Architectural Controversies: Designs and Ethical Debates of 2023

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This year, we discussed many projects and events in architecture and design. Here is a quick look at a few architectural controversies we selected for you.

In the year 2023, there were several events and developments that took our attention. One of the notable ones was the NEOM project that was being discussed, particularly in the context of its potential impact on the earth. Additionally, there was a discussion about new skyscrapers, generating much interest and curiosity among people. Another event was the rebranding of Twitter, which its users were closely watching. However, amidst all these exciting developments, there were also some serious allegations of sexual misconduct that were leveled against David Adjaye, which caused a lot of controversy and debate in the industry.

Looking back to 2023, there were many positive and negative events that triggered change, including many firsts, trending topics, breakthroughs, and significant changes. Also, here’s a review of that year.

NEOM, Saudi Arabia


NEOM is a large urban planning project currently being built in Saudi Arabia. The project covers a total planned area of 26,500 km2 and includes multiple regions, such as a floating industrial complex, trade hub, and tourist resorts. The project is expected to be completed by 2040. However, NEOM’s construction has been criticized for violating environmental and human rights standards.

The NEOM project in Saudi Arabia includes several key developments. One of the most well-known projects as part of the NEOM development is called The Line, which is also the most discussed one. The Line was designed to accommodate around 9 million residents within a 34 square kilometer area. According to the company, the project was designed with a model where residents can access the necessary facilities within a 5-minute walk.

SHoP Architects’s Brooklyn Tower, USA


The Brooklyn Tower is a skyscraper that was designed by SHoP Architects and developed by JDS Development Group. The architecture firm took inspiration from the historic Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn and incorporated the hexagonal composition and patterning into the tower’s design. The tower stands at a height of 1,066 ft., making it Brooklyn’s first supertall skyscraper.

Zaha Hadid Architects design for NEOM’s Trojena


A few months ago, NEOM unveiled a new skyscraper that was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects which is 330 meters tall and is located at Trojena ski resort in Saudi Arabia. The design was presented at the Cityscape Global Conference in Riyadh. It is located 50 kilometers from the Gulf of Aqaba in the mountains of Saudi Arabia. The crystal-like structure will become an iconic landmark in the region.

The mountain resort will be included in the NEOM mega-development. Lava Architecture created the masterplan, and Zaha Hadid Architects, UNStudio, and Aedas are among the offices collaborating on the project.

BIG’s First Supertall Skyscraper, New York

The Spiral is a 314-meter-tall building located on West 34th Street between Hudson Boulevard and 10th Avenue in Manhattan. It has a “ziggurat silhouette” and was designed by Bjarke Ingels Group in collaboration with Adamson Associate. The building is situated along the High Line and Bella Abzug Park, and its purpose is to create a sustainable and people-centric work environment. The building’s exterior is wrapped in a continuous green ribbon created by cascading landscaped terraces and hanging gardens. The Spiral is BIG’s first completed supertall and New York’s first completed commercial high-rise.

Elon Musk’s Twitter Rebrand

In 2022, Elon Musk got ownership of Twitter and revealed his plan to rebrand it in 2023. He renamed it as ‘X’ and introduced a new logo that replaced the iconic blue bird. As reported, Musk planned to turn X into an “all-in-one app” similar to China’s WeChat. However, his decision to change the logo’s design, which he claimed was inspired by Art Deco, and the overall rebranding received widespread controversies from designers, former staff, and marketing experts. Some individuals even accused him of “cultural vandalism” due to his choices.

The Sphere Los Angeles

The Sphere is an entertainment arena located in Paradise, Nevada. Its construction was announced in February 2018, and it officially opened on September 29, 2023. Populous designed the project, and is the most expensive entertainment venue in the history of Las Vegas. The dome-shaped roof has around 3,000 tons of steel and stands 112 meters high while being 157 meters wide at its broadest point. Sphere features a 16K resolution wraparound LED screen that measures 15,000 sqm inside. The arena hosts various events, such as award shows, concerts, and other entertainment events.

Snøhetta’s Unionization Dispute

Ketil Jacobsen

Snøhetta (New York) was recently involved in a dispute regarding unionization. Employees petitioned to unionize, seeking a collective voice in their workplace and profession. However, the workers later voted against the motion. During the unionization process, there were allegations that Snøhetta conducted an anti-union campaign, leading to an Unfair Labor Practice charge filed by Architectural Workers United. The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating the claims that Snøhetta discriminated against employees engaged in union activities.

Accusations Against David Adjaye

Ed Reeve

David Adjaye faced accusations of sexual misconduct, as reported by three former female employees. These allegations were detailed in an investigative report by the Financial Times. Adjaye has categorically rejected these claims. The situation has brought attention to the broader issue of workplace conduct within the architecture industry.

Adjaye said about controversies: “I absolutely reject any claims of sexual misconduct, abuse or criminal wrongdoing. These allegations are untrue, distressing for me and my family, and run counter to everything I stand for. I am ashamed to say that I entered into relationships that though entirely consensual, blurred the boundaries between my professional and personal lives. I am deeply sorry. To restore trust and accountability, I will be immediately seeking professional help in order to learn from these mistakes to ensure that they never happen again.”

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