Behind Bold Designs, A Thin Skin: Zaha Hadid Sues Publisher For Defamation

The architect sues the New York Review of Books over an article by critic Martin Fuller.

Behind Bold Designs, A Thin Skin: Zaha Hadid Sues Publisher For Defamation
[Rendering: via Zaha Hadid Architects]

UPDATE: Filler has admitted to making an error in his essay. Read the full report and his apology here.


The escalating battle between Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid and her many critics has reached a fever pitch. Hadid, the target of outcry over labor conditions at the site of the Dhow-inspired stadium she designed for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, last week filed a defamation suit against the New York Review of Books for an unflattering essay, published in June, about her character and design aesthetic by critic Martin Fuller.

Hadid’s peers, including architecture stars Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, and Norman Foster, have also been taking lucrative Persian Gulf commissions on par with her Qatari stadium. But it is the brazen Hadid, who made statements construed as callous at a February press conference, who has become the lightning rod for critics and labor activists.

With the lawsuit, Hadid makes clear that she has no interest in the part of silent scapegoat. “Mr. Filler wrote a review of a 370-page book on architecture in which Ms. Hadid’s name is mentioned in fewer than 20 pages. Mr. Filler’s book review, by contrast, mentions Ms. Hadid in nearly two-thirds of its paragraphs,” BakerHostetler, the law firm representing Hadid, said in a statement. Hadid, who is seeking damages, a full retraction, and an injunction on the review, filed her suit with the New York State Supreme Court last Thursday.

With regard to its target, the lawsuit feels strangely arbitrary; most of the barbs that Filler metes out come in the form of references to other Hadid critics, such as New York University professor Andrew Ross, who penned a New York Times op-ed slamming labor practices in Abu Dhabi and its neighbors. The timing, however, seems calculated, coming on the heels of July headlines that have once again put Hadid on the defensive. First, critics expressed outrage when the Design Museum in London awarded her cultural center in Baku, Azerbaijan, its Design of the Year award. Then, after protesters took to the streets in Tokyo outside the site of her planned stadium for the 2020 Olympics, Hadid agreed to “edit” the design. A spokesperson, while mum on the details, said the revisions would “optimize the investment and make the stadium even more efficient, user-focused, adaptable, and sustainable.”

As for the remarks that sparked the slow-burn firestorm, they are a far cry from compassionate, but suggest a more general weariness with the evils of the world than a specific agenda with regard to labor conditions in Qatar. “I have nothing to do with the workers,” Hadid said, according to the Guardian. “I think that’s an issue the government–if there’s a problem–should pick up. Hopefully, these things will be resolved.”


She then continued, “I’m more concerned about the deaths in Iraq as well, so what do I do about that? I’m not taking it lightly but I think it’s for the government to look to take care of. It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it. . . . I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it. I think it’s a problem anywhere in the world. But, as I said, I think there are discrepancies all over the world.”

In Filler’s view, that stance of “unashamedly” disavowing responsibility deserves as much attention as the “self-indulgent solipsism and crushing grandiosity” of her work.

The New York Review of Books did not respond to requests for comment.

[h/t the Guardian]

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Staff writer Ainsley (O'Connell) Harris covers the business of technology with a focus on financial services and education. Follow her on Twitter at @ainsleyoc.