Remembering Zaha Hadid – the Queen of the Curves / by Suzanne Wales

“I don’t design nice buildings, I don’t like them.” - Zaha Hadid

The architecture world is reeling from the untimely and sudden loss of its most stylish, and driven, maverick. Zaha Hadid (1950 –2016) was often, most likely unfairly, described as a ‘diva’. With her flashing, almond-shaped eyes, eccentric designer clothes and expressive Middle Eastern face, she became the exotic figure in the suited profession of architecture and construction. She has left behind a raft of structures, from a wine shop in rural Spain to one of the greatest opera houses in the world. Her singular swoopy style, bursting with curves and walls that fold into each other, of molten surfaces and fluid windows, fill the beholder (and site) with wonder. Like all good abstractionism, Hadid’s architecture confounds you in the most delightful way. 

“A planet in her own inimitable orbit” is how Rem Koolhas, one of Hadid’s tutors at London’s AA school of architecture, described her in his final assessment. After graduating, it took some time for Hadid to come onto the radar. This was partly because most of her projects were deemed unbuildable. With all those curvaceous surfaces and lack of right-angles (“There are three hundred and fifty-nine other degrees,” Hadid is known to have said. “Why limit yourself to one?”) modelling was a nightmare and construction even more challenged. But then computer-aided tools, some of which had previously been applied to the aerospace industry, came along; allowing 3-D rendering and piecemeal off-site construction. One only has to appreciate the rigid forms of Hadid’s first work, the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, with the aerodynamic shapes of subsequent projects; the Cardiff Bay Opera House (tragically never realized due to political pressure), the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art and the BMW Building in Leipzig. Digital applications may have freed architecture from the tyranny of geometry, but it took a creative mind of the calibre of Hahid’s to push it to the outermost limits. 

The digital age allowed Hadid to set up a bigger practice and take on even bigger buildings. She entered competition after competition, won many, and her expressive large-scale works now dot the world from Abu Dhabi to Zaragoza. She was the only female presence in the ‘starchitect’ inner-sanctum’ – the elite creators of iconic buildings built on the back of the ‘Guggenheim effect’. She won the Stirling Prize twice, and in 2004 the Pritzer – the highest honour for architecture.  To date, she is only the woman to have received it – a fact that seems likely to remain for the foreseeable future. 

Perhaps the most enchanting aspect of Hadid’s work is how easily it can be ‘read’. One doesn’t need to be a star athlete to feel joy at swimming under the soaring roof of the Olympic-built aquatics centre in London, or even appreciate modern art to be awestruck by Rome’s MAXXI museum. Each of her works speaks for itself, responding to the beauty of place and purpose, and her own singular vision.

At 65, Hadid is gone to soon, but her dreamy buildings will enlighten us for centuries to come

Photo credit: www.zaha-hadid.com

Written by: Suzanne Wales