Zaha Hadid.
REX/Nils Jorgensen via Associated Press Zaha Hadid.

On Aug. 21, Reuters broke the news that Zaha Hadid, Hon. FAIA, had filed a lawsuit against The New York Review of Books (NYRB) and its architecture critic, Martin Filler. A torrent of media coverage followed, much of it decrying Hadid's action. What exactly happened, and where does the case stand now?

In her lawsuit, Hadid v. NYRev Inc et al, filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in New York County, the Pritzker Prizewinning architect charges that in an article published in the NYRB on June 5a review of a book by Rowan Moore, Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture (Harper Design, 2013)Filler made "false and defamatory" statements about her and the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, which she designed.

The suit seeks a withdrawal of the article from publication, a retraction, unspecified damages from the defendants, full payment of legal fees, and "any further relief as justice may require."

In particular, Hadid takes issue with one passage of Filler's review, in which he wrote that Hadid "has unashamedly disavowed any responsibility, let alone concern, for the estimated one thousand laborers who have perished while constructing her [Al Wakrah] project thus far." He then quoted Hadid as commenting on the matter, "I have nothing to do with the workers" and "It is not my duty as an architect to look at it."

Rendering of Al Wakrah Stadium.
Zaha Hadid Architects Rendering of Al Wakrah Stadium.

The problem with Filler's assertion is that 1,000 workers didn't die while building the stadium. In fact, not a single one did: Construction on the stadium hasn't even begun. Filler also took Hadid's comments out of context. Hadid made them when asked about construction-worker deaths in Qatar in general, and in her response, she was speaking about the problem in Qatar and around the world, not in relation to any of her own projects.

By Aug. 25, the NYRB had posted a retraction from Filler on the homepage of its website. Hadid's lawyer, Oren Warshavsky of the firm BakerHostetler, said in a statement that "Ms. Hadid together with counsel are reviewing [the retraction] now and will respond after further careful consideration." As of Aug. 29, a representative of BakerHostetler had no further comments or information; the NYRB also had no comment, except that Filler's letter will appear in its Sept. 25 print issue.

Very few defamation suits make it to trial, according to David Ardia, who co-directs the Center for Media Law and Policy at the University of North Carolina. "Trials in defamation cases are expensive and neither party typically comes out looking rosy, so there are incentives on both sides to settle the case," he writes in an email. Many cases are dismissed because the plaintiff can't prove that the defendant acted with "actual malice" when publishing the defamatory statementsthat is, either knowing they were false, or recklessly disregarding the truth.

Filler is not the first architecture critic to face a lawsuit. In the 1980s, Donald Trump sued the Chicago Tribune's then-architecture critic, Paul Gapp, and the paper's parent company after Gapp called a Trump skyscraper proposal for Manhattan "one of the silliest things anyone could inflict on New York or any other city." The suit was dismissed. Several years earlier, San Francisco architect John C. "Sandy" Walker, AIA, sued San Francisco Chronicle critic Allan Temko for a review of his Pier 39 project that began, "Corn. Kitsch. Schlock. Honky-tonk. Dreck. Schmaltz. Merde." That suit, too, was unsuccessful.

Walker, who is still practicing, told ARCHITECT in an email that he sued Temko (who died in 2006) because he "went beyond the project to imply that the architect was the villain," and he hoped to get the attention of higher-ups at the Chronicle. "The Chronicle has been very kind to me since then and [Temko] often referred to my later work as 'the least of my sins[.]' At least they spell my name right," he added.

Whether the NYRB's retraction, and the correct spelling of her name, will satisfy Hadid is unclear.