In an attempt to save his tarnished image, Danish “starchitect” Bjarke Ingels has suggested that the Danish journalist Jóhann Thór Haahr Hansen, who wrote a well-researched and critical exposé of Ingels’s involvement in Albania, was “xenophobic.”
Last week, Haahr Hansen authored a front-page article for the largest Danish newspaper Politiken, discussing Ingels’s involvement in the destruction of the National Theater in Tirana, a cultural heritage site where Fusha, a construction company with close ties to the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama, is planning multiple skyscrapers. In exchange for large swaths of public land, Fusha promised to rebuild the National Theater according to Ingels’s design.
In the past, Exit has extensively reported on the attempts of the Rama government to first grant Fusha the site illegally without tender procedure, and the failure of the negotiations between the Municipality of Tirana and Fusha once a tender was actually held. The role of Bjarke Ingels has been shrouded in unclarity. Ingels first falsely claimed to have won an architecture competition, then refused to answer questions, claiming to have signed a non-disclosure agreement with its “client.”
Even though Haahr Hansen and Politiken had invited Bjarke Ingels to offer his perspective, something which he has done extensively in the past, Ingels refused. In his op-ed, published before the weekend, Ingels now resorts – on his own terms – to a strategy that is all too familiar to those following Albanian current affairs: the ad-hominem attack. Rather than responding to the troubling questions surrounding his involvement with the National Theater project in Tirana, Ingels attempts to discredit the messenger:
The article paints Albania and Albanians as corrupt across the board, […]. I must admit that in a way I can understand what the journalist thinks […] about Albanians, even if it may seem both arrogant and xenophobic.
In fact, Haahr Hansen’s article merely cites a report from Transparency International stating that Albania one of the most corrupt countries in Europe. This is neither arrogance nor xenophobia. It’s a simple fact. In no way does the cited Transparency International report imply that “Albanians” are corrupt – but the government certainly, the same government that Ingels spends several paragraphs defending.
Ingels trots out the tired story of how Edi Rama “transformed” Tirana and how a small cabal of then fashionable artists, led by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, joined him to recreate the city. I have already debunked this fairy-tale elsewhere.
He mentions “young people in their twenties” representing the Municipality of Tirana “reporting directly to the mayor,” as if that were a shining example of commited civil service rather than a glaring absence of accountability. He mentions the “public–private partnership” for the construction of the new National Theater, while glossing over the fact that its implementation violated Albanian law and agreements with the European Union. He mentions “violent demonstrations” against the reconstruction of Skënderbeg Square, even though the only remarkable thing happening there is Fusha shpk grabbing more than €15 million in taxpayer money in dubious tender procedures.
In his op-ed, Ingels claimed that he has received input from Albanian theater makers and actors, even though he ignored the incessant pleas of the Alliance for the Protection of the National Theater to visit the site and enter into dialogue. One can only wonder whom he actually talked to, considering that dozens of Albanian artists and theater makers signed an open letter denouncing its destruction and Rama’s cultural policies in general.
Towards the end of his piece, Ingels offers a cringe-worthy display of self-pity, stating that the National Theater project is “not a matter of BIG getting rich: it’s going to cost us a lot.” He even complains that “this is not a matter for which we are praised: so far in Politiken I have seen myself accused of triggering ‘violence and corruption’.”
Excuse me, we should praise you for providing the flashy façade for corrupt regime that consistently uses violence, oppression, and intimidation against any form of criticism and resistance? We should praise you for ignoring the real social impact that your endorsement of Prime Minister Rama’s backsliding regime has? We should praise you for working together with one of the most dubious business empires in Albania?
On second thought it all makes sense: in his attempt at self-defense he shows that he is the perfect architect for a political class that serves only itself. Bjarke, you passed the test!