The cutting-edge architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron are facing severe pressure in Switzerland for designing the luxury building with all-too hypercapitalist fittings, common across the Middle East–windowless cells for live-in “maids”.
The multilayered 119-meter high rise was constructed in 2009 and quickly became an iconic feature in Beirut’s skyline, marking the firm’s first project in Lebanon.
In 2013, the project ranked 3rd among 36 projects worldwide in the MIPIM Awards, and as ArchDaily wrote:
“The structure and appearance of the proposed building are informed with an awareness and respect for the city’s past, as well as the self-confidence and optimism of contemporary Beirut. Five principles define the project: layers and terraces, inside and outside, vegetation, views and privacy, light and identity.”
However, today the firm is being called out for fitting these luxury apartments with windowless 3.9 square meter chambers for domestic workers and therein furthering the normalization of the exploitative Kafala system.
These chambers are attached to the kitchen and laundry room “so that the staff remains invisible,” a Swiss architect wrote on Twitter.
According to estimates, there are more than 250,000 people, largely from Africa and Asia, living and working in private households in Lebanon under the Kafala system.
Most of them are expected to be available at all times, and may not change jobs or resign without their employer’s consent.
Under the Kafala system, these so-called “maids” are often found to be treated as slaves, with conditions only worsening under the economic crisis.
Critics allege that the Basel architects are now accomplices. Several fellow Swiss architects doubled down on the idea that you don’t have to build everything your client demands–especially not rooms worse than most prison cells.
When asked by the Swiss paper, 20 Minuten, Herzog and de Meuron said: “For the Beirut Terraces project, we planned and recommended different concepts to the customer. What was realized here, however, was the express wish of the client and was carried out on his instructions.”
According to public records, the Beirut Terraces is owned by DIB Tower SAL and TOWN Tower SAL.