Like any industry, the design world has its share of scandals, though most aren’t quite tabloid-worthy: We’ve yet to see Karim Rashid and Peter Marino get in a bar brawl. (The bitter lawsuit between typographers Tobias Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler, which we described as “the legal equivalent of a knife fight in the street,” doesn’t count.) Some are bizarre (a Japanese artist arrested for 3-D-printing models of her vagina to turn into kayaks); others are offensive (Hallmark’s Hannukah wrapping paper printed with swastikas). Still others were devastating–hundreds of migrant workers died this year during construction of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Here are eight design-world scandals that got even the non-design world riled up in 2014.
Countless migrant workers have lost their lives in Qatar during construction for the 2022 World Cup.* Earlier this year, Zaha Hadid, who is designing the Al Wakrah stadium in Qatar, kicked up a firestorm by saying that workers dying is not her responsibility. The speculative architecture collective 1Week1Project has proposed a bleak memorial for the Nepalese workers who have already died and the thousands more migrant workers expected to die by 2022–the International Trade Union Confederation estimates that 4,000 migrant workers will die in the construction boom. The proposed memorial features a towering structure made of giant stones, one for each dead Nepalese worker, who make up 400 of the approximately 1,000 deaths. A crane would be perched atop the structure, and it would add more stones as more workers died.
It was the most dramatic design feud of the year: Tobias Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler, the Beatles of the type world, shocked fans when Frere-Jones accused Hoefler of scamming him out of his half of their multi-million-dollar type foundry, originally called Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Frere-Jones sued his former partner, calling his actions “the most profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust, and confidence.” Hoefler countered that Frere-Jones had never been anything besides an employee and changed the name of the type foundry to Hoefler & Co, while also asking the court to dismiss the case against him. The lawsuit was settled in September, but the designers are not getting back together any time soon.
This month, Nike filed a $10 million lawsuit against three of its former high-profile designers—Marc Dolce, Mark Miner, and Denis Dekovic—alleging that they leveraged trade secrets to get jobs at its top competitor, Adidas. Before leaving Nike, the designers promised Adidas “a wealth of information and knowledge” that would give Adidas the advantage over Nike. They allegedly copied thousands of proprietary documents on Nike’s upcoming product and promotional road maps—complete with performance details, testing methodologies, and information on new materials—to bring with them. The three designers had all signed noncompete agreements, which prohibited them specifically from working for Adidas during or for one year after leaving Nike. It also expressly forbid them from copying corporate IP.
In April, the first stage of demolition began on the American Folk Art Museum building, a significant work of midtown Manhattan architecture. The structure, designed just 12 years ago by Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, will be destroyed to make way for an expansion of its next-door neighbor, the Museum of Modern Art—a controversial decision that ignited a debate around preservation in New York City’s art and architecture community.
Earlier this month, Hallmark pulled Hanukkah wrapping paper from shelves after a Walgreen’s customer in California complained that it was covered in swastikas. Hallmark issued an apology, claiming “It was an oversight on our part to not notice the intersecting lines that could be seen as a swastika pattern.” Yes, to put it mildly.
Similarly, in August, fashion retailer Zara pulled a striped top with a six-pointed yellow star decal from its stores after social media users complained it resembled the uniforms worn by Jewish prisoners in concentration camps during World War II. Zara claims the star was meant to resemble a sheriff’s badge, inspired by “classic Western films”—the star had the word “sheriff” imprinted on it, but the word wasn’t clear in photos on the retailer’s website. Critics took to social media to point out the resemblance between the top and the uniforms of victims of the Holocaust.
Japanese artist Megumi Igarishi calls herself Rokude Nashiko–slang for “good-for-nothing girl”–and her body of work, constructed from molds of her own genitalia, includes a vagina lampshade, a vagina kayak, vagina smartphone cases, vagina dioramas, vagina toys, and more. In July, Igarashi’s art fell afoul of Japan’s anti-obscenity laws: police arrested Igarashi under suspicion of selling and distributing 3-D printable files of her own genitalia. She faced up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000, and was detained in jail before charges were filed. A petition to free Igarishi gathered 20,000 signatures, and the artist was released after a week in jail, but still faced sentencing and a fine. She was arrested again earlier this month on similar charges.
Animal rights activists lashed out after Colorado’s Aspen Art Museum, designed by Shigeru Ban, opened an installation in August featuring live tortoises with iPads strapped to their shells. “Since when is animal abuse art?” read a petition on Change.org, titled “Take the iPads Off the Tortoises.” The petition gathered more than 6,500 signatures. At the end of the exhibit in October, the museum assured visitors that the tortoises–named Big Bertha, Gracie Pink Star, and Whale Wanderer–would be placed in new homes in reputable and humane facilities in consultation with the Turtle Conservancy.
In January, Royal College of Art student Sures Kumar launched a school project called Pro-Folio. It used an algorithm to scrape photos from Behance member portfolios, then feature that media on uniquely curated, fictional artists’ pages without attribution–essentially, it lets you create a fake artist’s portfolio in seconds. His point was to warn the public about a future in which artificial intelligence runs amok, making it harder to tell real people from digital fakes. But under pressure from Behance–followed up with a cease and desist order from an independent artist–Kumar had to remove the project.
Architect Zaha Hadid’s design for the 2020 Olympic Stadium in Tokyo was met with controversy from the beginning. The controversy was stoked when Tokyo-based architect Toyo Ito and Pritzker Prize-winning Fumihiko Maki organized an online petition to halt the construction of the new sports arena. They argue that the stadium, which will be as tall as a 20-story skyscraper once built, will be totally out of scale to its location and will ruin the Meiji Shrine Outer Gardens. Nearby residents will be forced to relocate. The architects propose, instead, saving the city’s existing Meiji Jingu Gaien Stadium, which is scheduled to be demolished in July to make way for the new project. The petition ultimately gathered more than 33,000 supporters.
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*An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that migrant workers have died during the construction of the Zaha Hadid-designed Al-Wakrah stadium in Qatar. The stadium doesn’t begin construction until next year.