The Iranian-British architect Dame Zaha Hadid has stormed out of an interview with the BBC’s Today Program after being challenged on two major, and widely criticised, architectural projects.
Hadid, who in 2015 became the first woman to be awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in her own right, initially shot down a line of questioning on the building of the World Cup stadium in Qatar, which has been plagued by allegations of migrant worker deaths during construction, something the Qatari government has strenuously denied.
When the BBC’s Sarah Montague then attempted to move on to the building of Japan’s New National Sports Stadium in Tokyo, a project which has recently been shut down amid claims of spiralling costs, Hadid again shot her down, then walked out.
After a few minutes’ discussion on how women are perceived in architecture, Montague attempted to move onto to discussing the world cup stadium in Qatar, commenting: “One of your buildings is the Qatar stadium where there have been considerable problems, not least, I mean, the number of deaths – ”
Hadid immediately cut her off, saying: “There haven’t been any problems actually, I have to put you right. There has not been a single problem with the stadium in Qatar.”
Montague protested: “More than 1200 migrants workers have died there.”
To which Hadid responded: “Absolutely not true. We sued somebody for writing that and saying that and it had to be withdrawn from the press because it’s absolutely inaccurate.”
Montague tried again, pointing out that it had been “very widely reported that there are huge numbers – ”, but again Hadid cut her off, insisting: “No, it’s absolutely untrue.”
She added. “There’s no deaths on our site whatsoever. … You should check your information before you say anything.”
Closing the subject down, Montague commented: “That’s fascinating.”
Hadid barked: “It’s not fascinating because it was reported in the press and they had to withdraw their statement and they had to apologise to me for wrongdoing.”
Montague stuttered “Ok” and moved onto the equally doomed topic of the New National Sports Stadium in Tokyo. Montague remarked “I think you pulled out in the end, describing it as a scandal.”
Hadid stated “I didn’t pull out. I pulled out because there were no contractors to go with.” However, she agreed that the situation was a scandal, prompting Montague to invite her to explain the situation. But after Hadid meandered for half a minute on how the contract was won, Montague cut her off saying “We’ll have to speed up a little bit.”
Hadid shot back “Yeah, but don’t ask me a question if you won’t let me finish it, then I won’t say anything.”
Montague laughed and said, “but if I can just make the point, the Japanese Prime Minister pulled the plug on it (the stadium) because of soaring costs. Are you saying that’s wrong?”
Hadid replied “let’s stop this conversation right now,” and left.
Earlier in the interview, while discussing the openness of the architectural world to women, Montague cited Sir Peter Cook who described Hadid as “a scary character.” She asked “do you think you perhaps come across as a scary formidable individual?”
Hadid replied: “Once someone told me ‘they don’t give you work here because you are scary’. I had an answer which I would never dare say on the radio.”
Last May the Washington Post printed an article claiming that 1,200 migrant workers had already died in Qatar since December 2010, when the country had been awarded the World Cup, and predicted that the death toll would rise to 4,000 by the time the football tournament took place. It juxtaposed those figures against worker deaths in the run up to other major sporting tournaments, including the London and Sochi Olympics and the Brazil World Cup in a graphic that went viral.
The Post was later forced to amend the graphic to omit the comparison and print a correction reading: “An earlier version of this post, and accompanying graphic, created the impression that more than 1,000 migrant workers in Qatar had died working on 2022 World Cup infrastructure. The post should have made clearer that the figures involved all migrant deaths in Qatar.
“A lengthy statement by Qatar’s government said “not a single worker’s life has been lost” in connection with the World Cup construction, while an account by The Guardian linked some deaths to the construction.
“Ultimately, we are unable to verify how many deaths, if any, are related to World Cup construction.”
The Guardian’s article, which claimed that “Nepalese migrants building the infrastructure to host the 2022 World Cup have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014,” has not been amended.