Hats off to Archdaily and Rory Stott, its editorial content manager for the article “The Critics Speak: 6 Reasons Why Hadid Shouldn’t have Sued the New York Review of Books“. I am not normally a Hadid-basher, a popular activity in architectural media. She is about as appealing a human being as most of the other super-star architects (not very) and I do feel that she often takes more flack for the being the only woman in these ranks. But readers of CFile know that this publication champions critical freedom.
When an individual with almost unlimited resources uses the court to suppress opinion it sends a chill through the critical community. Luckily, Martin Fuller’s broadside against Hadid in his review of Rowan Moore’s book Why We Build has the powerful legal cover of the New York Times.
Legal threat has already been used successfully to bludgeon almost all artist foundations into withdrawing from appraising the authenticity of artworks. One disputed claim alone cost the Andy Warhol Foundation $7 million in legal fees.
Critics have let forth a barrage of attacks on her action and rightly so. The hugely negative press she has received may caution others in the trade with Hadid’s monstrous hubris to think twice before unleashing their legal attack dogs. Nothing pours more water on a flammable review than ignoring it.
Stott notes that Hadid’s lawsuit did manage to elicit an apology from Filler, “but probably not the one she was hoping for: Filler posted a retraction admitting that his review confused the number of deaths involved in all construction in Qatar in 2012-13 (almost 1,000) with the number of deaths on Hadid’s own Al Wakrah stadium (exactly zero).” It is only zero because full construction has not yet begun.
The charge remains unanswered, the world’s top architects are allowing their buildings to be erected by workers in Qatar that have no human rights, live in virtual prisons, and receive wages so low that they might as well be slaves. One thousand deaths (and those are only the ones that Qatar has admitted to, the real number is believed to be higher and no numbers are known for severe injury) in a year is a shocking number revealing a cold indifference for life. And many of the 1.4 migrant workers (94 per cent of Qatar’s population) earn as little as 55 cents an hour. The other 6 percent, the Qatari, is amongst the richest group of citizens in the world.
Stott’s piece, quoted in part here, is by far the most measured and lethal survey of this controversy so far:
1. The lawsuit makes Hadid look self-absorbed
“When unhappy subjects of criticism sue the critics who criticize them they rarely come through it looking anything other than spoiled and self-absorbed,” says Paul Goldberger in his article for Vanity Fair. That’s a fairly straight forward way to put it, but other writers were even less charitable: Anna Kats, writing for Blouin ArtInfo, called the lawsuit “a disturbing, if not absurdly comical, measure of her social consciousness.”
2. It shows that Hadid needs to check her privilege
The claims of emotional and physical distress claimed by Hadid’s Lawyers sit unfortunately in the wider context of the issue at hand, with Kats stating bluntly that “construction workers across the Gulf are regularly exposed to rather more serious forms of such distress while toiling to realize the formal whimsies of many a lauded architect.”
3. The lawsuit will extend the bad press
Hadid has had something of a bad year for PR in 2013, not least for the comments she made in February saying it isn’t her duty to solve the issues of working conditions in Qatar, which formed the basis of many of Filler’s criticisms. With Filler’s article only available to NYRB subscribers, some thought it was ill-advised to bring this controversy back into the public spotlight, with James S. Russell noting that “the retraction should not have been hard to get; a suit simply extends the damage to her reputation,” and Martin C. Pedersen confirming in Metropolis Magazine that “all this legal action does, in the short term, is keep interest in the story alive and link the Zaha brand (sorry about that) with human rights abuses.”
Goldberger also makes this point, but in a (perhaps unintentional) reference to Hadid’s infamous personality, he does so by drawing a comparison to well-known diva Barbra Streisand “who sued to block publication of aerial photographs of her residence in Malibu in 2003, and in so doing drew so much publicity to the matter that the picture… was eventually downloaded more than 400,000 times.”
4. Hadid is likely to lose the case
“Good luck here: winning a hurt-feelings lawsuit, based on an essay penned by widely recognized critic,” says Pedersen. This handy article by Amy Schellenbaum at Curbed explains the complexities of this type of defamation lawsuit well, and with Filler’s apology for factual inaccuracies already out the way, the case will likely come down to whether Filler’s article can be categorized as ‘fair comment’ – or as most people would call it, ‘opinion’. If Hadid cannot demonstrate that Filler’s comments are outside the realm of opinion, then there is little chance of her winning the case.
5. Martin Filler could turn out to be right after all
Although Martin Filler was wrong in saying that workers had died on Hadid’s project, this is mostly due to the fact that construction hasn’t even begun on the stadium yet. “The suit’s claims of damage done to Hadid’s reputation are serving as a counterattack against the architect’s many critics, not an answer to their very legitimate concerns,” says Kats, adding that “nothing suggests that more such tragedies won’t transpire with the commencement of construction of the stadium.”
Indeed, when we hear of the first deaths on the project – a virtual inevitability considering Qatar’s track record on other construction projects – it is now all the more likely that the question of whether Hadid feels a responsibility to these workers will be raised again. Which leads us to the final, most important criticism of Hadid’s Lawsuit:
6. Hadid is focusing on the wrong enemy
“Instead of pursuing initiatives that would ensure worker safety and drastically distinguish her construction site from prevalent working conditions for laborers in Qatar,” says Kats, Zaha Hadid “pillories the press.” Similarly James S Russell adds that, though Hadid receives an unfair proportion of the criticism which could be doled out to the whole industry, “architects do have a moral imperative to collectively work with labor-rights groups and other construction-related professions to end abuse of the powerless by the powerful.”
Goldberger has the last word, making it clear that the same celebrity status which enabled Filler to write such derisory comments – and enabled Hadid to sue him for them – could be the key to making a lasting change to the conditions in Qatar: “Hadid has exploited her celebrity with more skill and determination than just about anyone. It is time that she made the most of this aspect of her celebrity too, and decided that there is nothing wrong with taking a moral stand.
Go to Archdaily to read the full post and related articles on Stott’s perspective. We will watch to see what happens as building begins on Hadid’s stadium and as we watch the death count grow. She has put herself in a very exposed position that cannot end well either for her or the top 1% of her profession.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
Above image: Zaha Hadid’s design for the Al Wakrah stadium, which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Any thoughts about this post? Share yours in the comment box below.