Serpentine Pavilion architect Junya Ishigami has defended the use of unpaid interns at his Tokyo studio, saying it is common practice in Japan and that criticism of it is ‘unfair’
Ishigami was speaking to the AJ at a private viewing of the pavilion following the cancellation of the official press launch after the shock resignation of gallery chief Yana Peel.
The 44-year-old designer said everyone at the practice who worked on projects was paid, except for students on ‘work experience’.
He explained that such placements were offered to students working ‘volunteer hours’ as part of their university degrees. He said: ’This is a common practice in Japan and elsewhere, and one that allows students to gain the necessary credits required by universities and architecture schools.’
Earlier this year the AJ revealed a student had been offered an unpaid internship of up to three months ‘or more’ with a six-day working week with office hours of 11 am to midnight.
According to the email, the placement would last for a period of eight to 12 weeks ‘or more’, with interns required to use their own software and computer equipment.
It also said foreign applicants must obtain visas and entry into Japan independently. ’The maximum we can provide is one invitation/confirmation letter of your internship. Please respect that,’ it stated.
The policy sparked condemnation from many UK architects and prompted the Serpentine to write to the practice ordering it to pay all staff working on the pavilion commission.
The controversy had initially been made public in March on the Instagram account of architect Adam Nathaniel Furman, who posts practices’ responses to internship requests across the globe, under the hashtag #archislavery.
At the time, the practice did not respond to the AJ’s requests for comment, instead responding with an offer of an internship in its Tokyo studio.
However, yesterday Ishigami insisted the controversy was a ‘misunderstanding’, adding: ’I feel it’s unfair that people ask me about the interns as it’s for everyone the same situation.’
It is not the first time a Serpentine architect has been involved in controversy over internships. In 2013 the pavilion designer Sou Fujimoto, defended the practice of using unpaid interns in Japan, describing the system as a ’nice opportunity’.
And later that year the Serpentine itself was targeted by student protesters after it advertised an unpaid position at the gallery.
Ishigami, who won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010, worked with SANAA until 2004, when he set up his own practice, Junya Ishigami + Associates.