Architect Zaha Hadid Says 500 Worker Deaths Are Not Her Problem

Qatar's overtly yonic soccer stadium, a global architectural symbol of the forthcoming 2022 World Cup, has seen its share of the nation's staggering number of construction deaths: more than 500 Indian migrant workers have died in Qatar since January 2012. This week, the stadium's architect—Zaha Hadid—said, well, it's not her problem.

Speaking at the opening of the London Aquatic Centre yesterday, Hadid not only shrugged off the idea that she might be held accountable for any of the deaths, she actually tried to pin the blame solely on Qatar's government—the government that she willingly decided to work for. Here's a closer look at her string of troubling statements.

The government is at fault

"I have nothing to do with the workers," said Hadid. "I think that's an issue the government—if there's a problem—should pick up. Hopefully, these things will be resolved."

The thing is, it's pretty obvious there's a problem. Qatar's record is appalling when it comes to construction deaths: in addition to 500 Indian migrants killed on construction sites, an additional 382 Nepalese workers have died in the last two years while working on other World Cup facilities. In fact, the organizing committee has been pressured to revamp its inspection and permitting process to improve labor conditions.

This isn't some anomaly, yet Hadid is saying that, despite being the architect for one of the World Cup's most prominent structures, she shouldn't be a part of the conversation to improve safety.

It's not part of her job

Asked if she was concerned, Hadid added: "Yes, but I'm more concerned about the deaths in Iraq as well, so what do I do about that? I'm not taking it lightly but I think it's for the government to look to take care of. It's not my duty as an architect to look at it.

I'm guessing Hadid, who is Iraqi-born, is probably talking about casualties from the Iraq War—if so, relating warfare to construction deaths is not only out of scale, but perhaps more than a little insensitive? But the second part of her statement is just ridiculous: Of course it is her duty as an architect to look at it. What if it is an exceptionally complicated part of the structure that's causing the deaths? A toxic material she called for in the design that workers are being exposed to? Of course these fall within her—or her firm's—job description.

This is a problem everywhere

"I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it. I think it's a problem anywhere in the world. But, as I said, I think there are discrepancies all over the world."

This one is the kicker. Construction accidents and deaths are a tragic part of architecture, but better tools and safety regulations can prevent loss of life. This is a problem all over the world, she says, as a way of brushing it off—but it obviously is a bigger problem in certain parts of the world. So why is she even designing buildings in places that she knows will place certain workers in unsafe conditions? How about not working for those countries?

Architects everywhere are taking a stand against corrupt governments, refusing to work on high-profile projects due to political objections. Daniel Libeskind has condemned "morally questionable" projects in countries with human rights violations. "Architects have to take responsibility for their work," he said last year. Hadid could easily have made a statement like that in light of these horrible tragedies. Instead, she's choosing to look the other way. [The Guardian]

UPDATE: This post originally stated that all 500 Indian migrant worker deaths occurred on the site of Zaha Hadid's World Cup stadium, but the post has been updated to state that these deaths occurred on building sites throughout Qatar.

Image: Sean Gallup/AP