Zaha Hadid

Building Things the World Has Never Seen Before

Having been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, Zaha Hadid is currently at the zenith of her success. Melanie Weidemüller met the star architect, artist, and diva at a press conference in London

Zaha Hadid (photo: AP)
Zaha Hadid (photo: AP)

​​Will she come or will she cancel at the last minute? She has already made it clear that she will only stay for half an hour and will give no exclusive interviews. If reports and anecdotes are anything to go by, Zaha Hadid is the pop star of the architecture world and just as capricious as her designs, those built sculptures that seem oblivious to the laws of gravity.

Her designs are statically perfect structures that give the appearance of being dangerously instable because they are unexpected and like nothing the world has ever seen before. Hadid's drawings and models of such post-modern structures became famous even when they were still considered "unbuildable".

The first Hadid building to be constructed was the Vitra fire station in Weil am Rhein, a small town on the German-Swiss border, in 1993. Ever since, visitors to Art Basel have often used their lunch breaks to take a trip over the border to see Hadid's first work.

A designer who knows no borders

All of a sudden she arrives and confirms all the clichés. It's all there: the stilettos, the black designer clothes, the permanent fiddling with her mobile phone, the reverent entourage of young project managers, and an aura that can switch from charm to arrogance to latent irritation to open hostility within seconds.

The appeal of all this may be limited, but the impressive overview of the world built by Hadid over the past 15 years – a 30-minute video shown at the conference – certainly makes up for it. We see objects, interiors, stage designs, exhibition architecture, railway stations, hotels, museums, and industrial complexes.

This "architect" is undoubtedly a designer who knows no borders. For her, the delineation of art, architecture, and design is as fluid as that of research, tuition, and practical work. She would transform the entire world according to her designs if one would only let her.

Late starter

Now 56 years of age, Hadid's first buildings came late in life. The daughter of an entrepreneur and opposition politician, Zaha Hadid was born in Baghdad in 1950 and moved to London in the late 1970s. She studied at the renowned Architectural Association School of Architecture and after only three months in Rem Koolhaas' OMA-Office founded her own office in 1980.

Vitra Fire Station Weil Am Rhein
Vitra Fire Station Weil Am Rhein - the first Hadid building to be constructed
(photo: Wikimedia CC license)

​​She gained notoriety with her exhibition design for the MOMA show for Dekonstruktivis (1988) and then created a variety of spacy interior designs, for example for a restaurant in Japan. She finally began winning competitions in the 1990s and found both public and private clients the world over.

Symbolically, her "Mind Zone" for the Millennium Dome in London marked the beginning of the global Hadid construction boom of the past few years. Among others, her designs for a tram station in Strasbourg, a bridge in Abu Dhabi, a university in Mexico, a ferry terminal in Salerno, the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, and the first museum for contemporary art in Rome have been implemented since 2000.

Her most famous buildings demonstrate what makes her designs so unique: Hadid builds as if she was reinventing the art of building. The Bergisel ramp near Innsbruck was opened in 2002: this 90-metre long concrete and steel structure stretches up into the sky like an elegant dinosaur neck while the spectacular café and viewing terrace, both 40 m above the ground, give visitors a breathtaking view of ski jumpers in mid air.

A symbiosis of two worlds

Her goal is to achieve the best possible combination of function and form, while simultaneously meeting technical, social, and aesthetic requirements. Two recent examples of this creed can be found in Germany, currently the country with the highest density of Hadid buildings. The Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg opened its doors in 2005.

Zaha Hadid's BMW plant in Leipzig
The new headquarters of the BMW plant in Leipzig, Germany, was opened in 2005 and has won numerous awards (photo: Wikimedia CC license)

​​The new headquarters of the BMW plant in Leipzig, which employs 650 people, was also opened in 2005 and has since won numerous awards. What made Hadid's BMW plant design so innovative was the fact that she did away with the traditional separation of planning, production, and administration. The headquarters are hinge, interface, and brain in one; the point at which all production and communication flows within the factory converge.

In architectural terms this means that Hadid did away with exclusive areas and designed an open space office with an open canteen for all employees. Over the heads of the diners, car parts sail along on conveyor belts on their way from the chassis production unit to the paint shop and then back again for final assembly. In social terms, this means the symbiosis of two worlds and status groups: blue and white collar workers sitting and working side by side.

The first woman to win the Pritzker Prize

Zaha Hadid is currently at the zenith of her success. Her construction projects have reached the dimension of master plans for entire urban residential and industrial complexes. Examples include "One North" in Singapore (currently under construction), "Zorrozaurre" in Bilbao, "Olebeaga" in Spain, "Soho City" in Beijing, or her most recent competition winner, the Kartal Masterplan in Istanbul.

The Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg
The Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg - Germany is currently the country with the highest density of Hadid buildings
(photo: Wikimedia CC license)

​​The press package lists thirty prizes and awards, including the so-called "Nobel Prize for Architecture", the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which she became the first woman to win in 2004. She also lectures in London, Harvard, at Columbia University, and is currently a professor in Vienna and Yale. In 2006, the Guggenheim New York held an extensive retrospective of her work. Meanwhile her objects, models, and drawings are selling like hot cakes on the art market.

The Hadid video ends with a view of her "ideal house" for the Cologne Furniture Fair, where the architecture is appearing as a designer. After all, "for me, architecture and design are one and the same".

When her colleague Naoto Fukasawa links up to the press conference by video from Japan, he gives his view of the star architect's daring visions with typical Asian politeness. By that time, Zaha Hadid has already left the building. Things to do, people to see …

Melanie Weidemüller

© Melanie Weidemüller/ 2007

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

Zaha Hadid
The First Woman to Win the "Nobel Prize of Architecture"
Baghdad-born British creator Zaha Hadid, known for her path-breaking designs that have energized the art of building, is the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, architecture's most prestigious award which was awarded on 31 May. By Sonia Phalnikar

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