Extraordinary events have occurred in the last few months. Critic Martin Filler published a fabricated review on June 5 in The New York Review of Books, based on fictitious facts and claiming Zaha Hadid, Hon. FAIA, was indifferent to the deaths of 1,000 workers during the construction of her Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar. In response, Zaha Hadid filed a defamation of character lawsuit. These unusual events have now been widely written about in multiple architectural and major national publications, raising several questions.
Why would Filler take a separate, six-month-old conversation about Middle Eastern itinerant construction workers and commingle it with a fictitious story of Hadid being indifferent to 1,000 construction worker deaths? Her building is scheduled to start construction next year in 2015, but the article was written as though her comments were about deaths that had occurred on her project in June 2014.
The book—Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture by Rowan Moore (Harper Design, 2013)—that Filler reviewed, was published over a year ago and was already reviewed in Jan. 2013, by The Observer critic John Kampfner, with no mention of Hadid. Why did Filler focus on Hadid in his review of this book? Was his motive a reaction to the London Design Museum giving its Design of the Year award in June 2014 to Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center in the Republic of Azerbaijan, despite the widespread criticism of the award on human rights grounds—the same month Filler wrote his scathing review accusing her of human rights indifference. The London Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, told the press that it is “a prize about architecture rather than politics and its architectural quality is outstanding.”
Critic Paul Goldberger in his book, Why Architecture Matters (Yale University Press, 2009), defined the relationship between architectural design and socio-economic, environmental aspects as:
“… architects are not makers of public policy. … It is not the architect’s role to solve the problem of housing the poor. It is the architect’s role to give the poor the very best housing possible when society decides it is ready to address this urgent problem. … it is the job of the architect to design the best buildings, the most beautiful and civilized and useful ones, but society must be willing to address these problems before an architect can do his or her best work.”
Goldberger quoted Hadid in a recent Vanity Fair article: “It is not my duty as an architect to look at it,” apparently agreeing with Goldberger’s beliefs that it is not the responsibility of an architect to solve social problems. Admittedly, her comments were insensitive when taken out of their context (the full text does show that she is saying that the government has the power to change this and she hopes that they will do so) and there is more that architects can do and should do as public personalities to protest these conditions. However, there are many large projects that are designed by prominent and not-so-prominent architects, being built in the Middle East and elsewhere by guest workers in appalling conditions, where this issue has never been raised.
Attacks by heavyweight celebrity writers and critics can destroy an architect’s practice and reputation, leaving one with no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit, as other celebrities have done. Though such lawsuits are unusual in architecture, it is time for women to stand up and defend themselves, when a fallacious story defames their integrity, humanity, and soul, negatively reflecting on who they are. The timeline of events stated above makes me believe that the review is an apparent attempt to help rob her of another top design award by destroying her reputation.