It has emerged that news stories last June out of Qatar, where Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid has a commission to build a stadium to host soccer’s World Cup in 2022, falsely asserted that hundreds of itinerant construction workers had died in the process of building her stadium. In fact, her stadium was not yet under construction. In an earlier conversation with the press she had said about poor conditions in general for workers in Qatar, death resulting, that “it is not my duty as an architect to look at it.”
Some architecture critics, such as yours truly in “500 or more workers,” relied in error on the fair assumption that the news reports accurately pegged her comment being as about deaths at her project. We picked up the story and criticized Hadid for insensitivity. Hadid chose to sue Martin Filler for this, but not me. I was not, it seems, on her radar. Obscurity has its benefits.
Nevertheless, for the record I hereby, henceforth and forthwith apologize to Zaha for any and all hurt feelings and unwarranted damage to career that may or may not have been the result of my naughty opinions therein or herein expressed.
Filler got Zaha’s goat, and she sued him, because he unpacked his negative feelings about her in a review in the New York Review of Books of a book that barely mentioned her. I have no comment here about the merits of her suit, except for a general feeling that modern architects have no moral standing to sue anyone for anything anywhere. But I do regret that the press wrongly linked her comment to her proposed stadium. Still, she did make the comment and it does reflect the inhumanity of modern architects that arises from the inhumanity of modern architecture, especially that of major commissions by starchitects. (The most direct reflection of this is Rem Koolhaas’s CCTV headquarters, in Beijing, a building that appears to be stomping on the Chinese people.)
Some critics, such as Beverly Willis in “In Defense of Zaha Hadid” on Sept. 4 in Architect, have deemed Filler’s criticism of Zaha Hadid to reflect sexism. I cannot peek inside Filler’s mind to leap to that conclusion, but in my post “Zaha ‘Ha Ha’ Hadid’s thing,” I criticized her stadium for looking like a vagina and ridiculed her absurd denial. That was not sexist because I also criticized a Chinese architect for designing a headquarters for the China People’s Daily, in Beijing, that looks like a penis (an anatomically correct penis, not just building considered vaguely phallic for being vertical rather than horizontal).
I have long criticized modern architecture for being the latest round of Western colonialism. It seems that modern architects can commit sins against a culture that would generate fierce criticism in any other field. Zaha Hadid has designed a stadium that looks like a sexual body part in a society that does not permit a woman to expose her nose in public. If modern architecture’s crimes against humanity had a literal death toll, its practitioners would be hauled before a tribunal in The Hague. Now, although it may be premature to lay any deaths at Zaha’s door in Qatar, it is very clear that people are dying in large numbers to construct modern architecture, at least in the Mideast. I doubt workers are dying at such a rate in the construction of new traditional buildings there, if any.
When a completed modernist building designed to defy gravity actually falls down on the volition of its own arrogance toward the laws of physics (as opposed to the volition of terrorism, whose anniversary will sadden us tomorrow), maybe then it will be time for the world to sue modern architecture.
I stand by the conclusion of my “Zaha’s thing” post from June:
I think almost any modern architect would have responded the same way as Hadid, and that the willingness to inflict such ugliness and sterility on a hapless world suggests an essential deficit in the makeup of the character of the profession as it is constituted today, at least at the level of the celebrity architect.