The one about The Sheikh and the Model

Deyan Sudjic on the architectural predilictions of the powerful, and the architects willingness to service them:

I started to collect images of the rich and powerful leaning over architectural models in a more systematic way after I suddenly found myself in the middle of one. The elder statesman of Japanese architecture, Arata Isozaki, had hired an art gallery in Milan owned by Miuccia Prada, for a presentation to an important client. Outside, two black Mercedes cars full of bodyguards were parked on either side of the entrance, alongside a vanload of carabinieri. Inside was another of those room-size models. Isozaki described it as a villa. In fact it was a palace for a Qatari sheikh, who was his country’s minister for culture. And the palace had to do rather more than accommodate the sheikh, his family, his collection of rare breed animals and his Ferraris, his Bridget Rileys and his Hockney swimming pool, as well as his Richard Serra landscape installation.

Each piece of the building had been allocated to an individual architect or designer. Ron Arad was doing one room, Tom Dixon another, John Pawson a third. Isozaki’s assistants were marshalling them for an audience with the sheikh. The architects waited, and they waited, drinking coffee and eating pastries dispensed by waiters in black tie until the sheikh finally arrived, almost two hours late.

Here was the relationship between power and architecture in its most naked form, a relationship of subservience to the mighty as clear as if the architect were a hairdresser or a tailor. In fact the villa never got built, and the last report I heard of the sheikh was that he was under house arrest while police investigated details of his purchases of millions of dollars-worth of art on behalf of the government.

More on “The Edifice Complex” at this week’s Observer Review