August 25, 2014
Update: What Can Hadid Gain from Her Lawsuit against the NYRB?
The architect filed a suit against the respected publication last week. Can she win?
According to news accounts late last week, Zaha Hadid has filed a defamation suit in New York State Supreme Count against the New York Review of Books and the architecture critic Martin Filler. Hadid claims that in a June 5 review of Rowan Moore’s Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture, Filler spent an inordinate amount of space questioning the career and character of Hadid, even though she did not figure prominently in the Moore book.
Of course, the ostensible news hook in bringing Hadid into a discussion of power and desire in architecture, aside from her voluptuous form making and outsize personality, was her tone deaf (but brutally honest) comments in February on the nearly 1,000 construction workers killed in the construction of infrastructure for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. A predictable swirl of outrage followed her comments, where were widely interpreted, somewhat simplistically, as Not-My-Problem. (Hadid now claims the remarks were taken out of context.)
For the moment, let’s put aside the human rights issue and concentrate instead on the merits of Hadid’s suit. My first response to it is a question: who the hell is giving Zaha Hadid career advice these days? She can’t possibly “win” this suit, even if she were to somehow prevail in court. 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. How can that possibly help her? There might be no reasonable amount of damages that would compensate for those slurs. And her chances in court would be slim at best.
Defamation suits are filed all the time, but your rarely hear about it. That's because many of them don't hold water. Good luck here: winning a hurt-feelings lawsuit, based on an essay penned by widely recognized critic. This will almost certainly go away at some point, when cooler heads (presumably Hadid’s) prevail. Yes, Hadid's suit might be more than that—a message to critics that they should think twice before making unsubstantiated claims. The accusations that Filler's text amounted to "a personal attack disguised as a book review" is certainly rich, but then again, Hadid's name and work are mentioned relatively sparingly in Moore's argument.
Even so, the incident does make me wonder, though, about the particular dynamics of the Hadid office, and why there wasn’t at least one person there willing to say: Zaha, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
Update: Martin Filler has apologized for his comments. The critic penned a letter expressing his regret for implicating Hadid in the death of the migrant workers. "In my review of Rowan Moore's Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture, I quoted comments by the architect Zaha Hadid, who designed the Al Wakrah stadium in Qatar, when she was asked in London in February 2014 about revelations a week earlier in the Guardian that hundreds of migrant laborers had died while working on construction projects in Qatar," Filler wrote, in a text appended to his original review. "I wrote that an 'estimated one thousand labourers…have perished while constructing her project thus far.'" However, he goes on to say, construction on Hadid's stadium had yet to begin at the time of the architect's comments. "There have been no worker deaths on the Al Wakrah project and Ms. Hadid’s comments about Qatar that I quoted in the review had nothing to do with the Al Wakrah site or any of her projects," Filler concluded.