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Letter from Zaha Hadid Architects - 'Schumacher's urban manifesto is not our future'

Zaha Hadid collecting the 2010 Stirling Prize with Patrik Schumacher pictured back right
  • 3 Comments

Zaha Hadid Architects has released an open letter distancing the practice from controversial comments made by its head Patrik Schumacher, saying his views do not reflect the studio’s future direction

Schumacher, who became the head of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) following Hadid’s death in March, recently told the World Architecture Festival in Berlin that social housing should be scrapped, Hyde Park built on and all public space privatised.

During the same speech he called social housing tenants ‘freeriders’ and ‘privileged’, and said it was unfair that they were keeping more productive workers, including those at ZHA, from living in the centre of London.

The practice has now issued a candid letter (below) explaining why Schumacher’s ‘brainstorming’ manifesto does not echo the firm’s own ethos.

Asked whether Schumacher had signed the letter, a spokesman for ZHA said: ’[The letter] is from everyone at ZHA - ie the staff - to underline the core values and principles we all stand for.

’And I am very glad to confirm that there is not any internal fracture; Patrik remains our principal.’

Letter in full

Patrik Schumacher’s ‘urban policy manifesto’ does not reflect Zaha Hadid Architects’ past - and will not be our future.

Zaha Hadid did not write manifestos. She built them.

Zaha Hadid Architects has delivered 56 projects for all members of the community in 45 cities around the world.

Refusing to be confined by limitations or boundaries, Zaha did not reserve her ideology for the lecture hall. She lived it.

She deeply believed in the strongest international collaboration and we are very proud to have a hugely talented team of 50 different nationalities in our London office, including those from almost every EU country. Forty-three per cent of architects at ZHA are of an ethnic minority and 40 per cent of our architects are women.

Zaha Hadid didn’t just break glass ceilings and pull down barriers; she shattered them — inviting everyone of any race, gender, creed or orientation to join her on the journey.

Embedding a collective research culture into every aspect of our work, Zaha has built a team of many diverse talents and disciplines — and we will continue to innovate towards an architecture of inclusivity.

Architects around the world are calling for the profession to become more inclusive. The national and international press have also done a very good job highlighting the critical issues of housing and the threats to vital public spaces.

Through determination and sheer hard work, Zaha showed us all that architecture can be diverse and democratic. She inspired a whole new generation around the world to engage with their environment, to never stop questioning and never — ever — stop imagining.

Collaborating with clients, communities and specialists around the world who share this vision, everyone at Zaha Hadid Architects is dedicated to honouring Zaha’s legacy, working with passion and commitment to design and deliver the most transformational projects for all.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Glad to hear it - but if Mr Schumacher is head of the practice, how exactly can the practice be distancing itself from his views?

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  • I really cannot understand how this letter has any validity if Schmacher is still at the helm? Perhaps he is not now?

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  • Very heartwarming. But Patrik Schumacher's comments weren’t directed at moving people out of central London because of their ‘race, gender, creed or orientation’, but because of their class, their poverty, and above all because they are living in social housing, and therefore – according to the widely and willingly accepted propaganda about social housing – freeloaders living in homes that are subsidised by the state and standing on some of the most valuable land in the world.

    Nor did Patrik wish to replace them with what he called ‘his people’ according to whether these latter came from an ethnic minority or were women, but because they were more ‘economically potent and productive’ and could ‘serve us most effectively’. In its celebration of the multiculturalism of it staff, Zaha Hadid Architect’s letter fails to take account of the class identity of the residents Schumacher’s speech identified for social cleansing.

    As for its own claims to an ‘architecture of inclusivity’ delivering projects ‘for all members of the community’, a look at one or two of those projects should illuminate the extent to which Zaha Hadid Architects realised such values.

    The Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan is one such project, commissioned by President Ilham Aliyev, an abuser of human rights whose corruption and nepotism has been likened to that of a feudal state. In the words of Baku, a quarterly magazine edited by the president’s daughter, the centre, named after the President’s father, was meant to transform Azerbaijan’s capital into the next ‘global cultural hot-spot’. But the fact it subsequently and predictably won the London Design Museum’s 2014 Design of the Year award must have been cold comfort for the 250 families expelled from their homes to make way for its construction. Does that sound familiar?

    As for the Al Wakrah Stadium, designed for the World Cup in Qatar, where 1.8 million migrant workers are kept in conditions of semi-slavery, without pay, with their passports confiscated, living in work camps and working in 50 degree heat – do they count as members of the community that will benefit from Zaha Hadid Architects’ urge to ‘never – ever – stop imagining’? I wonder it any of its architects – whatever their ‘race, gender, creed or orientation’ – can begin to imagine what it’s like to work in such conditions in order to build one of their ‘manifestos’.

    To help them in their quest to ‘never stop questioning’, the International Trade Union Confederation has predicted that 7,000 construction workers will die on Qatar building sites in preparation for the 2022 Football World Cup. And yes, I know the stadium hadn’t even begun construction when these figures were produced, so you can keep your lawyer’s locked in their kennels. But nothing’s changed since then, and they are a far more accurate indication of the kind of clients and communities Zaha Hadid Architects engages with, the kind of boundaries it is willing to cross, than this fanciful letter.

    As Zaha Hadid infamously declared: ‘I have nothing to do with the workers. It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.’ Now there’s a statement more keeping in ethos with Patrik Schumacher’s wish to abolish social housing and evict its occupants from Inner London!

    I am looking forward to debating these and other issues with Patrik in the new year, when he will have a chance to clarify and enlarge on his statements and we to relate the realities of the current programme of estate demolition in London – which we believe, contrary to Patrik, is fully deserving of the description ‘social cleansing’.

    We invite everyone in the architectural profession to join us.

    Simon Elmer
    Architects for Social Housing

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