The Trials of Rafi Segal | The Nation


The Trials of Rafi Segal

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Having attempted to be reasonable with all concerned, Segal has been forced to go to the courts to counter both the manifest injustice he has suffered and the sponsor’s own retreat into the narrowest (and phoniest) legalism, and to demand that he be reinstated as the winner and offered a contract. I’ve been sorting through the claims and counterclaims and have spoken with Segal, corresponded with Wang (as well as the library and several of the jurors), and read the legal submissions to the sponsors and the courts. What is clear is that Wang supported the project with funds and office space, and that one of her employees—Yonatan Cohen, an Israeli friend of Segal’s, who does seem to have done much of the heavy lifting to produce the final drawings—was shifted to reduced pay and worked on the scheme in Wang’s office. Wang also provided a variety of other office services, including the hiring of a freelance computer renderer. Finally, Wang asserts that Segal failed to inform her that the competition was open only to Israeli architects and that, in effect, her contribution was secured under false pretenses. 

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Michael Sorkin
Michael Sorkin, The Nation’s architecture critic, is the author of numerous books on architecture and is also the...

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Wang’s central claim is that Segal had promised her equal credit as one of four authors: herself, Segal, Cohen and Matan Mayer (another young Israeli architect, who provided substantial assistance and, along with Cohen, has signed a document relinquishing any claim to rights for the project). Cohen has also written a letter to the library stating in part that “it was perfectly clear to all persons involved in the planning that the work was the creation of Rafi, who is the architect of this project and who is the superior authority in anything related to planning, from small to large details. Rafi was the one who presented the initial concept of the planning by way of a set of sketches that were very clear, and any decision related to planning derived from that set of sketches.” To be sure, it appears that Wang’s firm, the HyperBina Design Group, was not properly cited in the initial press release of the results—though on its website, HyperBina takes credit for the project and lists Segal as a collaborator, somewhat undermining Wang’s claims of interest in equity. But beyond the question of being credited for her support, Wang insists that she played an important personal role in the creation of the design, not merely in helping to enable its documentation. Segal, for his part, continues to assert that he was the author of the scheme (and contractual documents pertaining to Wang’s involvement clearly establish his ultimate authority over it); that the requirement for an Israeli license (which only Segal possessed) was clear to Wang and a matter of public knowledge; and that he was always prepared to recognize the contributions made by all the members of the team.

Rafi Segal is a friend, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that he was the intellectual and creative author of the scheme. His submission to the court includes reams of drawings that show his painstaking development of the project. Even as specified in her legal brief, Wang’s claims of design participation are almost negligible. Moreover, I’ve seen no graphic or other evidence to bear them out: while her assistance in facilitating the entry is clear, it is equally clear that this was not in the form of a contribution to the actual design of the project. This view is shared by Preston Scott Cohen, the chair of Harvard’s architecture department and himself a distinguished practitioner. In a letter to the director of Yad Hanadiv, he wrote: “Ms. Bing Wang does not teach and has not taught architecture at the Architecture Department and to the best of my knowledge is not a practicing designer. Her expertise is urban planning and real estate development.” He goes on to explain that Segal’s

winning competition proposal clearly bears the marks of his previous work and thus represents his design authorship. It is very consistent with his sensitivity to the urban context, both in terms of the site and the larger historical context, his use of simple geometric patterns, the inclined plane and ‘cut out’ strategy, the abstracted and restrained exterior and several other architectural features which are reoccurring elements in his work.
   Furthermore, conceiving of and resolving a project of this complexity requires years of experience and active design practice. In short, Wang’s claim to authorship, which would mean that she personally served in a collaborative role, acting jointly as a principal designer, is clearly unfounded.

Cohen also explains what those of us with experience in competitions of this type know all too well: they are always somewhat frantic, collaborative, midnight-oil undertakings with strong affinities to barn-raisings or to spontaneous performance pieces. A team is gathered in a cooperative spirit and works flat-out to get the thing done against high expectations and low odds of success. People come and go according to the time they have available and their particular abilities and resources, pitching in to help meet the usually impossible deadline. Nearly all architectural work is collaborative, and it is surely always right to credit those who participate for the help they’ve given; any failure by Segal to adequately acknowledge such contributions must be corrected. However, while it is clear that Wang made an administrative and financial contribution to the project, the question of authorship is not opaque: it belongs to Segal, the instigator of the project, the organizer of the team, and the obvious sensibility—and hand—behind the design. 

Did the sponsors of the competition accept Wang’s argument because they were looking for a way to get rid of Segal because of his politics, or because they were cowed by her legal claims? It’s hard to say, but their punctilious insistence that the commission be rescinded because Segal could not reach a legal agreement with Wang is not merely disingenuous but vicious. According to Segal and to documents submitted to the court, there were lengthy negotiations with Wang during which he offered her appropriate credit, a generous financial settlement, and his apologies for any aspect of the competition project he failed to clearly disclose. Throughout, Wang apparently remained unyielding (a document from her lawyer attests that she flatly declined Segal’s settlement offer), preferring to pull the temple down around all concerned rather than find an amicable resolution. Wang should remember her prior friendship with Segal, swallow her injured pride, forgive any perceived affront, reach an agreement and allow the project to go ahead. Enough of relying on the law to be the ass it too often is. 

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