From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Bjarke Ingels Criticised for Designing for Despots

Bjarke Ingels, the architect behind the redesign of Tirana’s new National Theatre has been called out for securing his “latest big commission from another unsavoury despot” by Oliver Wainwright, for The Guardian.

Wainwright wrote an article shedding light on Ingels’ latest project with Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. According to the article, Ingels visited Brazil to discuss “strategies for developing sustainable tourism” along the countries northeast coast.

Ingels waxed lyrical about the project to The Guardian, talking of models of tourism development that offers a “welcome alternative to the kind of high-rise hotels that spring up on the beach”. 

He left out the part where Bolsonaro has been described as a “populist” who has called having a daughter a “weakness”, said that men and women should not receive equal pay, and told a female federal deputy “I would not rape you because you are not worthy of it”.

He also said he would rather his son die than be gay, that he would hit gay men if he saw them kissing, and said that African descendants were not even useful for reproduction. He has also publicly stated he is in favour of torture and that he once thought of shooting his ex-wife.

The Guardian questions what “big tech’s cheeky go-to boy” is doing working with a “growing base of autocrats”. He is said to be engaged in big projects in Saudi Arabia where following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, he apparently debated whether to pull out of the project, but decided against it.

He was quoted as saying “The road to ethical impact as an architect is to propose the future we want to companies and governments even if they have different views. We have to embrace our differences if we want to create a future that is different.”

Apparently these differences mean turning a blind eye to flogging, amputation, and beheading for  ‘crimes’ against the Saudi state.

In Albania, the Democratic Party asked prosecutors in October 2019 to open an investigation into Ingels on alleged crimes of passive corruption, assisting in an illegal construction and unlawful influence of public officials. They also asked prosecutors to demand a court order to freeze the National Theatre project until a court verdict against Ingels is issued.

The PD claim that by accepting to work on the National Theatre project without having been subject to a procurement agreement of contract with the Albanian government, Ingels accepted an “irregular offer”.

The National Theatre project has been mired in controversy from the beginning as it would involve selling off public land, demolishing one of Tirana’s oldest remaining cultural sites, and erecting private towers containing commercial and luxury residential units in its place. Because selling land to a private company is illegal, the Socialist Party government passed a ‘Special Law’ in the Socialist majority parliament to allow it. This law violates the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Commission and is deemed to be unconstitutional.

Government favourites Fusha shpk was planned to build the project but received a lot of criticism with many saying that the project had been designed with them in mind. The Municipality of Tirana then published a call for offers in August with a deadline of 19 September. The Municipality has still not published the winner and has refused to do so.

Meanwhile, Ingels had listed Fusha shpk as a client on his website, an acclaim that has now been removed.

Ingels claimed to have “won” the tender to design the new National Theatre through a “public competition”, yet no evidence of any competition taking place has been found and Ingels refused to provide any.

An organisation called the Alliance for the National Theatre have been protesting for the Theatre’s salvation for around 18 months. Following police attempts to intimidate them into leaving the site, activists have been occupying the Theatre and putting on shows and exhibitions.

The Theatre has also been shortlisted by Europa Nostra as one of Europe’s most endangered sites. The organisation have repeatedly called on the Albanian government to preserve the theatre as it is a “heritage site of great cultural and architectural importance”