In Brief

Patrik Schumacher loses Zaha Hadid High Court case


25 November 2020

Patrik Schumacher, the principal of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), has lost his High Court battle to gain full control over the architecture studio.

In 2018, Schumacher had launched legal proceedings in a bid to oust and replace studio founder Zaha Hadid's friends Peter Palumbo and Brian Clarke and her niece Rana Hadid, who were appointed as executors of Hadid's £100m estate following her death in March 2016.

The four had been appointed as co-executors of Hadid's will. Schumacher, who began working with Hadid in 1988, argued that the others were acting “with unjustified hostility towards” him and that their actions had “undermined [the practice’s] ability to continue as a going concern”.

Schumacher claimed that his free fellow executors had attempted to “alter the principles and business patterns” of the architecture studio having assumed control of the board of Zaha Hadid Holdings (ZHH), its parent company. Palumbo, Clarke and Hadid accused Schumacher of attempting to remove them as co-executors.

The four executors have now agreed that the majority of Hadid's assets will go to the charitable Zaha Hadid Foundation, with shares in the architecture practice to go to an employee benefit trust. This trust is to feature a democratically elected board of trustees chaired by Schumacher.

Schumacher, however, had wanted personal powers of veto over this board. This was denied by the court, with Judge Matthew Marsh stating that Schumacher would be in a “very difficult position with regard to conflicts of interest” if such powers were allowed.

Judge Marsh described the case as a “tragedy”, adding that the late Hadid would not have wished for the situation to devolve into such a “toxic dispute”.

Palumbo, Clarke and Hadid's legal counsel said that Schumacher had failed to distinguish conflicts of interest and had a “lack of commitment to basic principles of corporate governance”. The court was shown two reports by independent legal investigations into Schumacher’s behaviour – the first examined issues of corporate governance, while the second focused on allegations of inappropriate behaviour between the architect and some of his staff.

A statement from Zaha Hadid Architects read: “Zaha Hadid Architects is dismayed by the unfounded allegations being made against Patrik Schumacher. The allegations are unproven, contested, and must be considered in the context of a long-running, acrimonious dispute between the trustees of Zaha’s estate. The independence of the investigations is also contested.”

The court case caps a torrid few weeks for Schumacher, who has also faced criticism from Architects Declare, an initiative to which more than 1,000 UK architecture studios have subscribed to tackle the “twin crises” of climate change and biodiversity.

Leaders of the initiative called on Zaha Hadid Architects to commit to its principles of withdraw as a founding signatory of the declaration after Schumacher made a public statement criticising those arguing for “radical changes” and stating that “we can never compromise on growth and prosperity”.

The steering group of Architects Declare called Schumacher’s comments scientifically flawed, out of date and “fundamentally in conflict” with the movement’s advocacy of regenerative design.