Friday, 28 February 2014

It wasn't me too: Deaths in Qatar

Some time back, I used the Bart Simpson trademark denial of responsibility as the headline of my post about Rafael Viñoly and his apparently disingenuous attitude to the infamous 'Walkie Talkie building' in London, which has been wreaking havoc with its surroundings.  My beef in that post was first the recurring incompetence apparently considered acceptable in the architectural profession, and second the unconscionably cavalier attitude of that particular star architect.

I didn't expect to have to return to the second of those themes quite so soon, and with quite such a grim reason.  But recently Zaha Hadid managed to rile me and sadden me, far beyond the usual, as the general plight of migrant workers in the Gulf came into dramatic focus around deaths in Qatar's building industry.

In brief, the deaths of Indian and Nepali workers in the metaphorically and literally overheated construction frenzy of that small country are running at several hundred a year, made worse by the build-up to the World Cup football tournament in 2022.  As reported by Dezeen, Zaha Hadid appears to have declared herself not responsible in any way, a declaration apparently made necessary in her mind by the very high visibility of her signature stadium for that event:
"It's not my duty as an architect to look at it," Hadid said yesterday at the reopening for her Olympic aquatics centre in London. "I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it. I think it's a problem anywhere in the world. But, as I said, I think there are discrepancies all over the world."
It would be silly to over-simplify the issue.  Hadid might be driven by some clarity of thought, useful to make clear the attribution of blame between professional consultants involved in the design and documentation of a major project, and unscrupulous construction contractors operating in a politically corrupt environment made worse by culturally entrenched dehumanizing attitudes. It is almost tempting to give her credit for that, and to see her statements as helping to highlight the necessary, if difficult reforms.  But only almost tempting.  Because she is wrong on at least two counts.

The first is ethical, if subjective.  If the reporting is to be taken as accurate, Hadid comes across as crass and callous.  Her attitude reinforces in the public mind the more general perception of architects as arrogant and uncaring.

The second is objective.  Architects are responsible in common law for the buildability of their designs.  The London Olympics proudly claims that there was not a single fatality on any of its building sites, and that can be achieved only within regulatory frameworks where there cannot be a disconnect between the design and the construction practices necessary to realize it.  This concept has progressed so far in developed nations that in New South Wales, Australia, 'projects have to meet safe design requirements including provision of a safe design report and/or information on how the designer has designed the structure to be without risk to health and safety'

In Qatar, the deaths are not all from site accidents, they include other causes like heart attacks caused by over-exposure to the extremely hot conditions, and even factors related to insanitary worker accommodation. Commentators have also pointed to the role of governments of the workers' home countries, in as much as the attitudes to worker safety and welfare may be no better back home.  The problem is complex, and no single architect should be asked to shoulder the blame, even symbolically.  But an estimated 4000 likely deaths by the time the first ball is kicked in 2022 is a horrifying prospect, and one to which there should be more compassionate and proactive responses by architects.  As Dezeen reports:
Other well-known architects have previously spoken out over conditions for workers in foreign nations. Richard Rogers says that “architects have a responsibility to society“, while Daniel Libeskind called on architects to consider whether their projects are “legitimate.”
See the Dezeen article here.
Much of the investigative reporting and commentary has been in the Guardian newspaper.  Start here.
For a range of careful but formulaic responses from other UK based major consultants, see this article in Building magazine.


Anonymous said...

Just goes to show that such flaws in building practice need to be first highlight by a global event such as the World Cup, in order to finally acknowledge there is an underlying problem. Qatar is no exception to this common occurrence, whereby a country undertakes a major project without a comprehensive regulatory framework in place. Brazil as well is vying to finish all its proposed stadiums before hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Naturally strict deadlines come with a FIFA World Cup, but Brazil’s problems leading up to the World Cup are acutely the same as Qatar. The site accidents that are occurring are so unacceptable they are proving comically in the lead up to the World Cup. The most recent, Feb 2014, being a crane falling and damaging the metal structure of Arena de Sao Paulo killing three, while only in Nov 2013 another crane collapsed onto the roof of the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. Moreover, the cause of these crane accidents have been fires that have broken out, and then being covered up by government officials.

Ideally we need to see more architects take further responsibility in implementing a better correlation between design and safety, which is addressed in this post. Had an architect, like Zaha Hadid, brought over safe building practices into a developing nation, we would see less incidents like Qatar and Brazil, and perhaps a bridging of this gap of conditions between foreign nations.

Links: – Brazlian World Cup builders call for national strike as construction death toll rises

Reuters – Exclusive: Brazil World Cup stadium was structurally damaged by fire

The Guardian – Brazil’s World Cup courts disaster as delays, protests and deaths mount

Evan said...

Not to absolve Zaha Hadid of any blame, but the primary problem with the Qatar world cup stadium is the fact a country that small simply does not possess the necessary infrastructure and facilities to host an event that expects a million foreign visitors at a minimum. In addition to this the Qatar suffers from an excessively hot climate particularly in the tournament months (June, July) and is over-reliant on foreign laborers which make up over 50% of residents currently in Qatar (the International Labor Organization classifies up to six hundred thousand workers in the Middle East as victims of trafficking). As such a small country Qatar not only needs to construct a stadium to adequately host the World Cup, but must also provide adequate facilities for the expected tourists (hotels, roads, stores). So in preparation for the World Cup Qatar is not only building one stadium, they are building an entire infrastructure. (One of the requirements by FIFA is that the candidate country must possess six different host cities, Qatar only possesses three but ignores this requirement by promising to build four new cities)
On top of this the problems of Qatar are not unforeseen; FIFA hires an external company to provide a risk assessment in order to determine the eligibility of the candidates. Based on the summary table linked below it becomes obvious Qatar is actually the least eligible, ranking medium to high risk on every category except for one (competition-related events). Particularly relevant is the fact Qatar ranks medium risk for stadium construction and stadium operation, and high risk for team facilities. Qatar is also the only candidate ranked high risk in overall operational risk.
In short the problems of the 2022 World Cup stadium construction relate back to the fact Qatar is simply not a suitable location for an international event of this scale and should never have even been in the running as an eligible candidate. Since the risk report has been published its obvious Qatar won the bid through unscrupulous means. In summation the worker deaths so far are the result of an ineligible country desperately struggling to meet the minimum requirements set by FIFA, disregarding migrant worker conditions over their need to fulfill the basic necessary facilities by the expected deadlines.
FIFA risk assessment table:
FIFA – Qatar Bid Evaluation Report

The Guardian – How many more must die for Qatar’s World Cup?

The Economist – Forget about rights

Amnesty International - Qatar: The dark side of migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup

Anonymous said...

It wasn’t me too… oh yes it was..

Regarding the recent comments Ms. Hadid made concerning the welfare of several thousand human beings during the Qatar World Cup construction phase, one should be taken aback if not a little disappointed. ‘Its not my duty’ to care about the basic rights of another human being ZH bemoaned to the press about migrant workers in Qatar. Knowing Ms. Hadid herself chose to leave her native country for a better opportunity abroad [although from a wealthy family, opportunities were hard to come by in Iraq], one must wonder how she can not empathise even a little bit with the plight of these migrant workers and at least try to do something to help their cause, make a little noise about the issue instead of turning away.

Indeed, Ms. Hadid may have her hands tied together on matters concerning whether a country recognizes a persons basic human rights but she also does not have her lips zipped together either. Why, instead of bemoaning the plight of the ‘slaves’ who have basically been captured to build the infrastructure, didn’t Ms Hadid use her profile to make some real noise regarding this issue? [These migrants are slaves were lured to Qatar under false promises of decent living conditions and a decent wage. The conditions are reported as below squalor, payments have been a minimum 20% less than promised if payment has been at all and finally, workers have also had their passports confiscated so they are unable to leave. Imprisonment? Slavery?]. Why didn’t ZH fight to have the safety of workers respected for this project?

The London Olympics, another showcase for Ms. Hadid and her designs but would you believe that no one died during this construction. Not one person. Whilst part of the problem lies with how British government and the State of Qatar value and interpret basic human rights, should it not of been up to a ZH to enforce that for Qatar to have a ZH designed stadium, giant vagina or not, issues a,b,c must be addressed? ‘No value for human life, NO STADIUM’. Having lived + in the UK, surely ZH knows that these laws and safety measures are standard practice in the UK, so why not seize the moment and help spread these type of laws and basic human rights to a country that doesn’t yet acknowledge them? One of FIFA’s intentions for ‘sharing ‘ the world cup around the globe is for the growth of the game, so everyone may experience the excitement of football. If only ZH saw her litany of designs in developing countries in the same ‘platform for growth’ vein as FIFA does.

Knowing of these appalling events and ZH’s equally dire response, one might be excused for imagining a foul waft settling upon the air in Qatar, the stench of human decay and greed at the mercy of our own. But now that we are aware of the problem, am I and you now just as lazy at ZH? Should I now be making a little noise? As a human being I damn well should be but will I? Will you? Or are we all just like Zaha? ‘Its out of our hands, why bother?’ Is that it?

So, be as you may in sweltering conditions whilst seated in the worlds biggest outdoor vagina at the 2022 World Cup, ask yourself, what really is that smell? Is that really me?

Oh and Daniel [I’m not interested in building gleaming streets for despots] Libeskind, easy on big fella, you did rebuild Ground Zero for the Americans.. it wasn’t me too.. oh yes it was.

Anonymous said...

Cold, apathetic and inhuman answer, that's my first impression after reading your post and the links below. And yes, I agree with your statement, that it is one of the Architects' responsibilities. Her tone-deaf comments “I have nothing to do with the workers, I think that's an issue the government...” would definitely elicit a firestorm of predictable outrage. She also added, “I'm concerned about the deaths in Iraq as well, so what do I do about that?”, so I think the argument is not on whose duty it is to protect the workers. If many are dying in the same construction site, firstly don't compare it with a warzone and say that you are truly sorry for the people and their families who has lost their lives working. And then take a step back, talk with the people who ever can make a change. I think many people would be listening to what ZH has to say. If she didn't make these statements at all, I would think maybe she is trying but after reading all the news, I see her as one of the responses for sure.
However, on the other side, Qatar is a developing-country with the highest GDP per capita in the world, this is due to its small population which is estimated over 2 million in 2014. Just like the other Middle-east countries, the climate in Qatar is terrible, averaging 37 degree during the day from April to November. This would be one of the extreme working conditions for the workers working outdoor. Also it will take approximately 7 years time to construct and complete all the planned facilities for the 2022 world cup due to large workload. Furthermore, Fifa would expect at lease 2.5 million people from overseas attend to the world Cup according to the data from previous World Cup, which means there will be double of its current population in Qatar 2022, which also indicates Qatar needs to build double of its current facilities, such as hotels. From the evidences pointed above, it does not benefit Qatar as a country who hosts World cup, it is not only just a waste of money, but also what would they do with all the brand new stadiums and facilities when 2.5 million people leave after the World Cup?

Wikipedia - Qatar

Findthebest - 2010 compared to other World Cup facts by its total attendance

Archdaily - Zaha Hadid on Worker Deaths in Qatar: “It's Not My Duty as an Architect.”

The Guardian - Zaha Hadid defends Qatar World Cup role following migrant worker deaths

Metropolis - Governments, Not Architects, Should Shoulder Responsibility for Worker Deaths, Says Hadid