Little attention is drawn to corruption in the multi-layered field of Architecture as sociocultural phenomenon. Most likely, such situation is due to the fact that one of the essential features of architecture identity is traditionally associated with the sphere of art (in an abstract and vague sense of this word). What kind of art? Today, to answer this question is even more difficult than ever, because the concept of contemporary art, like that of contemporary architecture, does no longer have a clear quality vector. Traditional branches of art often used to be (but less often still are) a part of architectural space and/ or decoration, therefore their relationship with architecture is even more ambiguous, as architecture in one or another way appropriates them (at least, used to appropriate). Archetypically thinking and quoting one of the founding fathers of modernist architecture Frank Lloyd Wright, “Architecture is the mother of all arts”, but to say so nowadays would be neither accurate, nor honest. Up to the present, this thesis most often was acceptable only to architects and helped them to legitimize their social position and significance. Thus art (as loosely defined above) is associated with architectural phenomena most often retrospectively, assuming that some time in the past it had clearly positive origin and purpose. The constituent part of art, even its mobilizing environment, was architecture – larger form of art incorporating other arts, ensuring spatial and other qualities for its perception. Traditionally, art was understood as an activity or reality reflecting an ideal social state, therefore, this quality was almost automatically ascribed to architecture and architectural practice.
While analysing the issue of corruption, we will stick to this conception, although it discloses interconnections between architecture and arts in a very simplified, almost primitive way. But only such set-up of reality, reduced to an archetypal level,  allows us for at least partial definition of the interaction between architecture and corruption on the ontological level, and also helps to answer the question, why traditionally architecture has not been directly associated with forms and activities of corruption. It is still difficult to answer this question. And the truth, most likely, rests on such idealized concept being mythical and very romanticized, probably because of the fact that architecture itself has always been closely related to subjects of social power or just the authorities and elites in society, to whom the functions of morality benchmark and keeper were (often unworthily) ascribed. But the situation has changed a long time ago. Today, the elites no longer protect anything, probably the other way round, and society nowadays looks at architecture with scepticism, sometimes even with hostility. There have been many reasons for formation of such an approach. The elitism of architecture and apprehensions about its corruption, most likely, are one of such reasons. It is possible that the reality of the history and phenomena of architecture (as “the art of construction” in the traditional sense) is even simpler, totally prosaic. And the regular pattern in this case is even more primitive: as soon as an access to the resources and their distribution appears, the probability for a corrupt thinking formation occurs. The huger are the resources, the bigger is this probability.
Thus we can easily detect this direct proportionality relationship, also valid at all levels of architectural practice. Yet, on the one hand, the function of huge resource distribution has been and still is rarely available to architects (maybe because of their “inclination to art” or ambitiousness?). Actually, the contrary is true, and the majority of practicing architects is forced to face restrictions of resources in their daily activities. But, on the other hand, sometimes certain situations occur, when making influence on the politicking level is possible concerning allotment of social resources in the area of architecture (or a city), and then an architect acts as a “social agent” in favour of someone (and/ or against someone), representing someone (this may be a person, power subject, its idea or even a part of society). Then from architecture as a practice, he passes into the higher sphere of social architecture, of influence and effect, in which the relationship of architecture with the “ideal” state or positive attitude becomes even more ambiguous. Here an architect has to choose the type of his service and the “true master”, whose structure of relations and system of values he starts automatically representing himself, sometimes also taking over the thinking patterns, and sometimes just adjusting his own system of thinking to the requirements of the master. Such a “master” can be society, public good, ideal reality to be achieved, or a specific subject of social power and its interests.
It is this “macro” situation, where the recurrence of corrupt thinking in architecture is the most interesting, as the sequences of events and actions (not declarations) disclose the true values of architects and their institutions, their thinking principles, actual belonging to groups, clans, representing their “masters”, etc. The truth is that the concept of “grand corruption” would be not so simple to apply to architectural phenomena and the field of culture, unless we would start deeper analysis of, let us say, look at the history of procrastination of the Law on Architecture in Lithuania. Yet, it would be difficult not to confuse the concepts, because the difference between “lobbying” and “purchasing” the law, or abuse of power and representation of opposing groups still is not fully distinct and accurate. These are the issues of “grey” or administrative corruption level, which are only partially relevant in Lithuania, during the time “without the architecture policy”, only inside the field of architecture and only to its participants. Corruption facts on such level are almost impossible to prove, unless a strong social power and expression of its will is faced. The sphere of architecture is not so significant as that of political parties, therefore this “battle field” is not so intense.
The forms of petite corruption, however, are easily detectable in architecture, even apart from fraud and bribery, considering only the misuse of delegated powers and maybe a bit of embezzlement, bearing in mind urban public spaces, cultural values or ideas, which are not your own (theft of such things is more and more common in the field of architecture). Speaking of the petite corruption, favouritism, institutional corruption in social and political activities, representing the professional community, social or public interests can be clearly discerned. These are the elements of the “micro” level, the sequences of events and activities, in which certain logic, causes and effects may be noticed, certain assumptions made, but they need evidence, which is difficult, but not impossible to obtain. In both cases, actual efficiency is doubtful. All this is just another argument for focusing on manifestations of corrupt thinking, as the both above mentioned (macro and micro) levels are very complicated, and to prove the real corruption is quite difficult on both of them.
Lastly, in the field of architecture like in other spheres of social activities, it is almost impossible to measure the actual level of corruption. Among other things, a latent state is its characteristic feature, and cultural relativism often allows for levelling corruption and ascribing it to our cultural mentality. In addition to this, the problem is that the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in the field of architecture has never been analysed in more detail, and the data collected may also not be objective. It would be logical to associate this phenomenon to the general Corruption Map of Lithuania, the investigation conducted by the Transparency international in Lithuania. According to it, the corruption phenomenon cannot be related to post-socialist (post-traumatic) society, but more to the moral degradation of citizens and shortage of skills for appropriate management of administrative activities. A significant factor in this context is the forgiveness of society towards corrupt activities. It means that the corrupt thinking of certain “domestic” level is acceptable to all of us. According to such thinking, it is “normal” that someone somehow is cheated at the cost of the system and thus the system itself is ostensibly hacked. It is quite interesting that statistically the common situation is not so critical (it depends on how we make our comparisons), because the CPI of Lithuania at the beginning of 2016 was 61 and our country was number 15 in Europe and 32 in the world. This data signifies quite medium position, however, it does not reflect the actual situation of the architectural field. In this case, the Corruption Map of Lithuania provides by far more information, but here, too, the answers to questions can be related to architecture only indirectly and namely that part of architecture, which services the construction sector and is an active actor in it.
Thus, we can conclude that no reliable statistic data is available and it cannot reflect the general corruption level in the area of architecture. This leads to an assumption that relevant institutions of architecture have failed to perform their appropriate functions. But here we come across an interesting division: two distinct areas of architectural activity may be distinguished – the one related to construction and technologies, controlled by the actors of the construction sector (in general it can be referred to as “the commercial architecture”), and the other participating more in the cultural field of architecture and being more independent from the subjects of power, based more on the principles of social responsibility (let us agree to call it “the cultural architecture”). The first one services the construction or so-called “developing” business, has more interests in it, raises only the minimum requirements to the quality of architecture, but very high requirements to effective management of the related processes and permits/ authorisations, usually ignores the culture of architecture and its social responsibilities. While the second one is related to creative processes, culture of architecture, education, creative contemporary business and socially responsible activities, understands the social significance and added value of architecture. It is interesting to mention that in both such areas persons calling themselves architects practice, and the activities of the majority of them are legitimized by the respective architects and project managers’ certificates.
Is any “in-between” variant possible? We would say, yes, but it also bears clear features of corrupt thinking, and such cases can really be found. These are architects or their groups declaring strong cultural values, but at the same time serving the representatives of corrupt thinking. This is witnessed by the above-mentioned choices of “the master”. We could think it is mendacity, but the specialists of appropriate institutions would say it is the matter of public relations and self-positioning strategies. Thus, this is probably the matter of selection of values, and such statement is possible to make, when the situation is simplified up to the dual level.
Seeking for the best possible clarity in this article, we will analyse only these two areas of architectural activity – commercial and cultural. The first one is quite obviously more frequently associated with the corrupt thinking and its features than the other. Very often the members of the civil society can see them, but cannot express in their professional language. On the other hand, here we also face the phenomenon of collective disregard and conformism, when even the members of the architects’ community (if any) no longer raise questions about corrupt thinking, conform to the negative situation and do not want or cannot change anything. Yes, in this case we talk about the architects’ organizations, the main of which at present are two – the Lithuanian Union of Architects (LUA) and Lithuanian Chamber of Architecture (LCA). Relatively, they can be called “the old” and “the new” solely in a chronological sense. Although their functions are clear at first sight, but legally their activities and responsibilities have not been yet defined in full. Let us hope, they will be in the nearest future. Both of them are kind of representing the architect’s profession in Lithuania; in both of them the two of the aforementioned areas – servicing and creating, commercial and cultural – may be discerned. An essential difference between the two organizations is that of values, as the values followed in both cases are a bit different. Both of them are public institutions with their typical structures of thinking, which are noticeable in their activities and the results of such activities, corrupt thinking including.
The institutional corruption in general has an issue of dual nature in common. Namely, (A) self-organizational, when due to its corrupt thinking an institution fails to perform its initial and main functions, and violations of corruption character are often sanctioned from the inside of such an institution; and (B) the issue of trust – an institution loses its credibility “from the inside”, as well as “from the outside”, or in other words, it loses its social efficiency. These two problems are interrelated, and further we can go deeper into the forms of corruption, but it is noteworthy to say that the main criterion in both cases is corrupt thinking and entrenchment of its principles in these organizations. In case of the LCA, such thinking structures so far are hardly detectible, as the main activity of this institution is orientated towards the legal framework. But the situation in the LUA is different. This organization has been losing its credibility both “from the outside” and “from the inside”. This happens, on the one hand, damaging its authority by ineffective, low-quality public activities. Some of the clearest features of it are the regular pattern of low-quality arrangement of architectural competitions, doubtful procedure and character of its internal organization and decision-making, inefficient internal criticism, etc. All these things indicate a certain vicious thinking, and the level of distrust in this organization also reveal a configuration of corrupt thinking. In 2014, the Lithuanian Union of Architects passed the regulations for organization of architectural competitions, but later by its own activities denied them. The LUA was responsible for defectively organized “K18” and other architectural competitions of socially important objects in Vilnius. The “K18” was in obvious breach of all urban planning documents effective at the time, but still was carried out. Thus a simple question can be raised: what/ whose interests does the LUA represent? Of architects? Society? Most likely, the interests of developers and constructors. The results of the LUA activities up to the end of 2016 stand in confirmation of a very clear tendency and issue, the essence of which is persistence of corrupt thinking and formation of corrupt environment ensuring the further development of such thinking through accepting and legitimizing very doubtful solutions related to significant architectural objects. The same was also stated by a special investigation group (KOViRT – the Group for Evaluation and Improvement of Competition Organization) established by the LUA itself in its published conclusions regarding the organization of the “K18” competition. These conclusions were discussed publicly by society and architects’ community. But have all this brought any concrete results? Has any responsibility been claimed after publicizing the investigation conclusions? Has any assessment of the damage been made? Has at least one person responsible for performance of the competition resigned, or been removed from office? The answers are negative. The capability to solve similar problems effectively and determinedly, however, signifies the system of values and vitality level of any organization. In this case, it is not difficult to make the conclusions and understand, what kind of thinking is dominant in this organization. It is enough to follow, what happens “afterwards”, and my advice to the reader is to do this.
Speaking of corrupt thinking in general, we can only state that where architecture stops being social interdisciplinary art (this approach starts dominating in the common field of architecture) and becomes “a concubine” of construction developers (I have to restrict myself from saying something more biting), corrupt thinking patterns and even corrupt environment become unavoidable.
The year 2016 seems quite significant in this context of institutional corrupt thinking. It can be worthily considered an important cultural benchmark in history of Lithuanian architecture. It was the year, when two important and controversial buildings have mentally disappeared from the urban face of the capital city. Soon, they will disappear also in the physical sense. Both of them were significant to the culture of architecture not because of their aesthetical or other qualities that help to define their values, but due to their social impact on the city. These buildings were the Lietuva cinema theatre (future Modern Art Centre) and Lithuanian Traffic Police building in Giraitė Street, Vilnius. Similar to the “K18” competition, they were resonant buildings, and in both cases the related persons, institutions, procedures and incompetence of competitions, bad results and recurrent thinking can be noticed. The case of the Lietuva cinema theatre was quite extensively enlightened in the media some time earlier. In addition to this, we can say that through the transformation process and problems of this building, the main approaches to the public interest were established. Some positive results were achieved: the cultural space and place in the Old town of Vilnius was retained. Other issues concerning this building are of secondary importance, although they also have similar problem tail of architectural competitions, participants and typical thinking.
Whereas the case of the Traffic Police building is unique considering the corrupt thinking. Insufficient attention has been paid to the architectural qualities of this building, and it has not been listed as a cultural value because of unwillingness and incompetence [of respective institutions] to assess its value, but also due to a controversial approach towards the architecture of postmodernism prevailing in Lithuania. To some architects and actors in the cultural field it does not exist at all, to others – it is related to soviet history and architectural representation of its power, which ostensibly needs to be eliminated as soon as possible. And, finally, there is one more group of people, to whom it is just a good piece of architecture conveying the tension of values of “that” [soviet] period, highlighting the global influence of postmodernist ideas and their specific dissemination in Lithuania. Most likely, the truth was possible to find, except for the sad fact that the condition of the former traffic police building was deliberately worsened while the society was engaged in negotiations and discussions concerning it. Then no other way out remained except for declaring the building “unsafe”, partially dismantling it and thus up to the end of the year condemning it to a true decay. Such sequence of events clearly shows the developer and investor’s principles of values (or rather the absence of them) and social responsibility gaps. The further events, by which the society tried to express its moral support and protect the building, architects’ social campaigns near it have been fruitless. It is quite logical. Solutions concerning the quality, cultural value and fate of this building were passed on the institutional level with architects participating in it in one or another way. Unfortunately, as in many other cases, the magic words like “investor”, “developer” and their almost “indulgence” contribution to the better good of the city determined the prevalence of the legal and financial arguments over the cultural or value matters. Therefore, we can say that the year 2016 saw the value spine of the field of Lithuanian architecture being broken, rather than the death of Modernism or Postmodernism, or a new legend being born, as stated in Archata.lt and by Andrius Ropolas. Such consequences were not surprising: the competition that followed has showed just the scope of vicious thinking patterns discussed in this article. Institutional representation of the field of architectural culture have been devalued. And still this is not the end, because every person fixes its own personal level of such value “bottom”.
Thus we have just discussed the general context of the field of architectural culture in Lithuania and specific examples of institutional corrupt thinking with some typical elements of group thinking or even the clan logic. But such view of the map of corrupt thinking structures is still not full. Earlier in this article we have mentioned the corrupt environment, the expansion or development of which is supported by legitimized recurrences of institutional corrupt thinking. (We have consciously abstained from the topic of personal corruption in this article.) It is not difficult at all to see a few quite typical regularities of corrupt thinking in the environment influencing the field of architecture: (1) gradually increased number of various restrictions, overcoming of which is possible only to a part of actors; (2) legitimization of certain over-complicated procedures, which can be easily manipulated and used for influencing the relevant processes and circle of actors. Both aforementioned points can be ascribed to bureaucratisation, and both of them have some interesting nuances in the field of architecture. For example, the municipality of the Super X region is famous for its peculiar attitude to interpretation of different regulations (sometimes even the laws), as well as procedures of design project approval. As the existing system of construction and design regulations is quite complicated and continuously changed, a possibility occurs for raising stricter requirements for technical documentation supplied for approval and this makes the entire process even more difficult. But as this specific problem field is created, certain conditions are also ensured to circumvent this system, i.e. a possibility “to reconcile” not according to a legally applied “single window” principle, but through a paid consultation with appropriate senior specialist. In other words, by smart application of powers legally delegated to municipality officials, artificial and quality-imitating obstacles are created, where they are not supposed to be, the same high quality requirements are applied to technical design projects of public purpose buildings and simple residential houses. Such aggravation impacts the development in the Super X region, allows for the maximum control over the electorate (on the macro-sociopolitical level), and also influences the circle of possible actors, or at least creates conditions for occurrence of such restriction (on the micro-socioeconomic level). The situation form the legal perspective looks transparent, as the design project checking official of the Super X region X-ksevich essentially performs his duties super diligently and equally cruelly examines all projects coming into his hands, sometimes even making his comments about architecture. In addition to this, such performance generates another problem – that of the time resource, when “difficult” projects can be “pushed through” or checked out of turn, with the help of “friends” in the Super X region municipality. Thus a problem is created and then possible ways for its solution or even a circle of possible “solvers”. There are lots of “architects”-managers among them, because other “ordinary” architects without such great management skills simply cannot work in this “foreign territory”. For doing this kind of job, not only specific abilities, but also relevant thinking system is required. Thus, the problem of time resource makes a direct influence on competition. And in this kind of competitive environment, management skills, quantity and fast reaction win, but not creative thinking and quality architecture.
Thus, in both aforementioned cases (1 and 2), corrupt thinking manifests in the environment, where an ordinary architect and “architect”-manager act as natural persons, although being similarly certified, they have small or somehow “increased” powers. In this system, they act as agents – mediators/ managers. Does it make any effect on architecture quality? The answer is negative. The regulations do not define the quality aspect, and it is hardly possible to do this by the law. Contemporary legislation of buildings (not architecture) is focused on the aspects of construction, techniques, technologies and law, rather than architecture and its culture. Appropriate fulfilment of regulations does not guarantee any high quality architecture of the building as a result of the given designing process, any fact that the building can be called a piece of Architecture. Legislation does not separate commercial and cultural architecture; it just ensures the legal framework for construction.
For some time, the concept of architecture in general has been rarely used in the system of designing regulations. Therefore, while presenting the design solutions to society at large, the regulation requirements to protect the public interest (that should guarantee at least minimal quality) often can be easily circumvented by applying one or another instrument of manipulation with social influence, but all this actually does not influence the quality of architecture (as was illustrated by the “K18” example).
Besides, the system of bureaucratic restrictions as defined above affects the quality of architecture differently. A) Its influence on the macro level is relatively positive, but only as a form of minimum control through processes of social impact; B) but in reality it is negative, as seeking to overcome different bureaucratic restrictions a lot of energy is wasted for managerial activities with little attention being left for the quality of architecture. This determines the number of actors and course of their actions on “the designing market” (we have agreed to call it “the environment”) and the object of their activities (creation or management), attention to the process, because any systems of restrictions can be easier overcome by well-organized structures (companies), rather than creatively thinking architects. The latter are gradually pushed out of the so-called “designing market”. Here we face the indirect influence on actors within this environment, as only a large subject having appropriate resources at its disposal can act efficiently in this environment. Such situation may determine the extinction of the layer of independent creators and dominance of corporations in the field of architecture. Therefore, it can be stated that the prevailing tendency is that of indirect protection of the models and representatives (agents and intermediators) of commercial architecture manoeuvring between “what is wanted” and “what is allowable”. And the environment based on corrupt thinking is especially favourable for this.
Finally, in dominance of such environment and the logic of commercial architecture, any discussion about the value-based landmarks of architecture is meaningless and fruitless. Therefore, it is not surprising that the battles as described above are systematically lost.
(To be continued…)
Resources about corruption and architecture:
Question of architecture: http://meshberggroup.com/is-the-profession-of-architecture-corrupt/
This entire issue of the Culture and Criticism of Architecture platform Nulinis laipsnis is dedicated to the complex phenomenon in the field of architecture – corruption.
 Similar to Peter Dynselbacher’s Europäische Mentalitätsgeschichte, where archetypes of social mentality are defined.
 See the interview with Vytautas Dičius in the book Laisvės architektūra.
 The peculiarities of the organization were disclosed by the members of the LUA Council.
 See in the Archactivism issue of the zine of culture and criticism of architecture, 2014.
 Persistent attempts to define the value of this building by Andrius Ropolas, Matas Šiupšinskas and Aida Štelbienė should be noted here. See in more detail: http://archmuziejus.lt/lt/apie-tikraja-buvusios-keliu-policijos-bustines-pastato-architekturos-verte/#more-1879
 The editorial office is well-aware of the name of this municipality.
The project was supported by Lithuanian Council for Culture