Zaha Hadid debacle over labor deaths in Qatar & the World Cup

Earlier this  year Zaha Hadid made headlines with her indifferent comments about the deaths of hundreds of Southeast Asian migrant workers in Qatar, following a construction boom around the 2022 World Cup. Hadid has designed one of the five stadia that will house 40,000 seats. Her exact words during an interview to the Guardian, when asked about the deaths were “I have nothing to do with workers . . . .” The interviewer asked if she was concerned to which Hadid replied “Yes, but I’m more concerned about the deaths in Iraq as well, so what do I do about that? . . . . . I think that’s an issue the government – if there’s a problem – should pick up. I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it”. [1]

Architects all over the world specifically in the US went on a hateful frenzy criticizing Hadid, the United Arab Emirates and expressed major confusion about an Architect’s responsibility during construction. There were also very crass remarks and articles about her being the “only” female starchitect, who unlike her male counterparts was constantly producing work that looks like female genitalia (I suppose in the organic evolution of accepting female Architects, we have managed to somehow stay in the supra primate stage).

Hadid was indeed terribly insensitive and thoughtless in her comments, but solely targeting her with the responsibility of the deaths related to the entire World Cup infrastructure and using her as the punching bag for everything wrong with the construction industry along with all the gender and culture related attacks is wrong and completely divorced from the issue on hand. The broader issue is a lack of regulations from FIFA for World Cup host countries along with non-existent employment laws, OSHA like standards and unions.

The World Cup Village 2022 in Qatar will be a product of almost $200 billion, with another $4 billion reserved for just refurbishment of existing stadia. A new 200,000 population city called Lusail is scheduled to be built over the next ten years. Initially five stadia were planned and per a report released by Bloomberg News in April, plans to build four of those have been canceled. [2] Al Wakrah, which is credited to Hadid is on schedule.

Like any well off country, the region attracts hundreds of thousands of desperate workers from poor neighboring countries, in most cases they lack the required skills and end up working in deadly conditions, (the highs in that region can go up to 126 degrees with 80-90% humidity levels). The workers from neighboring Southeast Asian countries are employed under the region’s kafala system which opens abuse of migrant workers, who also owe debt to agents in their own countries. UAE has always been the place where the worst of Western and local greed coupled with a general lack of regulations, enforceable employment laws and unions has set a tragic plight for these unfortunate workers.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation has predicted that more than 4,000 migrant workers will die in Qatar before the World Cup there begins. [3] Nasser Al Khater, who is the media and marketing director for World Cup 2022, however said earlier in May that “No construction workers have been killed working on a 2022 World Cup project site, contrary to what the international media says there has not been a single injury or death on the World Cup projects,” he said. “It’s not possible to have 400 deaths when you are still digging a hole in the ground so I would like to make sure this matter is put to rest.” [4] (Not sure where that leaves most of these confusing reports).

The world cup governing body, FIFA has been quick to take responsibility over the welfare of these migrant workers, but this isn’t the first time as there were several deaths associated with the World Cup 2014 in Brazil and in South Africa before that; however numbers reported were not remotely as high as reports from Qatar. FIFA’s primary purpose is to watch over and help set the rules of the game of soccer. As the organizing Committee for the World Cup, FIFA works hard to negotiate a complete tax exemption from host countries and with projected revenues as high as 4 Billion dollars, steers clear of the long and short term social impact of such events. The sequential long term planning of such events warrants the need for improved infrastructure, therefore regulations governing construction, employment, conservation and management of resources, adherence to OSHA/EU-OSHA or similar standards should be part of FIFA’s responsibilities.

Outside of such mega events, the very nature of the construction industry is prone to accidents. During the construction of Burj Al Khalifa in neighboring Dubai,  one report suggested that in late 2007 there were  3-4 deaths per weeks, only 1 was reported by the developer, others caused by heat exhaustion and suicide were ignored. Records kept by the Indian mission showed nearly 1,000 deaths, more than 60 in accidents on the site. [5] Adrian Smith the project Architect, unlike Hadid somehow managed to escape the criticism.

Even in San Francisco with, Cal/OSHA (Division of Occupational Safety and Health working to protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job), strict employment laws and the requirement to hire only skilled, union workers in the financial district, accidents do happen. Recent cases involved 2 workers who fell off scaffolding, while installing it on 350 Mission. [6] The second incident happened in April in Hunters Point Neighborhood near Innes and Donhue Street, where a wall fell down on a worker and another was accidentally struck by a front end loader. [7] The farther you get away from the Financial District or in some parts of the suburbs you start seeing  non-union, unskilled labor and a greater frequency of accidents as a result of that.

Lastly, the issue of an architect’s responsibility during construction; architects when/if hired for construction administration only ‘observe’ not inspect construction and that too, strictly to check for conformity to construction drawings and specifications. Architect’s duty during construction is to visit the site when appropriate to become “familiar” with the progress and quality of work. An example of gross negligence during Construction Administration includes not reviewing shop drawings carefully, that could possibly result in work that isn’t in accordance with contract documents and potentially causes an injury.[8] 

Many projects involve having the architect only produce the Contract Documents and not be involved at all during construction. The Architect isn’t responsible for “the means and methods of construction and for safety precautions”. It is the General Contractor’s responsibility to “supervise” construction. If the architect is suicidal and includes “supervision” on a construction project in his contract, the contractor will have to rely on that and the Architect becomes liable.

If an Architect is providing voluntary “inspection” services in a post disaster situation, he/she isn’t held liable for negligence for any injury or property damage with limited immunity, however, even in such a case there in no immunity for gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Furthermore, some architectural contracts provide that the architect serve as the Construction Manager outside of their “Basic Services”. As a Construction Manager the Architect gives advice on time, cost, coordinates contract negotiations and construction activities. The scope and role of the architect during construction really depends on the terms negotiated in the contract.

References:

[1] Hadid, Zaha. Interview by James Riach. “Zaha Hadid defends Qatar World Cup role following migrant worker deaths.” The Guardian. The Guardian, February 2014. Web. 25 February 2014.

[2] Fattah, Zainab and Tuttle, Robert. “Qatar Cuts Number of World Cup Soccer Stadiums as Costs Rise” Bloomberg News. Bloomberg News, 21 April 2014. Web. 21 April 2014.

[3] Rawling, Sarah. “Qatar’s 2022 World Cup could Cost 4000 Lives” Deepcor.com. Deepcor.com, 10 April 2014. Web. 10 April 2014.

[4] Collett, Mike. “Soccer – No Workers have died on World Cup Projects, says Qatar ” Reuters.com. Reuters.com, 13 May 2014. Web. 13 May 2014.

[5] Zakaria, Rafia. “The Burj Khalifa: Behind the Glitz ” Dawn.com. Dawn.com, 15 January 2010. Web. 15 January 2010.

[6] Morris, Scott. “Two Construction Workers Injured in Separate Accidents at SF Housing Development Site” Bay City News. Bay City News, 28 May 2014. Web. 28 May 2014.

[7]”Construction Site Reopens after Scaffolding Accident” Bay City News. Bay City News, 25 February 2014. Web. 21 June 2014.

[8] Kelleher, T. and walters, O., eds., (2009). Smith, Currie & Hancock’s Common Sense Construction Law: A Preactical Guide for the Construction Professional”. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

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HB +A Architects is an interdisciplinary San Francisco Architectural practice involved in design and research that aims to yield innovative, iconic buildings and urban environments. With founder Hafsa Burt serving as design director, the firm today consists of design professionals, who remain committed to the practice of architecture as a collaborative and innovative enterprise. Seeking to build projects worldwide, the firm specializes in Green building beyond LEED certification and Indoor Air Quality, targeting “healthy Buildings”. HB +A Architects is a dynamic and evolving practice that responds to the current social and technological conditions, as a commentary in their work. As a small-sized firm, the firm has the ability to provide hands-on, principal involvement from start to finish.

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