The late Pritzker prize-winner Zaha Hadid has left an everlasting impression on architecture. As a true visionary of the 21st century, Zaha Hadid has constructed dazzling buildings through the extensive use of computational designs. 

Amidst the fandom surrounding her legacy, some of her designs have raised a few eyebrows in the architectural community. 

Al Wakrah Stadium Doha by Zaha Hadid Architects- Expensive and controversial - Sheet1
Portrait of Zaha Hadid Image Source: Vogue Photographed by Irving Penn, Vogue, March 2004 ©www.vogue.com

The Slave-Labour Debacle

Zaha Hadid Architects’ Al-Wakrah stadium in Qatar had been the center of commotion even before its construction began!

After being selected by the FIFA Executive committee to host the 2022 World Cup, the construction of new stadiums had begun in full force. 

Qatar’s use of migrant workers for the construction of these stadiums has made them targets for negative publicity. Their ill-treatment of migrant workers has blemished the country’s reputation severely. 

Al Wakrah Stadium Doha by Zaha Hadid Architects- Expensive and controversial - Sheet2
Construction of Al-Wakrah Stadium in Qatar ©supreme committee for delivery & legacy

Since these migrant workers are uneducated and unskilled, they are known to be exploited by higher-ups. Low pay, squalid living conditions, and lack of safety equipment are amongst the many injustices that the modern-day migrant worker endures.

The mismanagement of the workforce involved in construction in Qatar sparked rumors. Rumors that poor living conditions had indirectly resulted in deaths among workers had surfaced. An arbitrary number of 1200 deaths were linked.

These workers had presumably died of cardiac and acute respiratory failure. Even though no conclusive connection was ever established, the saga alone tainted the country’s status.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) reported 11 deaths during the construction of the Al-Wakrah stadium. Out of which only one was deemed work-related. 

Tej Narayan Tharu had fallen from a significant height during the construction of the Al-Wakrah stadium. Just 23 years of age, Tej Narayan Tharu, a Nepalese citizen, had been working in Qatar to support his family back home. The tragic news of his fall was relayed to his wife by a friend. 

His actual death was confirmed later when she was called by a member of the Manar General Contracting company, where Tej was employed. 

Al Wakrah Stadium Doha by Zaha Hadid Architects- Expensive and controversial - Sheet3
Ultra wide-angle Photograph of Al Wakrah Stadium ©Raúl Redondo, atalayar.com

Zaha Hadid herself deflected responsibility for the workforce, claiming that it was the government’s task to handle. 

The situation further escalated when Zaha Hadid sued the New York Review of Books, by Martin Fuller for defamatory statements made in Rowan Moore’s book: Why We Build. Zaha Hadid’s lawyers managed to retract the statements claiming it had caused Zaha Hadid “severe emotional and physical distress”.

The apology that ensued had a hint of sarcasm which did not help Zaha Hadid’s case.

Arguably, this inhumane use of slave-labor stigmatizes the entire endeavor. The blatant disregard for the workers raises ethical questions of everyone involved. 

Qatar’s economy has grown dramatically over the last two decades. The country reports the highest GDP per capita in the world. 

Most of the migrant workers are from India, where roughly 4 times the casualties occur when compared to Qatar. However, as a developing country with a massive population, these numbers are not uncommon.

A country with a booming economy like Qatar should be able to manage it’s migrant workforce better. The sheer lack of excuses brings up severe humanitarian questions.

The Design Debacle

Apart from the workforce debacle, the 3D renders of the stadium conjured up entirely new debates.

Conceptually, the exterior roof abstractly mimics waves adding a futuristic element to the project. The inner side of the roof has ribs that are inspired by the dhow boats in Qatar. However, when seen from an aerial view, the structure undoubtedly resembles female genitalia. 

Al Wakrah Stadium Doha by Zaha Hadid Architects- Expensive and controversial - Sheet4
Aerial View of Al Wakrah Stadium ©www.zaha-hadid.com

Women’s website Jezebel.com commented, “Any discerning human will be quick to recognize that the building looks exactly like an enormous vagina”.

(Callie Beusman, 18th Nov 2013, Jezebel https://jezebel.com/qatars-new-world-cup-stadium-will-look-like-a-giant-va-1466640033)

“With its shiny, pinkish tinge, its labia-like side appendages and its large opening in the middle, the supposedly innocent building was just asking for trouble,”

(Holly Baxter, 2013, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/18/qatar-accidental-vagina-stadium-al-wakrah-world-cup-stadium) was another controversial remark passed by the Guardian. 

Zaha Hadid responded to these statements with absolute disgust saying, “It’s embarrassing that they come up with nonsense like this. What are they saying? Everything with a hole in it is a vagina? That’s ridiculous.”(Noah Grayman, 22nd Nov 2013, Times Magazine, https://newsfeed.time.com/2013/11/22/architect-zaha-hadid-fires-back-at-critics-of-her-so-called-vagina-stadium/)

Critics went on to further criticize the structure, calling it expensive and overly elaborate for its blasphemous form. 

The 583 million dollar stadium has a capacity of 40,000 seats for the 2022 World cup, after which it will be reduced to 20,000 seats. With the top tier scheduled to be removed after the World Cup, the stadium will then be used to host the Qatar Star League football matches.

The price can perhaps be justified, by the retractable roof which keeps the stadium cool.

A combination of the roof and an advanced mechanical ventilation system means that the stadium can be used year-round. The aerodynamic form is integrated into the form increasing the performance of the mechanical system. When cohesively used, these varied features can reduce the temperature to a staggering 20 degrees Celsius. Creating this temperature for 40,000 spectators in a desert is a truly magnificent achievement.

Al Wakrah Stadium Doha by Zaha Hadid Architects- Expensive and controversial - Sheet5
Football Pitch of the Al-Wakrah Stadium ©www.zaha-hadid.com

All in all the megastructure’s performance outweighs its critic’s sentiments. However, being made on the backs of slave-labor the structure has been arguably besmirched forever.

Kunal Mathur
Author

Kunal is a charismatic individual, with a passion for food, travel and of course writing. His thirst for new experiences has helped him develop diverse portfolio of talents. He has worked with NGO’s pertaining to animals, children, and rural development while working as an architect for large corporations.

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