Zaha Hadid to sue New York Review of Books over Qatar worker claims

Zaha Hadid has launched a claim against The New York Review of Books and the architecture critic Martin Filler for defamation, after Filler accused the famous architect of not caring about construction workers in Qatar.

Yesterday Martin Filler apologised for erroneously writing that an estimated one thousand workers had "perished" while building the Hadid-designed Al Wakrah stadium in Qatar.

Zaha proves Goldberger’s Law: the greater the success the thinner the skin– Tweet from Paul Goldberger

Hadid (pictured) took exception to Filler’s review of a book by Rowan Moore, the former director of the Architecture Foundation. In the review, Filler alleged that Hadid has been indifferent to the plight of construction workers in Qatar, some of whom, he said, had been working on her design for the Al Wakrah stadium for the 2022 World Cup.

In his June 5 review entitled "The Insolence of Architecture" Filler criticised comments Hadid made in London in February, when she said architects "have nothing to do with the workers".

He wrote that Hadid "unashamedly disavowed any responsibility, let alone concern" for the "estimated one thousand labourers who have perished" during the construction of the Qatar stadium. 

Hadid responded that not only was that statement taken out of context, but her remarks came before construction had even begun on Al Wakrah stadium. Filler acknowledged the mistake in a letter posted yesterday at the bottom of his article on the New York Review of Books’ website. 

"There have been no worker deaths on the Al Wakrah proiect," he wrote, "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," he added.

Hadid’s complaint was filed with the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. 

A statement from Oren Warshavsky, Hadid’s New York lawyer, said: "Nearly all of those references [to Hadid] are used to call our client’s success into question or to characterise her personally as difficult. It is a personal attack disguised as a book review and has exposed Ms Hadid to public ridicule and contempt, depriving her of confidence and injuring her good name and reputation."

Hadid is seeking damages, a halt to the review’s continued publication, and a retraction.

Claimants generally have a more difficult time winning such cases in the US, where defendants can rely on a constitutionally protected right to free speech, compared with English courts, where the onus is on the defendant to show why the statement is not defamatory.

Paul Goldberger, the former architecture critic of the New Yorker and former dean of the prestigious Parsons design college in New York, now a contributor to Vanity Fair, sent out a tweet saying that her lawsuit was unwise and would gain her a reputation as "the architect who sues critics".

He further tweeted: "Zaha proves Goldberger’s Law: the greater the success the thinner the skin."

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