Blackface photo costs Rotterdam company a Baltimore construction project

Sinterklaas_zwarte_piet Michell Zappa Wikimedia commons

Rotterdam architecture firm West 8 resigned from a large construction project in the American city of Baltimore after a photo surfaced of a Sinterklaas party showing people dressed as Zwarte Piet, blackface makeup and afro wigs and all.

The photo was taken at a Sinterklaas party at the West 8's office in Rotterdam in 2012, the company said in a statement to The Architect's Newspaper. It features a former employee dressed as Sinterklaas, with his three children dressed as blackface Zwarte Piet. While the tradition of dressing up in blackface for Sinterklaas parties is increasingly under fire in the Netherlands, blackface makeup is already a massively sensitive issue in the United States.

The photo was sent to the Baltimore City Council anonymously late in June, a West 8 spokesperson said to NOS. The company immediately distanced itself from the photo and resigned from the project to redevelop a port and riverbank area in the city, called the Middle Branch project. Almost a week later, the photo was published in online newspaper The Baltimore Brew.

"West 8 believes [Zwarte Piet] is a racist character," the company said in a statement to The Architect's Newspaper. "West 9 condemns black-face characters and immediately banned [Sinterklaas] celebrations in West 8 offices following the incident in 2012, stating unequivocally that [Zwarte Piet] is a racist character."

The company decided to immediately withdraw from the project so that this incident does not become a distraction to the team and process, West 8 said. "We are not bigger than the project, and what's best for the team, the City of Baltimore, and the communities that make up the Middle Branch is for our firm to step aside."