Zaha Hadid cuts off live BBC interview over Qatar and Tokyo stadium questions

An angry Zaha Hadid cut short a live radio interview over "absolutely inaccurate" allegations about her Qatar World Cup and Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadiums, and told a Radio 4 presenter she had failed to check her facts.

Zaha Hadid was invited to take part in Radio 4's prestigious Today programme after she was named the recipient of this year's Royal Institute of British Architects' Royal Gold Medal – making her the first woman to be awarded the medal in her own right.

But the interview with presenter Sarah Montague rapidly turned sour after she asked about alleged deaths on the architect's Al Wakrah stadium project for the Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022.

Montague suggested there had been "considerable problems" with the construction of the stadium, and said there had been a number of deaths of migrant workers on the project – an allegation Hadid has vehemently denied.

"There haven't been any problems actually. I have to put you right. There's not a single problem in our stadium in Qatar," said Hadid.

Al Wakrah stadium by Zaha Hadid Architects
The Al Wakrah stadium by Zaha Hadid Architects

Montague continued to ask about deaths on the project, prompting an angry Hadid to tell the journalist to "check your facts".

"We sued somebody for writing that, and saying that, and it had to be withdrawn from the press. It is absolutely inaccurate," said the architect. "There's no deaths on our site whatsoever."

"You should check your information before you say anything."

Montague asked if Hadid was "categorically stating" there had been no deaths, and said it had been widely reported otherwise.

"Absolutely not. Not on our site. Absolutely not," said Hadid. "You should check your facts."

"I can't talk about the whole planet, I'm not talking about the entire world. I'm talking about my site."

Hadid's stadium is one of five new venues under construction for the tournament. A large number of migrant worker deaths have been reported in Qatar since the country won the bid to host the World Cup.

In 2014, Hadid told journalists that architects had "nothing to do with the workers". "It's not my duty as an architect to look at it," said Hadid at the reopening for her Olympic aquatics centre in London. "I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it."

"I'm not taking it lightly but I think it's for the government to look to take care of," she said.

At the beginning of this year, the architect settled a lawsuit against the New York Review of Books and critic Martin Filler, regarding defamatory comments made about her attitude to migrant workers and her Qatar World Cup stadium project.

Montague went on to ask the architect about the Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium, which Hadid has recently been forced to give up on after a battle to save the design. Despite winning an international competition for the project three years ago, issuing warnings about costs, and even revising her design, Hadid's scheme was scrapped by the Japanese prime minister in July.

Tokyo National Stadium latest images by Zaha Hadid Architects Japan
The Tokyo National Stadium proposal by Zaha Hadid Architects

Hadid and Japanese firm Nikken Sekkei abandoned their attempt to enter a new design and build competition for the project earlier this month after failing to find a construction partner.

"You've described it as a tough summer and this because of what's happen in Tokyo where the building of the new national sports stadium," said Montague. "I think you pulled out in the end, but you've described it as a scandal."

"I pulled out because we had no contractor to go with," retorted Hadid. "Again this is a very serious story and it should be reported accurately and somebody should be interested in it because it's a scandal and it should be reported properly."

Montague asked the architect to explain why it was a "scandal", but cut Hadid off mid-way through her explanation.

"Don't ask me a question if you can't let me finish it, then I won't say anything," said Hadid.

"If I can just make it clear, the Japanese prime minister pulled the plug on it as we understand it because of soaring costs, it was a $2 billion price," said Montague.

"No," said Hadid.

"Are you saying that's wrong?" asked Montague.

"Yes. But listen to me, let's stop this conversation right now. I don't want to carry on. Thank you very much."

A number of leading Japanese architects had protested against the stadium design prior to its scrapping. Hadid told Dezeen that they were "hypocrites".

"They don't want a foreigner to build in Tokyo for a national stadium," said Hadid, who also designed the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 games in London. "On the other hand, they all have work abroad. Whether it's Sejima, Toyo Ito, or Maki or Isozaki or Kengo Kuma."

Montague had begun the interview by saying that Hadid had had a "huge influence" over the world's architecture, and asking the architect about sexism within the construction and architecture industries. They also discussed Hadid's reputation as a "scary" character, who had not been accepted by the British establishment.

"It's precisely because I can't go to men's clubs or go golfing or whatever they all do together," said Hadid. "But I don't think it matters really. I think I was always seen on the edge and I don't mind being on the edge, but of course I don't want to be seen as someone who can not do a certain thing."

"Once someone told me they don't give you work here because you are scary and I had an answer which I would never dare say on radio. I think maybe so, but it's not for me to say. They're not going to come up to me and say we're scared of you. But that's how it is."