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The Critics Speak: 6 Reasons why Hadid Shouldn’t Have Sued the New York Review of Books

© ZHA

For those that follow the ins and outs of architectural criticism, it will have been hard to miss the news this week that Zaha Hadid is suing the New York Review of Books, claiming that the critical broadside launched by Martin Fuller against Hadid in his review of Rowan Moore’s book Why We Build was not only defamatory but also unrepresentative of the content of the book. Hadid’s lawyers demanded a retraction of the review, which they claimed had caused Hadid “severe emotional and physical distress.”

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). However, much of Filler’s comments criticizing Hadid’s cold attitude to conditions for immigrant workers in Qatar remain unaddressed.

Throughout the week, a number of other critics took this opportunity to pile more criticism on Hadid, unanimously agreeing that the lawsuit was a bad idea. Read on after the break to see the six reasons they gave explaining why.

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.”

  • GOOOOD!!!

    Suing a critic is silly…but the critic should take responsibility on the false accusations. Critics and Architects need to stop been jealous towards architects who get big commissions.

  • grb

    Questions : When critics respond to Hadid filing a lawsuit against a critic by criticizing Hadid, doesn’t that fall into the Dog Bites Man category of story? Is it only architects who are supposed to solve the problem of worker safety worldwide, or structural engineers, acoustical consultants, and interior designers also on the hook? If only architects, then maybe only star architects? If only star architects, then maybe only Ms Hadid? I’ve certainly not heard of any others under judgment by Mr Fuller or anyone else, but Ms Hadid did cause those thousand deaths, right?

  • http://www.harding.com Paul Harding, FAIA

    “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.” ”
    Please identify other celebrity architects that have taken a moral stand on worker safety? I am not aware of any. It certainly isn’t Paul Goldberger’s favorite architect, Frank Gehry, whom he shamelessly promotes relentlessly. Why is it Zaha Hadid being held to higher standard than other celebrity architects?
    Why is Paul Goldberger not concerned about Martin Filler’s whoppers, lies, and mean spirited personal attack on Zaha Hadid? Martin was repeatedly called out in the architectural press for making up a bunch of nonsense and lies. He refused to retract his blatant falsehoods until Zaha Hadid filed a lawsuit to correct the lies.
    Is it not too much to expect that architectural critics not make up blatant lies, whoppers, mis-truths when writing about architects and architecture? Why should any architect be subjected to mean spirited personal attack? If an architectural critic doesn’t like a building or an idea, fine that is fair game. But at least be factual, truthful, and not make a personal attack.
    In my opinion government agencies, the architectural press, and architectural professional organizations are better suited to raise the issue than individual architects. Martin Fuller’s claim that 1,000 were killed on a construction site when the building hadn’t even started construction is the height of absurdity. Paul Goldberger, whom I used to respect highly, was wrong to insert himself into the matter, obfuscate, and simultaneously press on with another personal attack on the victim, Zaha Hadid. Paul Goldberger certainly did no favors for his friend, Martin Fuller, and his reputation.

  • Walt

    Get over yourselves. Outside of a small self indulgent segment of the architectural community, nobody cares nor is paying attention. 99% of architects are unselfishly working at building a better built environment. The persistent fixation on ‘starchitects’ is pathetic and a condition of the small mind. Let it go.

  • melvin

    Indeed she should take a moral Stand…

  • Daniel

    Claiming 1,000 worker deaths that did not in fact take place is a very strong accusation. If he is an architectural critic and did not realize that the views of the stadium are of a rendering, which does not yet exist, he is an idiot.

  • CS

    As someone with experience in these matters, this pattern is not new nor will it be the last time it happens. These actions happen when a firm’s reputation is based on it’s founders reputation.

    that and the 1% always use the law to squash dissenting opinion from the 99%.

  • Tommy

    This reads as if archdaily’s correspondent is hoping for future fatalities on this construction site – just to prove his argument.

    Not one of these quoted American critics bothered to research and list which construction projects in the region have actually had these fatalities. It is not Hadid’s – so who’s? Could it be that a majority of these sites were for projects designed and built by American firms?

    US Journalism 101: Why bother holding American corporations to account when there’s an Arab – even better, an Arab woman – to take the blame for accidents on sites she had no connection with?

    As Americans, we must start leading by example. If we wanted simplistic reporting that deflects US accountability on a serious issue – as with the archdaily article above – we can simply watch Fox News.

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