With the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale opening this week, fallout from the 2014 biennale is still being felt. And while the current biennale’s director, Alejandro Aravena, is riding high, one of its last curators, Alejandro Zaera-Polo, claims his standing in the profession has been damaged.
On May 24, Zaera-Polo, the former dean of Princeton University’s School of Architecture, filed a civil suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey against university president Christopher L. Eisgruber, its dean of the faculty Deborah A. Prentice, and students and faculty “John and Jane Does 1-20.” His suit alleges that the president’s demand for Zaera-Polo’s immediate resignation in the fall of 2014 resulted in the circulation of, according to court filings, “widespread, false, and damaging public rumors” about his conduct. As a result, Zaera-Polo says in his complaint that, he has been deprived of “lucrative and prestigious professional and academic opportunities."
The termination was an unforeseen consequence of Zaera-Polo’s participation in the 2014 biennale, which was curated by Rem Koolhaas. At Koolhaas’s request, Zaera-Polo wrote the section of the catalogue devoted to facades—one of the former dean’s areas of expertise. But the university learned that the catalogue contained passages that were taken from, but not attributed to, other sources.
In August 2014, an anonymous post by “John and Jane Does 1-20” to the website Archinect made the Princeton investigation public, and, according to Zaera-Polo’s complaint, disseminated “confidential information at Princeton to members of the professional academic architectural community, and to the press.”
On October 1, 2014, Eisgruber, Princeton’s president, asked Zaera-Polo to resign the deanship. If he hadn’t resigned himself, he "would have been removed anyway,” Zaera-Polo told RECORD in an email. (Eisgruber declined to comment on ongoing litigation.)
Zaera-Polo has remained on Princeton’s faculty, but he complains that the school has “fostered a hostile environment,” including the relocating his office to a basement.
David M. Kohane, Zaera-Polo’s lawyer, could not comment on the pending litigation but said, “the complaint speaks for itself.”
Since the controversy arose two years ago, Zaera-Polo has argued that the version of the catalogue at issue was not an academic work, and therefore didn’t require citations. In a letter to Eisgruber defending Zaera-Polo, Koolhaas said that a second, more academic version of the catalogue would be forthcoming (asked if this second volume was ever published, Zaera-Polo responded, “Not that I know of.”). In his letter, Koolhaas accused Eisgruber of making a "category error" — essentially, that Eisgruber didn’t appreciate the difference between academic and non-academic work. The letter probably didn’t help Zaera-Polo.
Princeton told RECORD in a statement, “The University is confident that the officials and faculty members who investigated and adjudicated the claims against Professor Zaera-Polo did so fairly and in accordance with University policies and procedures. The University will defend its position in court, and looks forward to the successful resolution of these claims.”
View the complaint here.
Sam Furnival and Anna Fixsen contributed reporting.