Force of nature
At 65, ZAHA hadid is at the peak of her creativity. Close to 1,000 of the architect’s works can be seen across the globe, from Britain to Cambodia. The first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize gave Nina Hidayat an exclusive interview
When it comes to “starchitect” Zaha hadid, there is always something to talk about. Perhaps the most impressive of hadid’s creations to open in 2014 was the London Aquatics centre. in the words of The Guardian, it is “the most jaw-dropping municipal swimming pool in the world”. Another highlight is the sleuk Rith institute in Phnom Penh, cambodia. the notable memorial complex pays homage to the two million cambodian lives lost under the regime of Khmer Rouge. hadid says it is “a focus for reflection, healing and reconciliation as well as an enlightening educational facility dedicated to commemorating the lives of the past by building a better future”.
Unconventional projects have indeed become synonymous with hadid, whose London-based firm Zaha hadid Architects has 950 projects in 44 countries and employs more than 400 staff. her neofuturistic buildings are noted for their fluid lines, earning her the moniker “queen of the curve”. hadid’s most controversial current project is the tokyo 2020 olympic stadium. Located in the outer gardens of the historic meiji shrine, the stadium will boast a capacity of 80,000 spectators. her detractors have described her design as resembling a turtle.
Always a fearless figure, the graduate of the Architectural Association (considered the harvard of architecture schools) has an unusual history. Born in Baghdad, iraq, she has called London home for over 30 years. she was the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, known as the “nobel Prize of architecture”, in 2004. Time included her in its 100 most influential People in the World list in 2010. Another Pritzker winner, Frank Gehry, regards her as “an extraordinary force of nature”, while fashion designer Donna Karan has praised her as someone with a “goddess’s touch”.
Prestige picked hadid’s brain on 21st-century buildings, how she feels about being called a “starchitect” and why retirement is not an option for now. highlights:
YOUR SIGNATURE DESIGN AESTHETIC IS TERMED “NEOFUTURISTIC”. WHAT WAS THE IDEA BEHIND THIS?
Architecture does not follow fashion or economic cycles – it follows the cycles of innovation generated by social and technological developments. i think buildings must change with new patterns of life to meet increasing demands of their users. i believe what is new in our generation is the much greater levels of complexity and connectivity. With over half of the world’s growing population now living in cities - and this figure increasing every day - contemporary urbanism and architecture must move beyond the 20th century architecture of repetitive square blocks, towards architecture for the 21st century that addresses the complexities, dynamism and densities of our lives today. my ambition has always been to create fluid spaces. We like to work with fluidity because we believe it visually simplifies everything, and you can then cope with more complexity in a building without crowding or cluttering the visual scene. People do ask: why are there no straight lines, no 90 degrees in your work? this is because life is not made in a grid. if you think of a natural landscape, it’s not even and regular – but people go to these places and think it’s very natural, very relaxing. i think that one can do that in architecture too.
AS AN IRAQI-BRITISH ARCHITECT, HOW DOES YOUR MIXED CULTURAL BACKGROUND INFLUENCE YOUR DESIGN AESTHETIC?
i think the ideology of my upbringing has been critical to my work. i was born in Baghdad and as in so many places in the developing world at the time; where there was an unbroken belief in progress and a great sense of optimism. iraq was a new republic and it was a moment of nation building, not only in the Arab world, but also across south America and Asia. in the 1950s and 60s, there was an incredible moment of social reform
“People do ask: Why are there no straight lines, no 90 degrees in your work? This is because life is not made in a grid”
everywhere. these ideas of change, liberation, and freedom were critical to my development.
i should say that, yes, i am an Arab, but i was not brought up in a traditional Arab way. i’m iraqi, i live in London. i don’t really have a particular place and from my personal experience, it is a very liberating experience to be totally displaced.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE SOME OF THE BIGGEST TRENDS IN DESIGN AND ARCHITECTURE IN 2015?
over the coming years, the huge advances in design technology will enable architects to completely rethink form and space, using new construction methods and materials in development. Architects are also using new concepts and methods to create buildings that respond to individual living patterns and adapt to the needs of their inhabitants by optimising the environment to suit the needs of their users at any given moment, enabling the architecture itself to respond to daily usage patterns and changing weather conditions.
Architecture can also assist in reorganising living processes in a meaningful way so that everyone can contribute to a more ecologically sustainable society. Like many architects, we are implementing sophisticated ventilation and building management systems in our projects to improve the ecological balance of a building. however, we are also researching new materials and construction methods that bring significant environmental benefits. As these different clusters of development - sustainability and the applicability of the materials - come together, we are beginning to find significant solutions to the ecological challenges that are the defining questions of our generation.
For instance, 3D printing is entering the construction industry and opening many exciting new possibilities. it offers remarkable advances and is much more sustainable as there is no wastage in construction materials. With 3D printing, the complexity of a building will no longer be restrained by the need for simplification or design rationalisation, for example the cost of a wall will be defined by its volume and weight and not its shape, making a curved wall no more expensive to build than a straight wall.
IF YOU COULD DESIGN ANY BUILDING IN ANY PARTS OF THE WORLD, WITHOUT ANY BUDGET CONSTRAINT, WHAT WOULD YOU BUILD AND WHERE?
Ultimately, architecture is all about well-being, the creation of pleasant and stimulating settings for all aspects of life. We work so hard to build projects that give uplifting experiences that inspire people each day. i think most buildings deserve to be interesting and part of an architect’s job is to make people
feel good in the spaces where we live, go to school and where we receive healthcare. having a comfortable home is such a crucial issue, not only in terms of a shelter and the basics – but also for wellbeing, for a better life. there’s enough total wealth today that everyone should have a good home and access to good schools and hospitals. in many countries around the world, these vital public buildings have always been based on the concept of minimal existence – but that shouldn’t be the case today. Architects now have the skills and tools to address these critical issues, and many communities around the world are committed to resolving them.
ZAHA HADID IS NO LONGER “JUST” AN ARCHITECT, BUT A BRAND. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE SUCH AN ICONIC FIGURE ACROSS MULTIPLE DISCIPLINES?
in terms of forms, all our projects – architecture, fashion, furniture and product design - interest me equally, and all of the designs originate from similar principles. All the projects are connected somehow. the big difference is in the process of resolving and realising each design.
ON THE FLIPSIDE OF BEING SUCH A RENOWNED FIGURE ( A “STARCHITECT”, SOME WOULD SAY), HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH CRITICISM?
Architecture is extremely competitive, and you can’t win every design competition you enter. in 1994, we entered the competition for an opera house in cardiff, Wales. We submitted it, we got a call announcing we won it, and then there was an incredible jubilation in our office, which
turned to great sadness when the project was cancelled. it devastated us, and i had to pick up the pieces. in that period, we entered one competition after the other, and we didn’t win any. there were moments when i felt extremely down, but my depression never last very long. i am fundamentally an optimist, and i always believe in my work and i know i would eventually come out of any difficult situation. At the end of the day, all the knowledge gained from our unrealised projects was necessary to develop our skills.
YOU HAVE ALSO LAUNCHED A HOMEWARE LINE FOR HARRODS. WHAT’S THE CREATIVE PROCESS BEHIND IT LIKE, AS COMPARED TO DESIGNING BUILDINGS?
the collection at harrods features gift items and home accessories that have been designed using state of the art techniques and crafted by artisans from across europe. Designing products is of great importance to us. Definitely, one of the most exciting things about product design is the advanced technology used for design and manufacture, the production process between idea and result is so much quicker than for architecture.
YOU WERE QUOTED SAYING TO BE “TOO BUSY, THERE’S NEVER THE TIME” TO BUILD A HOME. DO YOU HAVE ANY RETIREMENT PLAN AND IF SO, HOW WOULD YOUR RETIREMENT HOME LOOK AND FEEL LIKE?
I would love to build a house for myself one day. normally architects build houses for themselves either early in their careers, when they have fewer inhibitions and can make mistakes without being judged too harshly, or when they’re about to retire – and i’m not ready to retire yet!
OPENING SPREAD: HEYDAR ALIYEV CENTRE IN BAKU, AZERBAIJAN; THIS PAGE: ZAHA HADID; OPPOSITE PAGE FROM TOP: HEYDAR ALIYEV CENTRE EXTERIOR, INTERIOR OF THE HEYDAR ALIYEV CENTRE
SLEUK RITH INSTUTE SOUTH FACADE AND MEMORIAL PARK IN CAMBODIA
THIS PAGE FROM TOP LEFT: SLEUK RITH INSTITUTE’S LIBRARY, SLEUK RITH INSTITUTE’S STUDENT COURTYARD; OPPOSITE PAGE: THE FOYER OF SLEUK RITH INSTITUTE
THIS PAGE FROM TOP LEFT: DIVING BOARDS AT LONDON AQUATICS CENTRE, COMPETITION POOL OF THE LONDON AQUATICS CENTRE; OPPOSITE PAGE FROM TOP: SERPENTINE SACKLER GALERY IN HYDE PARK, LONDON, LOCATED ON THE NORTH SIDE OF SERPENTINE BRIDGE, INTERIOR OF THE...
THIS PAGE: DONGDAEMUN DESIGN PLAZA IN SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA; OPPOSITE PAGE FROM LEFT: DONGDAEMUN DESIGN PLAZA’S INTERIOR WITH STREAMLIND LIGHTING, ANOTHER INTERIOR OF THE DONGDAEMUN DESIGN PLAZA