Ethical discourse within architecture is tepid at best. What have architects lost, and what do they still have to gain, in asking the hard questions?
Last February, The Guardian’s Owen Gibson reported on hundreds of migrant worker deaths in Qatar owing to preparations for the FIFA World Cup 2022. Al Wakrah’s Saoud bin Abdulrahman Stadium in southern Qatar, designed by Zaha Hadid, Hon. FAIA, which had not yet started construction at the time, is among the World Cup’s most prominent projects. When asked at a London event about conditions for construction workers there, The Guardian’s James Riach reported in a follow-up story Hadid’s now-famous reply: “I have nothing to do with the workers. I think that’s an issue the government—if there’s a problem—should pick up. Hopefully, these things will be resolved.”
That dustup came on the heels of two other critical debates, one over the aesthetics of the stadium that Hadid had designed, and the other surrounding general concerns about the World Cup—as well as major global sporting events like the Olympics—in displacing people and abusing power within host countries. Hadid said that she did not take the Qatar situation lightly, but that ultimately worker safety was “not my duty as an architect to look at.”
Her comments drew fire from architecture critic Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA, among others, who wrote in Vanity Fair last August that Hadid’s fame alone was fuel enough to drive significant attention toward the Qatari problem. “No one forces an architect to accept a job that carries with it a serious ethical compromise,” he wrote.
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