Updated: Legal Tangles Threaten Future of Zaha Hadid Architects
Editor's Note, 2/5/19: This story has been updated to include a statement from Zaha Hadid Architects.
The future of the firm Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) will be determined by a claim, or lawsuit, making its way through the High Court of Justice in London. The suit centers on who will control Zaha Hadid Holdings (ZHH)—the sole shareholder of the firm—and, thus, the future of the practice. Patrik Schumacher, the only partner of the firm, was Zaha Hadid’s chief architectural collaborator. After Hadid’s death in March 2016, Schumacher was named one of four directors of ZHH. Now he has brought the claim against the other three directors of the holding company: the architect’s niece, Rana Hadid, and two of Zaha’s friends—Brian Clarke, a stained glass maker, and Lord Peter Palumbo, a developer and architecture connoisseur who formerly chaired the Pritzker Architecture Prize jury.
In the lawsuit, Schumacher asks that Rana Hadid, Clarke, and Palumbo be stripped of their directorship of the holding company. They have, he says, attempted to force him out of the firm to take over running it. Documents Schumacher has filed in court also claim that his three adversaries are acting against the wishes of the late architect as laid out in her will and an attached Letter of Wishes, written in April 2015, particularly when it comes to the running of the practice. Zaha Hadid wrote in the letter that “Patrik Schumacher should as far as practicable be in control of the business . . . and should benefit from at least 50 percent of [its] income and capital, and the balance be for the benefit of other employees.”
Since the architect’s death, the relationship between the group of three on one side and Schumacher on the other has deteriorated. In a talk at the World Architecture Festival (WAF) in November 2016, Schumacher courted controversy by suggesting that a “freely self-regulating and self-motivating market process” would solve the housing crisis in the UK. Those comments prompted Rana Hadid, Clarke, and Palumbo to slam Schumacher down in a joint statement. “Knowing Dame Zaha as well as we did, we can state categorically that she would have been totally opposed to these views and would have disassociated herself from them,” they stated. Schumacher refutes in his claim that she would have distanced herself from his remarks.
Although that quarrel was the most public evidence of a dispute between Schumacher and his fellow directors, the conflict was affecting how the practice was run. In February 2017, Palumbo and his confreres amended the articles of association of ZHH to give the holding company greater influence over the firm. In the lawsuit, Schumacher’s list of grievances against the trio range from the petty—forbidding him from speaking at her memorial service—to the extreme: transferring some $6.5 million out of the firm to a foundation set up in Zaha’s name, and unsuccessfully trying to appoint six new board members to the practice, against the wishes of its current management.
To complicate matters, the four directors of the holding company, appointed after Zaha Hadid’s death, are also the executors of the architect’s will. Schumacher is asking that Rana Hadid, Clarke, and Palumbo be removed as executors too, given, he claims, that they have used that position to gain control of the practice. Indeed the defendants have in public emphasized their role with regard to the will. “The attempt to remove these three executors is totally unjustified and misconceived,” they said in a statement responding to the claim, without mentioning that the claim primarily targeted their role as directors of the holding company in charge of the practice.
Despite reports in the press, which mischaracterized the lawsuit’s primary aim as the removal of the other three executors, Schumacher’s claim proposes that independent executors be appointed instead of his three antagonists. (He has previously offered to stand down as an executor if they did the same.) But with regard to the firm, it seems there is no place for compromise. Rana Hadid, Clarke, and Palumbo have tried to push Schumacher out, says the suit, and now, he is trying to remove them as directors of ZHH, the holding company. When a ruling is handed down, either Schumacher or the trio will be in control of Hadid’s architectural legacy for the long term.
A source close to Schumacher says that the current directors of the practice and the staff are all behind him. Although architects in the office released a statement distancing themselves from Schumacher when he spoke at the WAF in November 2016, they have also signed a letter to Rana Hadid, Clarke, and Palumbo alongside him expressing serious concern about their attempt to appoint six new directors. “Without [Schumacher], they’d have no business, and with him the practice is thriving. They are expecting to have record financial turnover next year. So there are immense frustrations within Zaha Hadid Architects,” the source says.
On January 29, in a statement to RECORD, the practice noted: "We hope this matter can be settled quickly and amicably, to the satisfaction of all parties. After another successful year, the practice goes from strength to strength and our business is unaffected by the subject matter of the dispute. We remain focused on serving our clients and building on the achievements of Dame Zaha."
If Schumacher is successful, he will take control of the firm and will be able to appoint other directors. If the claim is not successful, it strengthens the hand of Rana Hadid, Clarke, and Palumbo, who will undoubtedly tighten their grip on the holding company and make Schumacher’s position untenable. An amicable settlement is unlikely.
The defendants declined to comment.