The architect who designed Qatar’s World Cup stadium in Al Wakrah is suing a New York-based publication and its architecture critic for an article she said portrays her as “showing no concern” for the welfare of construction workers here.
Last week, the Iraq-born Zaha Hadid filed a defamation suit with the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
She claimed that critic Martin Filler of the New York Review of Books falsely implied that she didn’t care about migrant workers’ conditions, according to Reuters.
In his June 5 review of Rowan Moore’s “Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture,” Filler wrote that Hadid “unashamedly disavowed any responsibility, let alone concern” for an “estimated one thousand laborers who have perished” while building the 40,000-seater Al Wakrah stadium.
However, at the time, enabling works were only just getting underway for the Al Wakrah stadium, and only some 100 people had so far been hired to work onsite.
Hadid’s lawyer Oren Warshavsky described the article as “a personal attack disguised as a review,” and said that it opened the architect up to “public ridicule and contempt.”
The lawsuit prompted a rare retraction and public apology from Filler, which has been published on the Review’s website.
The lawsuit and criticism of Hadid raises questions about the obligation various companies should have regarding the welfare of workers in Qatar, where opaque layers of contractors, subcontractors, recruiters and consultants can sometimes make assigning responsibility difficult.
‘Not my duty’
The controversy began for Hadid in February, when she was quizzed about workers’ rights at a press conference regarding the re-opening of her Aquatic Center in London.
The questions were spurred by a Guardian newspaper report that nearly 1,000 people had died in Qatar due to poor working and living conditions since December 2010, when the nation was awarded hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar authorities suggested that many of the deaths were due to automobile accidents or other causes unrelated to poor on- and off-the-job treatment.
At the time, Hadid is reported to have said:
“It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it. I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it.
“I have nothing to do with the workers. I think that’s an issue the government – if there’s a problem – should pick up. Hopefully, these things will be resolved.”
The British-based architect claims that Filler took her words out of context and used them in the book review.
After Hadid filed her lawsuit, Filler publicly apologized in an open letter, expressing remorse about the comments he made in the article.
He admitted that work did not begin on the site of the stadium until two months after Hadid made remarks about workers in Qatar, and added:
“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.”
According to The Guardian, Hadid is seeking seeking damages, a halt to the review’s continued publication and a retraction.
The Editor of the New York Review of Books Robert Silvers told The Guardian that such retractions were very rare for the magazine, and added: “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.”
The newspaper adds that Hadid’s lawyer issued a statement saying:
“The decision to file a lawsuit is never one made lightly. 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.”
It remains unclear if Hadid will proceed with the lawsuit following Filler’s apology.
Her lawyer said that she was reviewing the recently published retraction and would respond “after further careful consideration.”