Architecture The Legacy of Zaha Hadid
From the explosive fragmentation of sharp, pointed forms to the organic and enveloping curves of her later works, an unpredictable path spawned by the gestural expressiveness of drawing
Is there a visible aesthetic of the 21st century? From one biennale to another, from one museum to another, young architects stage a tangled variety of impulses — political, ecological, philosophical, artistic, religious, technological, gender-centric and generational — but are these drives accompanied by any ambition to achieve a certain form and specific expressive techniques? Or is there now a clear separation between ‘curated’ architecture on the one hand, understood as a conscious and active form of representation of the present, and the chameleonlike pragmatism of the construction industry on the other, which is inevitably at the service of power and capital? As an aggravating circumstance, these two aspects, while remaining clearly separate, are often just two sides of the same coin. In other words, they can be the work of the same authors, all agitprop by day on the panel of some biennale, and thriving professionals at night, when they churn out hair-raising renderings for sheikhs and investors, who might not always be very politically correct. A useful contribution to outline possible answers to this dilemma comes from the spirit and works of Zaha Hadid, who was certainly one of the most successful architects in the ‘new markets’. Staunchly refusing to separate architecture from the idea of a clearly identifiable production of form and desire, Hadid left her office and the world a recognisable and powerful legacy, which is both a key to understanding her work and a user’s manual for those who have to continue it. Hadid’s relevance, in particular, unfolds today in a number of ways that are worth remembering. The first is certainly her continuity with a strand of 20th-century creatives of extraordinary force and expressive capacity, running from Boccioni to the Futurists, Le Corbusier, the
Constructivists, Nervi, Musmeci and Moretti. Above all, this latter architect and the great Italian engineers enabled Hadid to trace a personal genealogy, seeking to conceive architecture in which sensuousness and desire are created by an unparalleled — and today particularly useful — mix of mathematics, art, a sense of colour and materials, and an ability to absorb the values of the context. Hadid drew on this legacy and translated it into a working vocabulary for our time. It would seem that Hadid’s legacy can make a vital contribution in an age where technology is central, everything needs to be related to the body, and everyone desires individuality within the large numbers typical of the digital age. Drawing is undoubtedly another architectural field that Hadid will continue to inspire. She saw drawing as an independent device whose task was not to represent but to expand architecture. Drawing generates theories and new visions, but above all it enables architectural and spatial thinking to increase direct communication with its viewers, speaking simultaneously to their brains and senses. Besides, much like the handling of form, drawing serves to reassert the intention of never renouncing the authorial value of architecture at any cost. For Hadid and her heirs, 21st-century architects individually absorb messages coming from technology, society and the landscape, and they continue to transform these messages into an attractive and r ecognisable personal code. In Hadid’s view, the ‘political’ nature of their work is resolved in the centrality of urban values and public space. The work’s technological character, meanwhile, makes sense if it enhances and intertwines with the search for form.
Above: Zaha Hadid, drawing for the ‘Vision for Madrid’ exhibition, Spain, 1992. This drawing and the two presented on the following pages were displayed at the Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries, London, 8.12.2016-12.2.2017
Pippo Ciorra (Formia, Latina, 1955), architect and architecture critic, is professor of design and theory at the University School of Architecture and Design in Ascoli Piceno. Since 2009 he has been senior curator for architecture at the MAXXI in Rome.