Zaha Ha­did’s legacy is still bear­ing fruit

Claire Cork­ery takes a look at how the vi­sions of the late, great ar­chi­tect are still be­ing re­alised to­day

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The de­sign world lost one of the great­est vi­sion­ar­ies of the mod­ern age when Zaha Ha­did died in 2016. The Bri­tish-Iraqi ar­chi­tect cre­ated grav­ity-de­fy­ing curved struc­tures such as China’s Guangzhou Opera House and the Lon­don Olympics Aquat­ics Cen­tre. Dubbed the “Queen of the Curve” for her fluid forms, Ha­did won all the big­gest awards in her field in­clud­ing the Pritzker Ar­chi­tec­ture Prize in 2004 and the Stir­ling Prize, twice, in 2010 and 2011.

Her un­ex­pected death – of a heart at­tack while be­ing treated for bron­chi­tis – at 65, came at a time when sev­eral of her build­ings were still un­der con­struc­tion, in­clud­ing the new head­quar­ters for Bee’ah, an en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment com­pany in Shar­jah. Zaha Ha­did Ar­chi­tects (ZHA) won the con­tract for the project in 2013, with a sand dune de­sign in­spired by the desert land­scape.

In the UAE, Ha­did’s name is syn­ony­mous with the Sheikh Zayed Bridge, the mas­sive four-lane high­way with waved arches that con­nects Abu Dhabi is­land to the main­land. Ris­ing to 60 me­tres above the wa­ter at its high­est point, it be­came one of the most strik­ing land­marks in the re­gion upon its com­ple­tion in 2010.

Bee’ah’s build­ing, due to be com­pleted in 2019, is a smaller project in scale, but not in aspi­ra­tion. Bee’ah aims to be a bea­con of sus­tain­abil­ity in the UAE, set­ting new stan­dards for en­vi­ron­men­tal so­lu­tions. The com­pany is work­ing to achieve zero waste to land­fill and will power its new head­quar­ters us­ing 100 per cent green re­new­able en­ergy sources. It was these am­bi­tious goals that at­tracted Ha­did to the project.

“The client pro­file is very im­por­tant for us,” Tariq Khayyat, ZHA’s Project Di­rec­tor for Bee’ah, tells The Na­tional.

“It’s a small com­pany with big dreams and big goals. Shar­jah is an amaz­ing city, too. It’s not as busy as Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but it has its own niche to­wards art and cul­ture so we felt it was the right place and the right client.”

Khayyat heads up the firm’s of­fice in Dubai, which opened in Novem­ber 2016 and serves the whole MENA re­gion. Be­fore mov­ing to the UAE, he spent 11 years work­ing closely with Ha­did at the com­pany’s Lon­don head­quar­ters. “Zaha was al­ways fas­ci­nated by the land­scape. She looked at it as an amaz­ing source of ideas and con­cepts. The site is lit­er­ally in the desert in the mid­dle of nowhere and by de­fault, the land­scape started pro­vok­ing ideas. We po­si­tioned the build­ing so that it looks as if it is a nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non by plac­ing it in the di­rec­tion of the pre­vail­ing north wind.

“We also wanted the de­sign to re­flect the flu­id­ity and flow of the mes­sage that the com­pany, Bee’ah, is try­ing to de­liver. We felt that hav­ing this kind of sand dune de­sign is go­ing to be a true re­flec­tion, not only of the site, but of the com­pany’s mes­sage and goal.”

Bee’ah is one of more than 60 projects ZHA has un­der con­struc­tion or in de­sign, in 29 coun­tries across the world. Ha­did set up ZHA in 1980, and the firm is busier than ever. But what is miss­ing now their cre­ative di­rec­tor and founder is gone?

“There’s a gap spir­i­tu­ally. We miss Zaha as a per­son be­ing around us and giv­ing us her in­put,” says Khayyat. “But one of her main tal­ents was that she was ex­tremely good at in­vest­ing in peo­ple. She be­lieved in giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to peo­ple around her re­gard­less of their age or po­si­tion within the com­pany. Over the last 35 years, she man­aged to trans­fer that way of think­ing to the peo­ple who have been work­ing with her closely.”

One of the peo­ple Ha­did in­vested heav­ily in was Sara Sheikh Ak­bari, who joined ZHA in 2007. Hav­ing proven her tal­ents as a key mem­ber of the gi­gan­tic Hey­dar Aliyev Cen­tre project in Baku, Azer­bai­jan, she is now a project ar­chi­tect for Bee’ah, work­ing from ZHA’s stu­dio in Lon­don’s Clerken­well. “From the mo­ment I joined ZHA, I could see it was a free space for peo­ple to ex­plore,” she says. “It was all about learn­ing how to col­lab­o­rate and work as a team to ex­press ideas, re­fine them and make them bet­ter rather than dic­tate a path. Be­cause the mo­ment you start do­ing that, in­no­va­tion and cre­ativ­ity is gone.

“A lot of the clients we work with are vi­sion­ary, will­ing to ex­plore and be open to var­i­ous de­sign lan­guages. You see a lot of vi­sion­ary clients in the UAE and we hope that Bee’ah will be a mile­stone for sim­i­lar projects there.”

Ha­did was famed for her tem­per as well as her bril­liance (she once fa­mously de­manded to be put on a dif­fer­ent flight when she heard she was go­ing to be de­layed). But this pas­sion in­spired rather than in­tim­i­dated Ak­bari, who joined ZHA fresh from her mas­ter’s de­gree.

“She was very de­mand­ing. She al­ways wanted the best in ev­ery­thing we did,” she re­calls. “But if you just look at the clients and the peo­ple we work with, that’s what they ex­pect from you as well. It’s the cul­ture that has been built into this com­pany and the rea­son some of the most iconic build­ing projects in the world have hap­pened here.”

From speak­ing to the team at ZHA, it’s clear that com­mit­ment to main­tain­ing their men­tor’s legacy is strong. “We will al­ways stand by the prin­ci­ples that Zaha fought for,” says Khayyat. “She worked so hard over the last 35 years to es­tab­lish a new way of think­ing re­gard­ing ar­chi­tec­ture. Her strength came from not only the kind of build­ings she de­signed or be­ing called the Queen of the Curve, but by lib­er­at­ing the way ar­chi­tects think and the way the young gen­er­a­tion think of ar­chi­tec­ture.”

Will the com­pany con­tinue to be at the fore­front of ar­chi­tec­tural in­no­va­tion? Khayyat cer­tainly thinks so.

“Put it this way, I think you will see more curves.”

‘Zaha was al­ways fas­ci­nated by the land­scape. She looked at it as an amaz­ing source of ideas and con­cepts’ Bee’ah is one of more than 60 projects ZHA has un­der con­struc­tion or de­sign, in 29 coun­tries across the world

Pho­tos Zaha Ha­did Ar­chi­tects

A ren­der­ing of the in­te­rior of the Bee’ah build­ing in Shar­jah, which was un­der con­struc­tion when Ha­did died in 2016


The Bee’ah build­ing is in­spired by dunes. It is due to be ready next year

Brigitte La­combe; An­drew Hen­der­son / The Na­tional; Getty

The late ar­chi­tect Zaha Ha­did. Her other cre­ations in­clude the Sheikh Zayed Bridge, top, and the Guangzhou Opera House in China, above

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