Critic apologises for Zaha Hadid
"error" in book review


Zaha Hadid by Simone Cecchetti

News: architecture critic Martin Filler has said he regrets making an error in a book review that accused Zaha Hadid of showing a lack of concern for worker conditions on her World Cup stadium project in Qatar.

Zaha Hadid filed a law suit last week against Filler and the New York Review of Books after allegedly defamatory comments about her attitude to migrant workers were published as part a review of Rowan Moore's Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture.

Hadid accused Filler and the magazine of publishing "a personal attack disguised as a book review" and exposing the architect to "public ridicule and contempt".

The legal claim also said he had taken comments made by Hadid earlier this year about the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar out of context.

It said that Filler had 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.

Filler has now said he regrets making an error in his article.

"In my review of Rowan Moore's Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture, I quoted comments by the architect Zaha Hadid, who designed the Al Wakrah stadium in Qatar, when she was asked in London in February 2014 about revelations a week earlier in the Guardian that hundreds of migrant laborers had died while working on construction projects in Qatar," said Filler in an official statement published on the New York Review of Books' website with the review.

"I wrote that an 'estimated one thousand labourers... have perished while constructing her project thus far.'"

"However, work did not begin on the site for the Al Wakrah stadium, until two months after Ms. Hadid made those comments; and construction is not scheduled to begin until 2015. There have been no worker deaths on the Al Wakrah project and Ms. Hadid’s comments about Qatar that I quoted in the review had nothing to do with the Al Wakrah site or any of her projects."

"I regret the error."

Filler had been referencing comments made by Hadid at a press conference in February this year for the re-opening of her Olympic swimming pool.

Asked about conditions on construction projects for the Qatar World Cup, Hadid responded 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."

Filler did not mention any other aspect of Hadid's claim, which was filed with the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Thursday. The architect was seeking "actual" and "exemplary" damages from the literary magazine as well as all legal costs related to the case, a retraction and removal of the article.

New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers told the Guardian the magazine had made an independent decision published Filler's statement.

"We have done this entirely on our own. This letter contains the facts that should be made public and the regret that we thought was appropriate," said Silvers who said retractions at his publication were "very rare". He did not mention damages.

Oren Warshavsky, a partner at legal firm BakerHostetler, who is representing Hadid in the case, said that the architect and her legal counsel were considering their response.

"The decision to file a lawsuit is never one made lightly," said Warshavsky. "Ms Hadid carefully considered the issues at stake to her professional career and reputation, and came to the conclusion that the filing of the lawsuit was the correct action to take."

In an earlier statement about the claim, Warshavsky had said that a correction or clarification would not be "appropriate or sufficient".

  • Nat

    What a horrid display of shirking responsibilities.

    “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.”

    These are her buildings. Without her there wouldn’t be these buildings going up and those workers wouldn’t die. She has total power. With her buildings going up all over the world she has plenty of weight to throw around making demands about welfare and safety on her buildings.

    But she’d rather point the other way and play the blame game because once she starts demanding better standards there’s a chance she’ll use business.
    This is a cop-out and a remarkably selfish one at that!

    • Bart

      I absolutely agree. She has enough power to build all over the world. She is a star architect and that comes with responsibilities. Just ignoring the issue by saying it is a government thing is unacceptable. She could use her power by NOT BUILDING in countries that have these poor working conditions. If other architects would do the same, problems would be fixed soon.

      But big ego’s stand in the way. These big architects stand first in line, eager to build the highest tower in Dubai, the biggest stadium in Qatar or the most impressive olympic site in China, blinded by world-fame and money.

      They can not get away by only enjoying the positive site of being famous. Fame and power also come with many responsibilities!

    • Alex K.

      The building would’ve gone up even without Zaha. Another architect would’ve been hired in her place. The workers will still die.

      It’s like Raiders of the Lost Ark; Take Indiana Jones out of the plot and all the Nazis get killed by face melting spirits anyway when they open the Ark, but because Indi was in it, it’s an Indiana Jones film.

      Same with Zaha. Take her out of the picture and it’s still an unresolved issue, but because she’s building there, suddenly she’s to blame for the deaths of workers who haven’t yet died.

      What has happened is that a journalist invented facts and was sued for it, which is completely understandable.

      Also, architects boycotting projects won’t make much of a difference. There always will be architects (and talented ones as well) willing to work in oppressive regimes that governments will go to if they’re refused by a star architect. So, unless every single architect on the planet agrees to the boycott, the workers will keep dying.

      In my opinion, only the people of Qatar have any actual power to change the situation through organised protests, but that’s very difficult in these countries.

      • From what you said, take Zaha out and there will be another architect to replace her… yes, of course there will be (at least) an architect replacing her. But the point is, her design is extraordinary.

        In my opinion, Zaha should be concerned about her design, and the working conditions in the country she build it.

      • Bart

        That’s a ridiculous agument. You are actually saying ‘if the others do it, I do it too’. The greatest minds in human history used to do exactly the opposite. In your way of thinking, American slavery would still exist today.

        If these architects want to be ‘big’ and work in those regimes, they should also be able to handle critics and not only enjoy the benefits.

        There is a Dutch expression that says: tall trees catch a lot of wind.

        • Alex K.

          It isn’t criticism that she can’t deal with, the journalist actually published something that wasn’t true, that’s why she sued.

          Anyhow, Zaha does have a voice, but like I said, her voice isn’t enough. We’re talking about a place where it’s illegal to hold hands in public. Where women only recently gained the right to vote, and you expect the Sheikh to listen to a woman?

          I live in a country with an oppressive regime, but it isn’t as distant or strict as Qatar (I live in Macedonia, in Europe). The government here wastes money on building projects while it’s citizens starve. The Architectural Association is boycotting the projects, but there are still architects willing to do the job. It WILL be the same in Qatar.

          Also, you need to bear in mind that these countries are far more resistant to international pressure than European countries, and things rarely change without military action. It isn’t just construction workers that are dying, people are being forced into working for free, and even prostitution. A foreign female architect has next to no influence there, no more than Lady Gaga has.

          That’s why I said that only the people of Qatar have any real power to make a change. Slavery wasn’t abolished in the US because of a celebrity, there was a war there as well, where the people stood up for themselves.

      • John

        With great power comes great responsibility! To say if she doesn’t take the job someone else will is absolute BS. She has a voice and a very strong one. She’s actually someone that could speak up here, but she’s too afraid to risk her own success for getting jobs in the future from other evil clients, or she’s just not interested in the value of human life, which is even worse. A real shame! Shame on her and shame one you for sticking up for her.

    • Stefano

      At the end the architect, even if a big name as Zaha, is a consultant of the client and has the same impact as the main contractor or the project management firm that are a lot more influential when it comes to labour, as they hire and employ them on one hand or take care of HSE onsite.

      The architect consults on the design and his/her involvement in HSE matters is not really appreciated, as it is someone else’s duty.
      A public statement or campaign, would help far more.

  • Arjay Cee

    A schoolboy error by Filler. This puts into rather more understandable context the legal bullying by Hadid against an intellectual journal.

    That said, the Baku blob breaks new ground in tiddleywinks-inspired architecture.

    • Peter Parker

      How dare you! The Baku Blob is an ‘incredible achievement’. We know this because the person who designed it said so!

  • TFO

    Zaha’s got more drama than Morrissey at this point.

  • amsam

    I love to see Zaha WINNING on the haters. Her ethics are no different than any other star architect, but she’s the one who takes all the crap. Total coincidence that she’s a woman and the rest are men, of course.

    • Guest

      Sorry, but this is going back to the 1990s at least, with Rem Koolhaas and more recently Greg Lynn and Patrik Schumacher also coming under fire for accepting ethically dubious commissions, and defending their decisions with ethically dubious statements. (See the famous piece by Baird for one, or the whole Süddeutsche article series on Rem’s ‘Buildings of Evil’.)

      The problem with all of these is not simply that they take on the commissions – many lesser known architects do that too. The problem is with the incredibly conceited apologetics that follow in the wake of moral criticism. ‘Forget political correctness’ is Schumacher’s latest outburst in that vein.

      In other words, he and his partner are beyond moral reproach. Unfortunately for them, society has never tolerated moral exceptionalism, and no hiding behind their claimed rather than real status as artists is going to help them. And, fortunately for us, the rejection of moral exceptionalism applies across the board, and applies non-discriminately against architects of all genders.

      I do not think anyone wins by making this into a pseudo issue (critics are ‘haters’, Hadid a victim of sexist repression).

    • fred eicher

      Blaming Zaha has nothing to do with gender. You can easily put Rem, Prix, Foster, Nouvel, etc. in the same sandpit and let them sketch some funky buildings.

  • Brandon Smith

    Though it appears Filler only made a stupid mistake that could have been avoided by fact checking, it does bring to light one particular item of note – just where do the responsibilities of architects begin and end?

    Hadid obviously has determined that it is only in the creation of her design and not in its execution. Sadly, it appears that many of today’s pedestal architects want less and less to do with their projects and more to do with the stardom that is associated with them.

    Hadid has the opportunity to be a catalyst for social change in Qatar but her commentary, whether taken out of context or not, is only evidence that her concern is not the societal objectives her buildings should be accomplishing but, instead, in just completing yet another high-visibility project and adding it to her already lengthy resume.

  • Alejandro Rico

    Europeans easily forget that most of their architectural wonders were built under oppressive regimes too. Thousands died for them in those days and it was not the architects fault, and it isn’t today either.

    Zaha delivers architecture. She is not the developer, the main contractor or the government inspector to have any control of the work conditions. It’s not her design that causes death. Is it so difficult to understand?

    • Nat

      Obviously nobody is blaming her design for the deaths, nobody is suggesting her entire building should have been made of bubble wrap and each room have a cuddle corner to make the workforce feel special.

      The argument here is that she has an audience, on a global scale. As a leading architect, a female middle-eastern leading architect at that, she should be facing her audience and denouncing the working conditions seen on her buildings.

      She should be rallying to move forward the treatment of humans world-wide, as we all should.
      She has achieved a level of fame that few can reach and she is squandering it suing people who are pointing out her obvious lack of caring.

      Yes, other architects would step up and take her place. But if she sets a president, surely one person will follow. Even if nobody follows her, at least if it’s not her building and someone else’s building has one less accident. That’s one workers life that can continue.

      • Guest

        Sets a “precedent”. Standards, dear boy. Otherwise I agree with your thrust, and particularly like the idea of a “cuddle corner”.

        • Nat

          Maybe I meant for her to plant Obama in a block of cement to tell all the workers how to be safer. After seeing a lunatic put the president in concrete, I’d definately try and stay in her “good books” :P

      • Alejandro Rico

        Yeah because she is so powerful and almighty that maybe she can also help to find the cure for Ebola and bring back our girls by not accepting work in Nigeria.

    • Bart

      Would you also be defending Albert Speer for example? He did some great work, but the methods and ethics were completely wrong (forced labour and bad working conditions among them)!

      According to your comment, Speer could have gotten away with the argument that only his designs were of importance?

      • Derek_V

        Are you comparing Zaha Hadid to Albert Speer? Next to being an architect, he was the Minister of Armaments and War Production during WWII. Learn some basic history before you open your mouth.

        • Bart

          I don’t need a history lesson. In fact, I am comparing history with today. Speer only became Minister in 1942. He had been working for the regime for many years as an architect before that!

          Now let’s focus on the architecture here. Both Speer and Hadid (in this case) were or are working for a regime with questionable ethics regarding human rights, women rights, equality and slavery.

          This discussion is not about Hadid alone, but about architects who don’t care where or how they are building.

          Only history will make the final judgement. Let’s see in a few decades how these architects are being perceived. As visionaries of a better world, or as ego’s only going after fame and money.

      • Alejandro Rico

        Is THAT vile Zaha Hadid for you? Oh God. Ironic when the whole point of the post is about people taking things out of context.

    • fred eicher

      Alejandro, I think we all know that most of worldwide cultural heritages are built on bones. This is not a European habit and you will find it on all continents. Pointing at Europe as being the inventor of exploitation is just wrong.

  • Derek_V

    Very good. The smearing of Zaha Hadid is aggressive, relentless, hateful and very, very often purely based on gender prejudice.

    Where is the critique of the great Norman Foster woking everywhere in the world?

    • Kris

      Not based on her completely out of context architecture at all then? Of which there are dozens, or her complete disregard to form even the slightest of a moral compass.

      • Derek_V

        Nobody cares what people say about her architecture. That is just opinion. But this example is about the fabricated outrage over something horrible she allegedly said, which surprise surprise she never actually said. All the while being accused of having thousands of people dying on her construction site.

        People that hate her just too wilfully bring out their pitchforks and lose all critical thinking skill as long as they can self righteously trash her. If you don’t see that then you must be blind.

    • rafael

      The gender card is being used too often to defend Zaha. The fact is her designs are not great, her comments on worker’s conditions are out of touch. This has nothing to do with gender.

      Other star architects are also getting criticism for their out of touch, blobby, look-at-me architecture (Take Zumthor’s LACMA proposal, Ghery’s Toronto towers). The “hate” is being placed where it’s deserved and is independent of gender.

      As for working in oppressive regimes, many architects do, but Zaha is the only one to my knowledge that has made such offensive comments. It is ridiculous to say that a world-famous and influential architect making millions of dollars has no voice, power or influence on the issue. At the very least, she could help raise awareness, hell “nobodies” everywhere are raising awareness for humanitarian issues by dumping buckets of ice on their heads, but Zaha has absolutely no power in Qatar? Rubbish.

      Without using gender as a defence for due criticism, we have a chance to discuss Zaha’s, other architects’ and our own professional and moral responsibility. This alongside the merits of architectural work, no matter how big a name you are.

  • Derek_V

    Dito. The gender prejudice and double standards she has to endure is entirely ridiculous. Why should she take lectures from people that clearly single her out because she is a successful self-made woman?

  • Bart

    This has nothing to do with gender. It is the fact that she reacted this way. If it would have been another architect in the same situation, the reaction would be the same.

  • zee

    The “critic” knows he did wrong! No point in useless arguments by people whose designs never see the light of the day ;)

  • Bart

    Do you work for ms Hadid? How can you otherwise defend these practices? This has nothing to do with ‘hating’ or ‘trashing’ her or her work. Just posing questions about working ethics of architects abroad.

    I really like her work, it’s great architecture, but to what costs are these buildings being realised? China, Dubai, Qatar… are all favourite playgrounds of the star-architects. Why? Because they can build whatever they want and there are almost no rules or restrictions whatsoever. And that is questionable.

    • Derek_V

      Well let me put it this way. If a country like Azerbaijan or China that has no limits in doing business and trade is being traded with legally, why single out Zaha Hadid for doing so? What about every other business in the West? They all do business where it is legal. I lived in China for four years by the way, and it is tiring to read and hear the self righteous posturing of allegedly enlightened members of oh so liberal societies.

      When you point out that it wasn’t China that pulverised the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in a terrible war crime, those people usually get very offended.

  • Guest

    Obama? Block of cement? They’ll be no honey for your tea, my boy.

  • Derek_V

    Any architect in the UK that works for the government is unethical because the UK government is directly responsible for hundreds of thousands slaughtered in Iraq as a result of their illegal war.

    Come off your high horse.

    Also Albert Speer was idolised by Hitler. He was like a giddy little girl around him. So unless you prove that the same is the case with Zaha and the Azerbaidjani head of state you are still way off. Not to even mention the Godwin’s law.

  • Bruce Hitchman

    I must say that accusing the architect of contributing to deaths and injuries, which have yet to occur at a project which should begin some months in the future sets a new, grim standard for contributions to the New York Review of Books.

    The NYRoB is no school and Filler is no schoolboy.
    I have no idea if Hadid’s suit will punish or reward her, but I’m perfectly certain the critic’s published views and not a few comments here neglect the established lines of accountability.

    • fred eicher

      I’m confused. So there were no dead people in qatar for building that pathetic soccer park and the interview where she said that the workers have nothing to to with her, is a fake?

      “I have nothing to do with the workers,” said Hadid. “I think that’s an issue the government – if there’s a problem – should pick up. Hopefully, these things will be resolved…”

      Well she says this problem should be solved. Would that debate not be much more exciting when it would have nothing to do with a label of a starchitect? I guess not.

  • Harry

    The outrage displayed here is an exercise in futility. Hadid wouldn’t be in a position to work on these projects if she cared about peoples welfare. The fact that she’s there means she’s already accepted that people are likely to die working on her projects, and she has no problem with that.

    Let’s be honest, you don’t have to look very far into Hadid’s portfolio over the last 20 years to understand she didn’t set out her stall with the intention of enhancing peoples lives. Her self referential blobs are as humanistic as a kick in the face and the product of a well oiled brand factory selling superficial, self-serving nonsense.

  • Autonomous

    Step one of indisputable victory of facts: check! Nice.