong Kong the title “World Building of the Year” last week, the most prestigious prize at the World Architecture Festival.
If Chinese villages can succeed at making sustainable choices, then so can we. You and I can decide tomorrow to take into account the circumstances in the countries that manufacture our mobile phones and electric cars. The information is out there: just last, week Amnesty International published a report on the production of cobalt, an essential component in the production of batteries. Did you know that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the world’s main producers of cobalt, children as young as four years old work in the mines?
Car manufacturers are not doing so well either, according to Amnesty’s analysis: Renault and Daimler are not transparent, making it tricky to track the source of the cobalt that’s in their batteries. BMW performs slightly better, but can also improve in terms of transparency, according to Amnesty.
Let’s continue to go on beautiful travels, indulge in other cultures and pay a fair price for our gadgets. The “race to the bottom” in which the most vulnerable people are exploited in order to obtain these things is not one that we should want to run, however.
This article originally appeared on Studio Zeitgeist.