Zaha Hadid on Worker Deaths in Qatar: “It’s Not My Duty As an Architect”

  • 26 Feb 2014
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  • Architecture News Editor's Choice
Courtesy of ZHA

When The Guardian recently asked Zaha Hadid about the 500 Indians and 382 Nepalese migrant workers who have reportedly died in preparations for the 2022 World Cup in , the architect behind the al-Wakrah stadium responded:

“I have nothing to do with the workers. I think that’s an issue the government – if there’s a problem – should pick up. Hopefully, these things will be resolved.”

Asked whether she was concerned, she then added:

“Yes, but 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.”

Do you think it’s an architect’s duty to concern him/herself with the rights of the construction workers building their designs? Let us know in the comments below.

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "Zaha Hadid on Worker Deaths in Qatar: “It’s Not My Duty As an Architect”" 26 Feb 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • Bryan

    Cold, apathetic, and inhuman answer. So, right in line with her architecture.

    Maybe if she expressed any concern in her initial answer I would feel differently. Also, Zaha, you do have power. It’s called the power of choosing your commissions. Maybe you cannot say, “Well I will stop construction,” but you could at least say something other than essentially “It is not my problem if people have to die to build my buildings.”

    • Loïc Desiron

      I totally agree with you. It is like the way people say they can’t change anything to consumption problems: yes we can every choice we make in life every time we buy something it is a political choice, it goes the same with architects, especially “STAR”chitects.

      • Laura

        If you are an architect and have ever had to commission a builder that you don’t really want to because your client wants it, or has no money to afford a better one…, than you will understand why Zaha says she has no power. At the end of the day, the client will build and pay for it, so they pick the final construction team based on whatever reasons they decide. Why isn’t anyone blaming the client, which I assume would be the government as Zaha mentions? When a builder takes over a building site, the role of the architect is to check the work done against the drawings and possibly manage a contract and approve payments from the client to the builder. If the builder is not taking care of his employees, it is their responsibility.

    • stefano

      Well guys, inhuman to a certain extent. If she should jeopardize her business and put all her staff on the street because she is not honoring a design contract, she is looking after her staff at least.
      Me working in the M.E. since years can tell, there is no way for an architect or even a consultant to stop this. It’s in the contractors hands to improve it and in the governments hands to solve it. End of story!

      • Sai Tejas

        There is nothing inhuman in what she said. She just put told the facts. Her design did not cause their deaths, so what could she have possibly done about it? It was the reporters fault for asking the architect. Not the architects fault for speaking the truth.

    • Arlene Matzkin

      Right on! She is in a position to demand changes. If she can’t, who ever can. After all, the world is about more than “design”.

    • Sarfaraz

      The blatant disregard for human life in the comments displays how disconnected supposed architects are from their actual role in society. To help inflate the ego of any oil rich megalomaniac at the cost of hundreds of workers is something the architect should definitely be concerned about. Then if one were to take pride in their building despite the human cost then it would be even more barbaric, akin to the Pharaoh and his court who basked in the glory of their constructions regardless of the treatment of the workers who built it. Then to demean their death by saying it’s not as important as those who die in Iraq? Why? How can someone’s life be worth more than another’s? It’s not a question of architecture but humanity.

      • mikeyb

        Have you maybe considered she is appropriately concerned for those who’s lives were taken by wars of aggression against other countries or by their own dictators. or the children who starve to death because of sanctions/blocades the US places on other countries. If she is legitimately concerned about the droning of children in Iraq or Pakistan etc. then it is somber. I do not think she was being flippant.

        Ya disregard for human life on the construction site is inappropriate. Hopefully with time safety will be of concern. in the US it took a long time for us to figure it out. Hadid has to pick between feeding her employees or ideals.

        One solution is to dictate construction methods. if you design a building that Must be constructed safely (prefabricated and installed by safe methods) by designing the work flow and construction of the building you save your client money and you save lives. lets not pidgen hole ourselves into false dichotomies. either she is a saint or a sinner. she is a person and an architect. it is not the architects job beyond negligent design. unless she demanded design build… see where i am going with this. She is right. but she could have done better or been more wise in her response.

  • janset

    I think the argument is not on whose duty it is to protect the workers. If many are dying in the same construction site, firstly don’t compare it with a warzone and say that you are truly sorry for the people and their families who has lost their lives working.
    And than take a step back, talk with the people who ever can make a change. I think many people would be listening to what Zaha Hadid has to say.
    If she didn’t make these statements at all, I would think maybe she is trying but after reading this I see her as one of the responsibles.

    • rakhi

      right said she has the power and about 882 deaths at this site is very much questionable to all top heads.

  • Avishek

    Pathetic and Inhuman. We all know you are Dame Zaha Hadid. As an architect how can you stay away from these 832 death? They were preparing your brainchild. when it will be opened you will be called there, your website will flood with the pictures you will take all the glory and now you say its someone elses headache?

  • Vita

    I agree with Zaha Hadid, there is nothing to do with an architect. There are some major issues with health and safety on the site and those need to be resolved. Zaha Hadid did not put her words in a sentence correctly so it might seem she does not care. She defends herself as she has nothing to do with it and can’t do anything about it. People tend to twist things…. ohhhhh she compared it to a war zone, she is a horrible person!!!!

    • David Odom

      most every responsible and mature Architect understands the simple and professional task of architecture:
      “protect public health, safety, and welfare”
      Zaha, aside from being a hack-of-an-architect, conveys the degenerative attitude of many architects. Her statements are nothing less than embarrassing for herself and the profession.

    • Bsoh

      I agree that it is not the architect’s issue. If anything, engineering should be responsible. She did not say she is not concerned about it either; her answer was Yes when asked. But it is not something an architect could or should be accountable for.

  • Kai


    I’m an Architect, not a Saint.

  • Haya

    Hello, Yes I do beleive that it’s one of the Architect’s concern to look over the methods of construction and it’s workers, I am an Interior Design student myself and even though I am not like an Architect, I have the logic to think that if I ever wanted to design something that is extraordinary, and unique such as this stadium, I would definatly have to consider the safety of the workers and the people.

    You design it, You should deal with every detail as possible, and be there for the workers to ensure they are safe to create my design. We are all humans at the same time we should not forget that we all should compromise and feel with each other’s efforts made, we should be more humane with dealing with workers rather than just do the job and say “not my problem!”

    Sustainablity in design is safety for all.

    • Zo-G

      Sustainability in design is safety for all—-U r deeper dan d depths of d redsea—i sayute U boSsMajor,u’ve said it all!!!

    • Emilio

      the butcher sells the meat to the deli, the deli uses old meat and gives the customer food poisoning. It is not the butcher’s fault, it is the deli. This is not the romanticized notion of Architecture of yesteryears. Alot of times the design is pushed out the door to contractors and sub contractors it is their job to enforce safety and standards.

    • John

      No, methods of construction are ALWAYS the responsibility of the contractor. Architects are responsible for designing in order to protect public wellbeing but are not responsible for the private lives of the contractors or the employees thereof. That lies firmly in the prime’s hands, and the client over the architect is the party responsible for demanding satisfaction from the contractors.
      Let’s face it, Zaha might have been the design architect, but even the project architect shouldn’t be to blame. Unless they specified knowingly unsafe materials, untrained steel workers falling off the roof are the contractors’ problem.

    • Hani

      In my opinion, firstly when it is about constructing architecture designs, the architect itself is more involved and must be much more concerned with the safety of the people, whether it is mentioned in the contracts or not. How it comes an architect would stop the construction if it is known there is a drawback in the process like a degree deviation in an arc or etc, but such a big people lose does not effect on the process and it is still running without anything being changed. It in not even accepted to hear the phrase “It is not my problem and it is somebody’s else”, even from a novice architect. The less thing can be done by the architect is to show itself a bit sorry for what has happened. I don’t imagine people enjoying their time watching the world cup games while they know hundreds of workers have died to prepare their seat.

  • CA-Architect

    Common code of practice: Architects are to practice architecture in the interest and for the protection of the public health,
    safety, and welfare. In that regard, Hadid failed to perform as architect. Architects have right to issue stop work order if they valid reasons to do so due to immediate safety concerns on the job site. Your rich client do not care about those workers, but they will have to address it if architects stop the work. IT IS THE DUTY AS AN ARCHITECT.

  • Regina

    I’m architecture student, and I learned in college that the architect must think about citizenship, our concerns are first man, and after, the building that will be designed for the man. This case is a great work, Zaha could say something rather less hard, his words showed much apathy. (Sorry my english, I’m brazilian).

    • Anderson S.

      Hey, Regina, there is a big lesson here: if you want to be a great architect as Zaha, start by trowing away all that college garbage about citizenship, humanity and whom the building serves…
      Buildings must serve you and your gigantic ego only, and it is fine to think that way, once everything else is just not your problem. If, by any circumstance, anything comes between you and the possibility of erect a fantastic building that looks like a… (Ops, missing the point here), please act like Zaha: it’s so not your business!
      And if (many) people shall die because of it, so be it! It is a (small?) price (that someone else has) to pay. And keep going and repeating: it’s not your problem!!!!

  • Jc

    Architects are responsible for protecting the public health, safety, and welfare of a buildings occupants. They are not in any way responsible for the means and methods of construction including worker safety. That responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the general contractor who is not even named in the article. Zaha is justified in her response that it is not her responsibility and is really out of her control. Giving her the benifit of the doubt due to language and cultural differences, but she certainly could have used more tact in providing her answer to better reflect the empathy and dignity of our profession.

    • Tienie van Rooyen

      Best response of the lot. Well said!

    • CA-Architect

      Check your wordings. Architects are responsible for protecting PUBLIC health, safety, and welfare, not just limited to building occupants. A real case study illustrated that an architect used exactly the same lame reason (means and method of GC) as you quote to ignore an immediate safety concern of a construction worker. The architect was judged guilty in court!

    • Greg Nowell

      Really? So if your walking a jobsite and see working conditions that are known hazards and could potentially kill construction workers, you ignore them? As a registered archtitect in the US that would be grounds for criminal action against the archtitect as we take an oath to protect the “health, safety and welfare” of the public.

  • Gordon Anderson

    Choose your commissions carefully. If the jurisdiction can not demonstrate a history or concern for worker safety, it is not worth it.
    Sustainability? Not our problem how future generations pay for/utilise/maintain my buildings. Its up to someone else to worry about it.

    What if Tim Cook expressed the same sentiments?
    Universal condemnation.

  • pau

    “I have no power to do anything about it”.. wow Humble Zaha? Do you even realize how powerful you are? You actually have the power to spread awareness, to call for change of the game. You out of so many architects may have one of the most powerful voices that people might actually care to hear. But no.. instead to present yourself as ignorant. I do know it is not your duty as an architect to protect the workers and care for they on site safety, but that doesn’t mean you should disconnect yourself totally from the issue…

    • she

      I agree with u…she is responsible as a human first…

  • Heywood Floyd

    The contractor is responsible for on-site safety. This is a fact. Her answer, cold and impersonal and in line with her designs as it may be as an earlier post pointed out, is true. She of course could have come off as less of an egomaniac if she had said ‘architects have nothing to do with the workers’ instead of ‘I have nothing to do with them’, but then again I suppose we shouldn’t expect anything from her beyond her ability to confuse herself with the profession as a whole.

  • Courtnay Gooden

    Qatar at war or something? Killing off workers in the name of posting a World Cup that they bought glory? They should be stripped of that honour. They treat people like animals, and pay them minimally.

  • Ranjeet Kumar

    Since it is an architect’s building, in someways architects are partially or fully responsible for any type of failure or accidents at construction site.

  • Ranjeet Kumar

    Since it is architect’s designed building, architects are partially or fully responsible for any failure or accidents happned on construction site.

    • myschizobuddy

      So if design a car and a drunk driver goes and kills someone. I’m partially or fully responsible for the death. WTH.

  • architect anil

    Workers are master builders they are executing your designs into reality without workers buildings will not be constructed so its meaningless
    I think we are humans we should respect life of other human
    If may happens to us also at yhe site visit
    So there is humanity and the life
    to respect.
    We should responsible towards society
    Its our social response.

  • Francesco Veenstra

    Being an architect means having a responsibility in society. Being a famous architect means having a great responsibility in society.
    It requires a more thoughtful response from a person like Zaha to such a sad situation. Not only to pay respect to the ones who suffer from getting impossible buildings being built but above all, to pay respect to the families of the ones who died.

  • Barry

    Almost 900 people have died? Does this happen very often over there? I mean, this should be a lot bigger story than Zaha’s response to it.

    • Gordon

      Perhaps if more of the PROFESSIONALS involved took notice it would be a bigger story.

    • Brandon

      Barry I think you’re right in pointing this out. I think the fact that almost 900 people died constructing a stadium should have more publicity. Zaha’s response is controversial, no doubt, but the deaths of the workers should take precedence over the architect’s response.

    • Bnh_b

      You’re absolutely right. The focus should be on the deaths, and the pressure directed towards the Qatari government to take action. FIFA has the power here and should step up and demand that the Qatari government take actions to improve worker safety and rights or be stripped of the role of hosting the event.

  • Gwenao

    In France, the architect is the first responsable if there’s some “illegal” situation on his building site.
    For example, if there’s some “illegals” workers, whithout employement contract or security material, the architect is responsible because he has to supervise his construction.
    Because he has all power to stop or continue the construction.
    Zaha Hadid is not only responsible for quality, but for problems to, including human treatment.
    It’s so easy to only take the bright side of the things…

  • Gaston

    “Humanity is more important than architecture” Amateur Architecture Studio

  • later

    Technically Zaha is correct. The architect has a duty of care but does not usually determine the method of construction or the education of project managers and the construction crews.

    • Greg Nowell

      Wrong! The architect, and everyone involved in the building process is responsible for worker safety. The architect cannot look the other way while hundreds die on a project.

  • Pro

    First off, 882 is a ridiculous amount of death for one construction project – that (to me) indicates a job site that’s not safe, in general. Earlier in my career, a load of drywall fell on a worker and it killed him, I didn’t sleep for weeks and it sucks when accidents happen … but that was an accident. And accidents happen all the time, and if it’s just that, then you’re thankful that it wasn’t worse and you move on. 882 people dying on a project of mine would really bother me, but (as Zaha alluded to) it bothers me when I see protesters dying in Kiev too, or wars or what have you. Its tragic that 882 people died and, that would be true of any situation, not necessarily a construction site. An architect can not do anything about accidents on a job site – seriously, shouldn’t the contractor be the one in the spot light here?

  • Nando

    Does an architect have to babysit everyone?

    • Anderson S.

      Not everyone. And if sometimes one, or two, or 882 (!) die, it’s just not our business!!!!!

  • w.n.p.

    According to her own site, in the awards section to be precise: Time magazine ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’ (Zaha Hadid) 2010. So, how can she ever claim to have “no power to do anything?” Also, how would you, as an architect, feel – hearing someone had died working on one of your projects? And how would you feel after hearing it almost 900 times? Still think her statements do any justice to the facts? Not me.

    • myschizobuddy

      Problem: Solve world war problem.
      Solution: name me one of the 100 most influential people
      Result: World peace.

      • w.n.p.

        And your point beyond being cynical? My point: you cannot advertise yourself as ‘one of the most influential people in the world’ and at the same time claim to have ‘no power to do anything’. She was asked to comment on the given situation: 900 people died working on one of the projects she’s the architect of, and a very influential one at that.
        (Cynical side note on my part: Well, of course they did not ask her to comment on, or solve, the Iraqi war. For her solution would probably be needlessly difficult tot execute and totally out of budget.)

  • C roberts

    Architects are responsible to report and take action when unsafe practices are happening on site, at least where I’m from, Its called duty of care.

    the difference between being an engaged responsible Architect or an remote exterior designer.

    seems these big name architects don,t get among the common folk much and have anything to do with the execution of their designs, so making remote abstract comments about workers lives is easy.

  • Julia

    Well being a starchitect doesn’t mean you should be a stone cold b*tch like what your architecture portrays.

  • Ric

    Hadid’s response to the deaths on her project is pathetic. She may not be legally responsible for the workers on her projects, but she should feel some moral obligation to the working conditions. Refusing to take any responsibility is in affect condoning slavery, or worse. To fear speaking out in support of worker conditions, for fear of losing future work, renders any respect for her null and void.

    It is extremely sad to see an architect that is held as an icon by so many young architects and designers, ignoring the plight of humans suffering to create one of her projects. Without these people her projects would still be sitting on paper.

    Unfortunately Hadid’s apparent lack of concern for the well being of the workers on her projects reflects continuing attitudes among too many in the profession where financial benefit and client demands outweighs moral obligations.

  • Norea

    The death of Indian and Nepalese workers in Qatar is not ONLY about Zaha Hadid’s ignorance. It’s primarily about MONEY and PROFIT. The labour conditions in Qatar are those of the concentrations camps. But this isn’t something new. A ruling body is JUST testing the limits of what people will swallow.

  • Colleen

    This is just 882 so far! She can’t visit the site, she can’t discuss it with the government, she can’t discuss it with a journalist, she can’t send flowers to the family? She really can’t do anything, with all her power? I’m not saying she could solve the problem alone or that it’s her fault alone–of course the contractor & govt is at fault as well. But with her power, to say she can do nothing is a spit in the eye to these poor men and their surely destitute families who made a horrible, unnecessary sacrifice for a playground for the rich.

  • Becca

    I agree that the way she words it sounds extremely apathetic, which is not right, but as an architect, once the project goes into construction mode it is ‘off her hands’ in terms of architects rarely being involved in the const. phase minus the thousands of RFI’s. It sounds like the grounds are unsafe and not protected, which is ideally the construction managers ‘doing’ or ‘fault’ if we may call that. it’s tragic that people have lost their lives, and so many, but Zaha being as powerful and high up as she is probably has little to do with this. there are SO many more involved people than her, she just gets all the responsibility because she signed the drawings…

    tldr; she is not legally responsible, but she definitely sounds cold hearted and portrayed, possibly wrongly portrayed, like the bad guy.

    • Greg Nowell

      This is so wrong I barely know where to begin. I too am a registered architect and certified construction manager here in the US. I took the oath to protect the “health, safety, and welfare” of everyone involved in my work. As architects we cannot run away from our responsibility to protect construction workers putting up our projects, it is one of our first responsibilities in what we do.