Zaha Hadid

On 31 March, Zaha Hadid Architects confirmed that Dame Zaha Hadid, DBE had died following a heart attack. She had contracted bronchitis earlier in the week and was, at the time, being treated in a Miami hospital in the US. Having covered a considerable amount of her projects over the years, mondo*arc celebrates the accomplishments of the “greatest female architect in the world”.

Zaha Hadid 1950 – 2016

Zaha Hadid was widely regarded to be the greatest female architect in the world today. Born in Baghdad in 1950, she studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before starting her architectural journey in 1972 at the Architectural Association in London.

By 1979 she had established her own practice in London – Zaha Hadid Architects – garnering a reputation across the world for her groundbreaking theoretical works including The Peak in Hong Kong (1983), the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin (1986) and the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales (1994).

Working with office partner Patrik Schumacher, her interest was in the interface between architecture, landscape, and geology, which her practice integrates with the use of innovative technologies – often resulting in unexpected and dynamic architectural forms.

Hadid’s first major built commission, one that affirmed her international recognition, was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil Am Rhein, Germany (1993); subsequent notable projects including the MAXXI: Italian National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome (2009), the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games (2011) and the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku (2013), which saw Maurice Brill Lighting Design work on the lighting scheme, illustrate her quest for complex, fluid space.

Buildings such as the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati (2003) and the Guangzhou Opera House in China (2010) have also been hailed as architecture that transforms our ideas of the future with visionary spatial concepts defined by advanced design, material and construction processes.

Covered in mondo*arc issue 63 (Oct / Nov 2011) the Guangzhou Opera House was Hadid’s first project in mainland China and was another extraordinary building lending itself to innovative lighting design by Beijing Light & View.

Like pebbles in a stream smoothed by erosion, the building’s unique twin-boulder design enhances the city by opening it to the Pearl River, unifying the adjacent cultural buildings with the towers of international finance in Guangzhou’s Zhujiang new town.

The design evolved from the twin concepts of natural landscape and the fascinating interplay between architecture and nature; engaging with the principles of erosion, geology and topography. Fold lines in the landscape define territories and zones within the Opera House, cutting dramatic interior and exterior canyons for circulation, lobbies and cafes, and allowing natural light to penetrate deep into the building. Smooth transitions between disparate elements and different levels continue the landscape analogy.

An example of a new type of structure at the time called ‘spatial folded plate triangular lattice’, the complexity of the building’s shape meant significant challenges for the lighting designers and in particular Project Lighting Designer Xiaojie An, who worked very closely with Hadid on the three-year design and one-year engineering process.

“From the perspective of lighting, the architectural complexity of Guangzhou Opera House does not lie in its structure,” Rongxing Yan, Beijing Light & View’s Chief Engineer, told mondo*arc at the time of publishing, “but in its space form and architectural shape, which is different to our familiar conventional style. There are no straight lines at all. From the interior space to the architectural shape or even the landscaping on the plaza, almost all are interlinked by undulating curved surfaces beyond your imagination.”

In 2004, Hadid became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize. She also twice won the UK’s most prestigious architecture award, the RIBA Stirling Prize: in 2010 for the Evelyn Grace Academy, a unique design, expertly inserted into an extremely tight site, that shows the students, staff and local residents they are valued and celebrates the school’s specialism throughout its fabric, with views of student participation at every turn; and the MAXXI Museum in Rome, a building for the staging of 21st Century art, the distillation of years of experimentation, a mature piece of architecture conveying a calmness that belies the complexities of its form and organisation.

Featured in mondo*arc issue 59 (Feb / Mar 2011), much has been written and spoken about the shape and form of the MAXXI building, its derivation and whether the inherent architectural style of the architect is, in fact, too present in the final result. The simple fact is, that it owes much of its dynamic expression and fluidity because of a simple response to the urban grain and fabric of its particular location in Rome.

For GIA Equation, the lighting design practice fortunate enough to conceive a lighting approach for MAXXI, the natural starting point was one that supported the primary architectural and functional philosophies being developed for the project. The development of a clear architectural response within the lighting presentation to reinforce the sinuous nature of the building, to accentuate the building lines and geometrics, was solidly founded in the initial principle that was developed by Zaha Hadid Architects.

An obvious expression in this respect is the high level linear lighting treatment that was developed as part of the daylight and roof light design. Not only did this treatment provide artificial light in a manner that was cognizant of the character of the daylight performance, it immediately created the benefit of accentuating building lines and forms. It is thus a direct expression of the urban response of the building. Another major benefit of this element is that it provided an integrated, primary platform within the lighting installation. This was another important principle from GIA Equation’s approach – to simplify the lighting presentation and pare it back to core functions and applications across the scheme.

The basis of this ‘stripped back’ approach was again about allowing the building to clearly express itself, but it was also related to the development of a lighting response within MAXXI that would aid and communicate circulation. This indeed, became one of the primary thrusts of the lighting concept.

Hadid’s other awards included the Republic of France’s Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Japan’s Praemium Imperiale and in 2012, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire; she is also Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Fellow of the American Institute of Architecture.

The London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games (2011) covered as part of a special mondo*arc Olympic Games supplement, which again, won her great acclaim, uses technologies and techniques that allowed the venue to serve the practical needs of games themselves while making provision for long-term, ‘legacy mode’ use. The building was inspired by the fluid geometries of water in motion – a nod to both the venue’s riverside location and the activities taking place within and sees an undulating roof sweep up from the ground as a single unified wave that accommodates the different height requirements of the main swimming pool and diving pools.

Zaha Hadid Architects worked alongside Arup to complete the lighting scheme for the project, which had to respect ZHA’s vision, creating minimal disruption to the venue’s fluid lines, while also presenting the interior with the drama it deserved. The significantly different requiremenets of the venue while in games time and in legacy mode meant effectively creating two lighting designs that would work within the same space.

Arup associate Giulio Antonutto headed the team trying to balance these needs and told mondo*arc at the time: “The main challenges were to respond with a design in keeping with the architectural intent. It was not an easy task. We had several design ideas and we considered all the traditional means of providing light to a swimming pool, but realised that the fluid form of the roof deserved something special. Something new.”

A break from traditional pool lighting, the team approached the project as if lighting a high-end retail space, introducing light where needed while ensuring minimal glare.

Commenting on her death, Antonutto said: “I remember going to Weil am Rhein in 1995 to see the Vitra fire station. It was not a journey, it was an architectural pilgrimage. We once met at the Venice Biennale, and after a conference, I asked her for a photograph together… She was my hero. “At the opening of the Aquatic Centre I had tears in my eyes and now it is all just a set of memories. She was the best and we will miss her terribly.”

Also offering their condolences, Jean Sundin and Enrique Peiniger, Founders of Office for Visual Interaction: “Our work with Zaha Hadid and her team has spanned nearly 20 years, beginning with her first project in the USA (The Rosenthal Center) to today with several projects currently under construction in NYC, Riyadh and Morocco. Our collaboration was reinforced early on, after winning three competitions together in a row (Innsbruck Ski Jump, Phaeno Science Center, and Salerno Ferry Station). Having worked on countless projects with them all over the world, we have developed a lighting language together including ‘swarm’ patterns, ‘school of fish’, a ‘whoosh’ of light, etc.  “What we have appreciated most about working with Zaha Hadid is the openness to inventive ideas, determination to push the limits of technology (while also complying artistically) and the fact that lighting has always been a truly integral part of her designs, and not an afterthought. There is no doubt her loyal team will continue the dynamic work.”

Hadid also held various academic roles including the Kenzo Tange Chair at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; Sullivan Chair at the University of Illinois, School of Architecture. Hadid also taught studios at Columbia University, Yale University and the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, and when not designing buildings worked with a number of brands on product design – specifically Zumtobel, Slamp and Wonderglass in the world of lighting.

Recently awarded the RIBA 2016 Royal Gold Medal, the first woman to be awarded the prestigious honour in her own right. Sir Peter Cook wrote the following citation in response, which sums up perfectly Hadid’s influence on the industry: “In our current culture of ticking every box, surely Zaha Hadid succeeds, since (to quote the Royal Gold Medal criteria) she is someone who has made a significant contribution to the theory or practice of architecture…. for a substantial body of work rather than for work which is currently fashionable.” Indeed her work, though full of form, style and unstoppable mannerism, possesses a quality that some of us might refer to as an impeccable ‘eye’: which we would claim is a fundamental in the consideration of special architecture and is rarely satisfied by mere ‘fashion’.

“And surely her work is special,” continued Cook. “For three decades now, she has ventured where few would dare: if Paul Klee took a line for a walk, then Zaha took the surfaces that were driven by that line out for a virtual dance and then deftly folded them over and then took them out for a journey into space.

“In her earlier, ‘spiky’ period there was already a sense of vigour that she shared with her admired Russian Suprematists and Constructivists – attempting with them to capture that elusive dynamic of movement at the end of the machine age.”

Necessarily having to disperse effort through a studio production, rather than being a lone artist, Cook goes on to describe how Zadid cottoned–on to the potential of the computer to turn space upon itself, saying: “Indeed there is an Urban Myth that suggests that the very early Apple Mac ‘boxes’ were still crude enough to plot the mathematically unlikely – and so Zaha with her mathematics background seized upon this and made those flying machine projections of the Hong Kong Peak project and the like.

“Meanwhile, with paintings and special small drawings Zaha continued to lead from the front. She has also been smart enough to pull in some formidable computational talent without being phased by its ways.

“Thus the evolution of the ‘flowing’ rather than spikey architecture crept up upon us in stages, as did the scale of her commissions, but in most cases, they remained clear in identity and control. When you entered the Fire Station at Vitra, you were conscious of being inside one of those early drawings and yes, it could be done. Yet at perhaps its highest, those of us lucky enough to see the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku in the flesh, can surely never have been in such a dream-like space, with its totality, its enormous internal ramp and dart-like lights seeming to have come from a vocabulary that lies so far beyond the normal architecture that we assess or rationalise.

“The history of the Gold Medal must surely include many major figures who commanded a big ship and one ponders upon the operation involved that gets such strong concepts as the MAXXI in Rome – in which the power of organisation is so clear – or the Bergisel Ski Jump in Innsbruck where dynamic is at last captured – or the Aquatics Centre for the London Olympics where the lines diving boards were as fluid as the motion of the divers – made into reality. And she has done it time and time again in Vienna, Marseilles, Beijing and Guangzhou. Never has she been so prolific, so consistent. “We realise that Kenzo Tange and Frank Lloyd Wright could not have drawn every line or checked every joint, yet Zaha shares with them the precious role of towering, distinctive and relentless influence upon all around her that sets the results apart from the norm. Such self-confidence is easily accepted in film-makers and football managers, but causes some architects to feel uncomfortable, maybe they’re secretly jealous of her unquestionable talent. Let’s face it, we might have awarded the medal to a worthy, comfortable character. We didn’t, we awarded it to Zaha: larger than life, bold as brass and certainly on the case.”

Pic: Mary McCartney