Zaha Hadid sues critic
over book review



News: Zaha Hadid has filed a law suit against the New York Review of Books and architecture critic Martin Filler after allegedly defamatory comments about her attitude to migrant workers were published as part of a book review.

Hadid filed the complaint with the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan yesterday, claiming that Martin Filler had falsely implied that she did not care about the working conditions of migrant workers on her projects in the Middle East.

Filler's comments were made in a review of Rowan Moore's Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture titled The Insolsence of Architecture, which was published on June 5. At time of writing it was still available to subscribers online on the New York Review of Books website.

Hadid, who became the first female architect to receive the Pritzker Prize in 2004, is seeking damages from the New York Review of Books and a full retraction, as well as an immediate injunction on the review.

"Mr. Filler wrote a review of a 370-page book on architecture in which Ms. Hadid's name is mentioned in fewer than 20 pages. Mr. Filler's book review, by contrast, mentions Ms. Hadid in nearly two-thirds of its paragraphs," said a statement from BakerHostetler, the law firm who filed the complaint on behalf of Hadid.

"Nearly all of those references are used to call our client’s success into question or to characterise her personality as difficult. It is a personal attack disguised as a book review and has exposed Ms. Hadid to public ridicule and contempt, depriving her of confidence and injuring her good name and reputation," the statement continued.

The complaint also states that Filler had taken comments made by Hadid earlier this year about the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar out of context.

It says that Filler singled out and accused Hadid of "not taking responsibility and showing no concern" for alleged worker deaths on her own project for the Qatar 2022 World Cup – the Al Wakrah Stadium – which had not started on site when the comments were made.

Zaha Hadid's design for the Al Wakrah Stadium – one of the new venues being built for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

"As of June 2014, the date of publication of Mr. Filler’s article, only a few weeks of the initial stages of enabling works had begun on the Al Wakrah site, with construction set to begin in 2015," said Oren Warshavsk, a partner at BakerHostetler.

"There have been no worker deaths at the Al Wakrah site."

Hadid's statements were made at a press conference for the reopening of her Olympic swimming pool in London in February.

Asked about conditions on construction projects for the Qatar World Cup, Hadid said that it was responsibility of the Qatari government not architects to address issues relating to worker deaths.

"It's not my duty as an architect to look at it," said Hadid. "I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it. I think it's a problem anywhere in the world. But, as I said, I think there are discrepancies all over the world."

"I have nothing to do with the workers," she added. "I think that's an issue the government - if there's a problem - should pick up. Hopefully, these things will be resolved."

The New York Review of Books did not respond to requests for further comment.

In his review, Filler wrote: "neither Moore nor I have any compunction about biting the hands that feed us".

The dispute comes in the wake of a wave of controversy over the decision by London's Design Museum to award Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Centre in Azerbaijan – a country with a poor human rights record.

  • bigbird

    Some architects employ aluminium as their main construction material, but not Ms. Hadid. That’s too commercial for her. Instead, she opts for the ever-elusive and precious human life.

  • Adobogiona

    Like all people with extreme narcissism, she really thinks she can control everything…

  • 8mismo

    That’s Zaha Hadid at the top? I always imagined her being young and sexy. Her designs always look like someone really young did them… Not someone tempered by time and experience.

    • Felix Tannenbaum

      Kind of a weird and sexist thing to say though – an article about Zumthor wouldn’t have a comment discussing his looks.

      • Guest

        I’ve always thought he should have what hair he’s got in a ponytail, if that helps.

      • 8mismo

        Offensive nature aside, the comment is an observation about how someone’s designs can create an expectation in an audience’s mind about the creator themselves. In Zaha’s case, the disparity between reality and fantasy was a wide gap for me. Maybe I am weird sexist though, and this is an isolated phenomenon.

  • Anonymous

    Comment removed for not being nice enough to Ms. Hadid.

    • Hi,

      Your comment was not removed.

      Kind regards,


      • Omikey

        It’s a joke Ross… even i got it.

        • Fed Fef

          Bwhahaha, that’s hilarious!

  • sor perdida

    FYI, Mr. Filler: The Queen Bee reigns supreme!

  • Eva

    Never mind the working conditions of migrant workers in the Middle East. Just take a look at the working conditions of workers/interns in London!

    • Concerned Citizen

      I understand that most starchitects force the new hires to work for free, especially in the UK. I thought slavery was pretty much banished in the first world two centuries ago.

  • someguy

    Am I the only one who agrees with Zaha? Architects are known to put themselves at risk for insinuating themselves into issues of means, methods and site safety because it implies they have control when they have none, and can therefore be held accountable in court not just by critics. I can’t fault her for standing her ground.

    • Concerned Citizen

      Your comment has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Please read the story behind the headline.

  • Guest

    My heart breaks for all the highly-talented, hard-grafting architects who’ll never be given the chance to create even one Hadid-size project.

    • Daniel Brown

      It actually took Zaha a very long time to get anything built. She deserves nothing but respect for her keeping on trying, and she’s deservedly reaping the rewards of that effort now.

      Why does everyone give Zaha so much shit and not all the other British architects? And don’t say they don’t build in contentious countries, they all do!

      • Guest

        It takes every architect a long time to get anything meaningful built. But she had a bit of a head start, did she not? Everyone might give her s**t, but that doesn’t include me. Try to post appropriately.

        • Daniel Brown

          Erm, kettle – pot – black?

          Not sure what you mean by Zaha had a head start, but regardless Marcus can tell me himself if I’m posting in a way he doesn’t like…

          • Guest

            I’d answer if I could understand what you’re saying, but I’m afraid you’ve stumped me. But don’t worry, so much of what I read in these comments – or more worryingly, the number of up-ticks the utterly asinine ones receive – has led me to conclude that today’s architecture and design is worryingly lacking in discernment.

  • WaxWing

    She should be more worried about her designs.

  • Autonomous

    It’s about time that this moronic rumor mill about Zaha Hadid is confronted in court! Bravo Zaha.

  • overhere2000

    What a waste of court time.

  • Paul Rand

    Perhaps Mr. Filler should have gone after architecture firms like SOM, OMA, etc that have worked in disreputable countries – but that doesn’t make as good of a story.
    Do we not all profit from hard labour? Where are your shoes, pants, electronics and buildings made? Oh, I guess it’s different because you aren’t very powerful, oh wait, that’s the argument that she made.
    I’m supportive of a critics right to an opinion about work, but Filler made a leap from ignorance to willful negligence.
    And what of the Brooklyn Bridge, or the Eiffel Tower? Turns out most buildings are built with underpaid, dangerous labour. Oh but right, architects have a god-like aura, and we all love to build up then tear down.
    With so much architect bashing, what architect would want to build anything anymore? Echoes of Ayn Rand – she may be more right than many would care to admit.

  • Dave Carcamano

    Well done Zaha. One thing is architectural critic, another thing is defamation.

  • Chris

    I think she should chillout a bit, instead of suing, maybe rectify the reason why people say this kinda stuff.

    • amsam

      A big part of the reason people say this kinda stuff (about her and not about her peer architects) is sexism. I’m sure she’d love to rectify that, but it’s not so easily done.

  • rain

    Good choice of picture of her!

  • Concerned Citizen

    Typically, at least in the USA, figures of such notoriety cannot file for damages from libel or slander. Or, at least, they cannot win, thus wasting court time.

  • Jeff Haggett

    An architect can be responsible and liable if their building collapses and risks injury in decades to come. Should they not also be equally concerned with a buildings impact on community and life as it is constructed? A refusal of responsibility does not speak well of her or the profession.

  • jsw

    Re: “suit-abilty”

    “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much…”

  • Clichy

    I agree absolutely with Zaha Hadid on this, she is consistently vilified above and beyond other big names. That Filler chose to use an unrelated book review to attack her is reprehensible.
    She is absolutely correct that governments make labour law and on any major project it is the responsibility of the CMPM consultant to enforce ES&H. The architect has no impact or responsibility.
    An architect may choose to take an ‘ethical’ decision not to work in certain countries, in which case where are the stories about KPF, Nouvel et al in the UAE. Grimshaw in Turkey working on an unnecessary airport that will blight Istanbul and is also an ecological disaster.
    In fact Hadid is the only person who seems to have understood and contributed to Korean culture.
    Many years ago Hadid lost the Cardiff Bay Opera House from political games, despite having won the competition. She should also have been awarded the Hong Kong peak, instead we have that PoMo thing by the vulgarian Farrell.
    I hope Zaha wins, and wins big.

  • Clichy

    Filler and the New York review.
    Whether you like it or not Hadid is an important architect and wins commissions on merit.


    Ermm guys and girls, FYI it’s not the architect’s responsibility in the middle east (don’t know about other places) to make sure the scaffolding is safe and deal with health and safety issues.

    It’s a shame this is happening in Qatar, but this is the contractors or construction company’s responsibility.

  • Guest

    While it may not be the architect’s obligation to consider the working conditions of those who build their designs, is she not well placed to speak up about it. If people like Zaha Hadid don’t apply pressure on the Qatari government, people with influence and expertise, then these workers have less chance of justice.

    When asked about the workers she said that she is also worried about people dying in Iraq, but that doesn’t mean she does anything about it. I think her comment misses the point. She has significantly more power than the average person around Qatari building practices – it is her proximity and power around this issue that makes it, I think, her moral obligation to advocate for the workers.

  • kees van der hoeven – holland

    Did anyone of you ever read the source-text by Martin Filler?

    There is only one sentence that was incorrect, publisher and author made their excuses for that…

    Other parts and sentences about Zaha Hadid in Martin Filler’s text (and Rowan Moore’s book) will eventually come back to her in the law-suit.

  • justsayin

    What is disturbing about many comments here is the fact that many seem to mask prejudice against and discomfort with an insanely successful *woman*, *architect*, of an *Arab* origin. Most of the comments seem to be made by male, European/American, bitter fellow architects.

    Before you make a comment, think about it: would you have made this same comment if it was Rem Koolhaas, for example, who filed a lawsuit? Would you not think twice, and at least entertain the idea: what is wrong after all with someone trying to protect their public reputation?

    Not trying to defend Zaha here (she probably has enough lawyers for that), but pointing out the sad hypocrisy and total lack of logic to many of the comments made about this issue.

    • Naimit

      To be fair, Zaha’s reputation on this issue was generated predominately by Zaha Hadid herself.

      Her comment stating, essentially, that the lives lost in the construction of her buildings weren’t her problem and that she’s bothered by the lives lost in war too is both callous and asinine. No one expects Hadid to hold much sway over the theatre of war, but it is not at all unreasonable to expect her to use her prodigious influence to positively affect worker safety on her own buildings.

      Hadid is arguably the highest profile, most prolifically employed architect in the world. If Qatari building standards offend her, and if they refuse to improve them even after she exercises her big name influence, she is welcome to take her services elsewhere. That she is aware of this situation, speaks to it so flippantly and continues to do business there speaks to her values. It is not unfair to criticise those values.

    • Jordi Panzram

      I think this is more a case of the disgusting political correctness typical of young architects/designers talking through your fingers than an honest observation. What does being “male European/American” have to do with anything?

      Just because she’s a woman from a Muslim background exonerates her from making mistakes or being subjected to criticism? Does this mean that I need to be a woman of Islamic principles so I criticise anything about her?

      I thought we all were supposed to be equal…

      Had Rem Koolhaas filed the lawsuit I’m sure you’d see the same kind of comments. Big-name architects are prone to criticism because they’re out there in the wide open.

      Koolhaas doesn’t have many friends here on Dezeen, same with BIG and other high-profile names, if we’re to judge from the comment section of their projects. However, we have yet to see him file a lawsuit for something such as criticism in some publication.

  • kemic

    No, it’s not her legal obligation. Just as you’re not legally obliged to throw a life ring out to someone who is drowning. But if you stand there and do nothing, you’re still evil.

    Every comment I’ve seen from her has said ‘it’s not my problem’, where she could be making a huge fuss to improve safety standards. She doesn’t have direct power, but she does have a lot of influence.

  • marmite

    ALL architects are narcissistic and controlling and ALL buildings in the middle east are built by migrant workers and many die. This would not be a conversation if she were a he.

  • Andy

    Zaha was very kind to a bunch of design kids at Young arts this year. The NYT has an agenda around migrant labor in the middle east. It is a debate worth having, although it is bigger than one person and Zaha rocks design. She is a gorgeous human being.

    The law in the Emirates allows the contractors to hold the visas of their workers and the courts are conducted in arabic while most of the workers are from elsewhere and speak other languages. To not build buildings, or just put up new American mall boxes is not the way forward. Changing the laws will take time.

  • Krystle Burnside3