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US critic apologises after Zaha sues over Qatar deaths article

American architecture critic who wrote allegedly defamatory article issues statement voicing regret over an ‘error’

US architecture critic Martin Filler, writing for the New York Review of Books (NYRB), has apologised after Zaha Hadid launched libel proceedings against the magazine.

In his review of the book Why We Build by Rowan Moore, Filler said the Stirling Prize-winner had ‘disavowed responsibility’ and showed ‘no concern’ for the difficult working conditions of workers on major construction projects in the Middle East and that thousands had died building her own Al Wakrah stadium.

Though many migrant workers have died working on construction schemes in the peninsula, which will host the Wold Cup in 2022, the construction of Hadid’s Al Wakrah stadium for the tournament will not begin in earnest until next year.

No workers have been injured on the project.

In a statement posted on the New York Review of Books’ website today (26 August), Filler confessed he had made an ‘error’ (see full letter below).

The admission comes just days after the lawsuit was lodged by high-profile New York lawyer Oren Warshavsky against the NYRB. The action also claimed that Filler had taken comments made by Hadid to The Guardian in February 2014 – arguing that architects ‘have nothing to do with the workers’– out of context.

According to Warshavsky, the article amounted to a ‘personal attack’ on the architect.

He said in a statement: ‘Nearly all of those references are used to call our client’s success into question or to characterise her personally as difficult.

‘It is a personal attack disguised as a book review and has exposed Hadid to public ridicule and contempt, depriving her of confidence and injuring her good name and reputation.’

Speaking after the Filler’s retraction, Warshavsky said: ‘The decision to file a lawsuit is never one made lightly. 

‘Prior to filing the lawsuit, Hadid carefully considered the issues at stake to her professional career and reputation and came to the conclusion that the filing of the lawsuit was the correct action to take. 

‘We are in receipt of Filler’s retraction issued today and aware of the New York Review of Book’s plan to post it on their website this evening.  Hadid together with counsel are reviewing it now and will respond after further careful consideration.’

A Letter from Martin Filler

To the Editors:

In my review of Rowan Moore’s Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture [NYR, June 5], 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. I wrote that an “estimated one thousand laborers…have perished while constructing her project thus far.”

However, work did not begin on the site for the Al Wakrah stadium until two months after Ms. Hadid made those comments; and construction is not scheduled to begin until 2015. 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.

I regret the error.

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