Why is BP sponsoring an architecture biennial?

Why is BP sponsoring an architecture biennial; specifically the Chicago Architecture Biennial, titled “The State of the Art of Architecture”, no less? What’s in it for them? What are they expecting in return?

I’m curious, because these kinds of architecture events are usually sponsored by the construction industry, or else by purveyors of luxury goods. The Buenos Aires architecture biennial was sponsored mainly by manufacturers of construction materials, such as Roca, which makes bathroom fixtures. Last year’s Venice Biennale of architecture was sponsored largely by the Swiss luxury watchmaker Rolex. If not generally worn by architects, luxury watches are nevertheless worn by the kind of people who head construction companies, so it’s still somewhat related to architecture. But a petroleum multinational? What does BP have to do with architecture, be it of the ‘building’ or else of the ‘beyond-building’ variety?

It’s not like BP is a patron of high-quality architecture. I mean, this is BP’s headquarters in Anchorage, Alaska:

BP Architecture

Nice, eh? Then again, their off-shore oil rigs can be quite spectacular; like the Deepwater Horizon, which burned in 2010, gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days.

bp-oil-spill

I guess that’s the answer right there: BP needs to atone for its sins, and it can do that by sponsoring an architecture biennial with a markedly social bent to it. Through this greenwashing strategy, BP gets to look like a ‘good corporate citizen’ (an oxymoron if ever there was one), while seeing to it that avant-garde architecture stay out of its business interests by becoming even more self-absorbed and irrelevant. Or, maybe it’s rewarding the architectural establishment for its longstanding silence on climate change. I suspect it’s a combination of both.

Well, if architecture is going to be a form of ‘visual art’ that is increasingly limited to the cultural sphere of exhibition galleries, museums, ephemeral pop-up constructions, and biennials, then it’s going to need to rely increasingly on big corporate sponsorship agreements; just like the art world does. The difference is, however, that unlike the art world, architecture has an inherent responsibility toward the well-being of planet Earth. Architecture’s interests are diametrically opposed to those of petroleum multinationals, so it should not accept petro-dollars. Time to draw a red line.

size500_Roman2

“Gulf Oil Spill Underwater Cutaway”, by John Roman. Courtesy gallerynucleus.com

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

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