Dying for Soccer: Should Architects Speak Out About Working Conditions in Qatar?


Hundreds of Indian and Nepalese migrant workers have died in Qatar during construction work connected to the World Cup, and thousands more are expected to die if conditions do not improve.

Should Zaha Hadid and other architects connected to the World Cup speak out for the workers? Guy Horton and Andrea Cohen Gehring talk about the ethics and responsibilities of architects.



The awarding of the Pritzker Prize to Shigeru Ban excited critics who saw it as a validation of what they see as a trend among younger architects away from formally showy “monuments” for monied clients, to community-based projects aimed at improving the lives of the poor (of course the actual picture is far more nuanced.)

Qatar stadium by Zaha HadidSome critics even went so far as to hold Ban in opposition to architects working on “showy” buildings in the Gulf. Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for the New York Times, for example, compared Ban’s approach to unnamed architects whose “stardom derives from designing costly art museum expansions and megaprojects for clients in Qatar and Dubai, built on the backs of indentured labor.”

It is likely he was referring to Pritzker winner Zaha Hadid, right, famed for her formal expressiveness. The London-based, Iraqi-born architect is currently building the Al-Wakrah stadium in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup (shown in rendering, left).

Zaha HadidWorkers Dying to Create Soccer Stadiums

100s of Indian and Nepalese migrant workers have died in Qatar during construction work connected to stadiums for the soccer tournament; thousands more are expected to die if conditions do not improve. They are overwhelmed from working conditions related to construction, like toiling in beating 122 degree heat without sufficient water, food or breaks.

Hadid was asked last month by the Guardian newspaper for her feelings about these deaths and gave a direct but seemingly insensitive answer: “I have nothing to do with the workers,” she told the newspaper. . . “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.”

Even if she was correct legally, was she correct ethically? Should Hadid use her podium to speak out against poor labor conditions?

Andrea Cohen GehringGuy Horton, author of a column in Arch Daily, Will We Stay Silent? The Human Cost of Qatar’s World Cupargues that this is a critical moment for Hadid and other architects working in Qatar and other Gulf states, that lack the stringent working conditions expected in the US.

Andrea Cohen Gehring is principal of the Los Angeles branch of DLR, a national architecture firm where she works on range of projects including schools, medical facilities, offices and the adaptive reuse of historic buildings; and she is the new president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Cohen Gehring, left, offers her view on what she says should be a “personal choice” about speaking out; and she argues that women in leadership roles have especial responsibilities. But she also cautions that the words attributed to Hadid, whom she holds in high regard, might have been taken out of context.

Hear the entire podcast, also featuring an interview about Shigeru Ban with Naomi Pollock, here.