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Hadid seems willing to use her voice to help improve workers conditions

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Join Zaha Hadid in her bid to see that site welfare is improved in Qatar and beyond, says Rory Olcayto

In 1980, when Zaha Hadid was working on her incredible drawing Residence for the Irish Prime Minister, she could never have known that the lines she freely inscribed would lead to her being questioned over human rights abuses on construction sites in Qatar.

Hadid, in those days, was a paper architect, had built nothing and was barely known outside a select group of cheerleaders and friends, who admired her bold and relentless talent.

Today, three-and-a-half decades later, she is the most famous woman architect in the world and the first choice for an international elite of super-wealthy clients who commission landmark, ‘iconic’ projects.

I first saw Zaha Hadid speak about her work at the Edinburgh Winterschool in 1991 on the same evening that the US (with the UK, her adopted homeland, alongside) launched an attack on Iraq. She made mention of the horror that would follow later that night, and I remember thinking: ‘She’s brave, to be here, talking to us, a thousand students, while our government joins an attack on her homeland.’ Still, my abiding memory of the evening was Hadid’s incredible artwork, showcased in a series of slides.

You can see Hadid’s phenomenal handiwork in our coverage of Alvin Boyarsky’s private collection of drawings (page 42), and note the links it has with the worm’s-eye perspectives of James Stirling, as well as compositions by Malevich, Chernikov and the rest, but also with the work of her peers at OMA, also featured this week. We also publish a reproduction of Hadid’s The World (89 Degrees), a painting from 1984, whose title suggests by that by the mid-’80s at least, the architect had begun to realise quite what her talent might actually deliver.

And in our news this week you can read Hadid’s reaction to the ongoing row over the conditions of workers building the venues for the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar; to the transformation of King’s Cross; what she thinks of plans to rework Battersea power station; her views on high-speed rail … everything. These are the two sides of Zaha Hadid: the brilliant artist-architect, whose drawings paintings and buildings exhilarate and inspire; and the outspoken commentator, sometimes brave, sometimes naïve (sometimes both), who refuses to step back from the edge.

This time, however, Hadid is right not to flinch. Zaha Hadid Architects has taken legal action against the New York Review of Books for incorrectly reporting that Hadid had dismissed fatalities on her Qatari stadium building site. She is right to. Work has not even begun on Hadid’s project.  The facts reported by Martin Filler were wrong and there was a danger that lazy reporting would see this mistake repeated over and over. Filler’s retraction, published online, will hopefully go some way to righting this unfortunate wrong. Yet the wider issue about the dreadful conditions workers on Qatari sites endure must be addressed. The International Trade Union Congress is predicting 4,000 fatalities on World Cup-related sites unless site welfare improves. That is unacceptable. This wrong must be made right - and now.

Yet, as we report this week, Hadid seems willing to use her voice to help improve the lot of Qatari workers. To suggest an alliance of architects to lobby for improved conditions is an act of bravery. Meanwhile, her partner Patrik Schumacher has welcomed public discussion on the ethics of international architectural design. Would you be willing to stand alongside Schumacher and Hadid? You should. All British architects - and construction firms - working in Qatar and in other countries where site standards are poor should lobby for change.

rory.olcayto@emap.com Twitter: @roryolcayto

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