The Critics Speak: 6 Reasons why Hadid Shouldn't Have Sued the New York Review of Books

Update: Last week, Hadid and the New York Review of Books agreed to a settlement agreement, with Hadid accepting the apology of the New York Review of Books and, in conjunction with the settlement, donating an undisclosed sum of money to a labor rights charity. You can read the full joint statement at the end of this article.

For those that follow the ins and outs of architectural criticism, it will have been hard to miss the news this week that Zaha Hadid is suing the New York Review of Books, claiming that the critical broadside launched by Martin Fuller against Hadid in his review of Rowan Moore's book Why We Build was not only defamatory but also unrepresentative of the content of the book. Hadid's lawyers demanded a retraction of the review, which they claimed had caused Hadid "severe emotional and physical distress."

Hadid's lawsuit did manage to elicit an apology from Filler, but probably not the one she was hoping for: Filler posted a retraction admitting that his review confused the number of deaths involved in all construction in Qatar in 2012-13 (almost 1,000) with the number of deaths on Hadid's own Al Wakrah stadium (exactly zero). However, much of Filler's comments criticizing Hadid's cold attitude to conditions for immigrant workers in Qatar remain unaddressed.

Throughout the week, a number of other critics took this opportunity to pile more criticism on Hadid, unanimously agreeing that the lawsuit was a bad idea. Read on after the break to see the six reasons they gave explaining why.

1. The lawsuit makes Hadid look self-absorbed

"When unhappy subjects of criticism sue the critics who criticize them they rarely come through it looking anything other than spoiled and self-absorbed," says Paul Goldberger in his article for Vanity Fair. That's a fairly straight forward way to put it, but other writers were even less charitable: Anna Kats, writing for Blouin ArtInfo, called the lawsuit "a disturbing, if not absurdly comical, measure of her social consciousness."

2. It shows that Hadid needs to check her privilege

The claims of emotional and physical distress claimed by Hadid's Lawyers sit unfortunately in the wider context of the issue at hand, with Kats stating bluntly that "construction workers across the Gulf are regularly exposed to rather more serious forms of such distress while toiling to realize the formal whimsies of many a lauded architect."

3. The lawsuit will extend the bad press

Hadid has had something of a bad year for PR in 2013, not least for the comments she made in February saying it isn't her duty to solve the issues of working conditions in Qatar, which formed the basis of many of Filler's criticisms. With Filler's article only available to NYRB subscribers, some thought it was ill-advised to bring this controversy back into the public spotlight, with James S Russell noting that "the retraction should not have been hard to get; a suit simply extends the damage to her reputation," and Martin C Pedersen confirming in Metropolis Magazine that "all this legal action does, in the short term, is keep interest in the story alive and link the Zaha brand (sorry about that) with human rights abuses."

Goldberger also makes this point, but in a (perhaps unintentional) reference to Hadid's infamous personality, he does so by drawing a comparison to well-known diva Barbra Streisand "who sued to block publication of aerial photographs of her residence in Malibu in 2003, and in so doing drew so much publicity to the matter that the picture... was eventually downloaded more than 400,000 times."

4. Hadid is likely to lose the case

"Good luck here: winning a hurt-feelings lawsuit, based on an essay penned by widely recognized critic," says Pedersen. This handy article by Amy Schellenbaum at Curbed explains the complexities of this type of defamation lawsuit well, and with Filler's apology for factual inaccuracies already out the way, the case will likely come down to whether Filler's article can be categorized as 'fair comment' - or as most people would call it, 'opinion'. If Hadid cannot demonstrate that Filler's comments are outside the realm of opinion, then there is little chance of her winning the case.

5. Martin Filler could turn out to be right after all

Although Martin Filler was wrong in saying that workers had died on Hadid's project, this is mostly due to the fact that construction hasn't even begun on the stadium yet. "The suit’s claims of damage done to Hadid’s reputation are serving as a counterattack against the architect's many critics, not an answer to their very legitimate concerns," says Kats, adding that "nothing suggests that more such tragedies won’t transpire with the commencement of construction of the stadium."

Indeed, when we hear of the first deaths on the project - a virtual inevitability considering Qatar's track record on other construction projects - it is now all the more likely that the question of whether Hadid feels a responsibility to these workers will be raised again. Which leads us to the final, most important criticism of Hadid's Lawsuit:

6. Hadid is focusing on the wrong enemy

"Instead of pursuing initiatives that would ensure worker safety and drastically distinguish her construction site from prevalent working conditions for laborers in Qatar," says Kats, Zaha Hadid "pillories the press." Similarly James S Russell adds that, though Hadid receives an unfair proportion of the criticism which could be doled out to the whole industry, "architects do have a moral imperative to collectively work with labor-rights groups and other construction-related professions to end abuse of the powerless by the powerful."

Goldberger has the last word, making it clear that the same celebrity status which enabled Filler to write such derisory comments - and enabled Hadid to sue him for them - could be the key to making a lasting change to the conditions in Qatar: "Hadid has exploited her celebrity with more skill and determination than just about anyone. It is time that she made the most of this aspect of her celebrity too, and decided that there is nothing wrong with taking a moral stand."

The full joint statement from Zaha Hadid and the New York Review of Books:

On January 22, 2015, following extensive settlement negotiations, Ms. Zaha Hadid withdrew her lawsuit against the New York Review of Books and Mr. Martin Filler. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, which remain confidential, Ms. Hadid has accepted the apology of the New York Review of Books and Mr. Filler, and is pleased to announce, in conjunction with the settlement, the donation of an undisclosed sum of money to a charitable organization that protects and champions labor rights.

Ms. Hadid is pleased to have put to rest this dispute, and to have resolved it in a way that demonstrates her commitment to safe and fair working conditions at construction sites around the world,’ said Gonzalo Zeballos, one of the BakerHostetler attorneys representing Ms. Hadid. The other BakerHostetler attorneys working on the matter were Oren Warshavsky and Maryanne Stanganelli.

Zaha Hadid Architects remains deeply committed to promoting safe and fair working conditions. The authorities in Qatar managing the Al Wakrah site operate at the highest levels of worker health and safety, with no loss-time injuries since works began over a year ago. Workers live in high quality accommodations near the site, and the Emir of Qatar personally confirms that new laws protecting workers’ rights will be enforced, demonstrating that the parties delivering the Al Wakrah stadium are leading by example.

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "The Critics Speak: 6 Reasons why Hadid Shouldn't Have Sued the New York Review of Books" 27 Jan 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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