Sensuous And Seamless

World-renown architect, Zaha Hadid, tells how she shifts the geometry of buildings in her architectural designs

Issue: Jan 2011

MAXXI:National Museum
MAXXI:National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome is one of the most ambitious and complete statement of world-renown architect Zaha Hadid’s quest for complex dynamic and fluid spaces
Photo Credit: Iwan Baan

Born in 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq, Zaha Hadid is known to push the boundaries of architecture and urban design. Her work experiments with new spatial concepts intensifying existing urban landscapes that result in a visionary aesthetic that encompasses all fields of design, ranging from urban scale through to products, interiors and furniture.

Her daring exploration of fluidity in buildings has won her much respect and numerous accolades in the international scene.

In 2004 Hadid became the first female recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, architecture's equivalent of the Nobel Prize. In 2006, Hadid was honoured with a retrospective spanning her entire work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In that year she also received an Honorary Degree from the American University of Beirut.

She had been awarded a CBE for services to architecture and is also a member of the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In 2008, she ranked 69th on the Forbes list of "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women". This year, she was named by Time magazine as an influential thinker in the 2010 TIME 100 issue. She also recently won the 2010 Stirling Prize for one of her most celebrated work, MAXXI: Italian National Museum of XXI Arts.

Hadid received a degree in mathematics from the American University of Beirut before moving to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in 1972. By 1980 she established her own London-based practice, Zaha Hadid Architects, which is currently over 350-people strong.

Zaha Hadid
A force to be reckoned with, Zaha Hadid became the first female recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, architecture's equivalent of the Nobel Prize
Photo credit: Simone Cecchetti

INSIDE: Your degree is in mathematics. What got you into architecture?

HADID: My parents took me to an exhibition - I was maybe 6 years old - of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs for the Opera House in Baghdad. I remember seeing models and things. As in so many places in the world at that time, there was an unbroken belief in progress and a great sense of optimism – with a renewed pride in the structure of the city. This ideology was certainly important to me. Later, when I was studying mathematics at university in Beirut, I realized there was a connection with the logic of maths to ideas and concepts within architecture – in particular, abstraction and geometry. Mathematics has a tremendous connection to architecture - even more so now with the advanced computer scripts used in many of our designs.

d’Leedon overall day
d’Leedon, distinctive 7 high-end 36-storey residential towers prominent for their petering vertical silhouette, is Hadid’s first residential project in Singapore

INSIDE: Your style has been described as sensuous, elegant and seamless which is evident in d’Leedon, your first condominium project in Singapore. How and when did you define such a style for your architecture design?

HADID: My architecture takes the fluid dynamism of the sketching hand as a literal option for an architecture that is driven by new developments in digital design and enhanced manufacturing capabilities. I have always been interested in de-constructing ideas of repetitiveness and mass production of the industrial 20th century. My ambition was always to create fluid space, on all levels and the layering process increases the complexity to where the buildings become like a landscape. It’s not linear; it changes according to what is appropriate for the project. In the last five years we really have tried to achieve more complexity and fluidity in each of the projects. We like to work a lot with fluidity because we believe it visually simplifies everything, and you can then cope with more complexity without crowding or cluttering the visual scene. Contemporary society is not standing still - and architecture must both evolve with the new patterns of life. What is new in our generation is a new level of social complexity – which must be reflected in its architecture. I think one of the great challenges of 21st century contemporary architecture is the fundamental restructuring away from the concept of repetitive blocks of the industrial 20th century society towards a digital society of flexible specialization, with much greater degrees of complexity and dynamism in people’s lives.

Ordrupgaard Museum Extension
The Ordrupgaard Museum Extension in Denmark, which houses exhibition space for permanent and temporary collections as well as a cafe establishes a new landscape within the territory of its architecture
Photo Credit: Roland Halbe

INSIDE: Your interest is in “the rigorous interface between architecture, landscape, and geology as the practice integrates natural topography and human-made systems that lead to experimentation with cutting-edge technologies.” Such a process has led you to design “unexpected and dynamic architectural forms”. Where and how do you begin when tasked to design a building?

HADID: In all our work, we first investigate and research the landscape, topography and circulation of the site. We then draw lines of visual connections with the local environment and lines of movement that become evident from these investigations, and bring these lines into the site - using them to inform our design. This “embeds” the design into its surroundings, so each project has the strongest possible relationship with its unique environment. Our completed projects such as the Ordrupgaard Museum Extension in Denmark, Phaeno Science Centre in Germany and MAXXI National Museum of Art in Rome show how successful this approach can be. Ordrupgaard relates directly with the forests surrounding the museum, while Phaeno has become an integral part of the city and Volkswagen factory that dominates Wolfsburg. One of the most exciting things about the MAXXI in Rome is that the local community is coming together and using the museum like a new Roman piazza. It has become a meeting place for everyone - like a village square - each afternoon and evening. It is no longer just a museum, but part of the urbanism of Rome.

INSIDE: Your buildings are said to offer different perspectives when viewed from different angles. What do you want to communicate through your works?

HADID: I’ve always been interested in how movement affects architecture. As in the frames of a film: not seeing the world from one particular angle, but having a more complex view. We view the world from so many perspectives – never from one single viewpoint - our perception is never fixed. I think through our architecture, we can give people a glimpse of another world, enthuse them and make them excited about innovative new ideas.

INSIDE: Whether it is an office building, a house, a condominium, a mixed-used development or a piece of furniture, you have succeeded in making every piece of your work so distinctly “Zaha Hadid” How do you do that?

HADID: True avant-garde architecture does not follow fashion or economic cycles – it follows the inherent logic of cycles of innovation generated by social and technological developments. Our designs always become more ambitious as we see the new possibilities created by the technology of other industries. I’m always curious about the next step - the next big thing, and I think computing that encourages more complex geometry is very exciting. The rapid developments that computing has brought to architecture are incredible. We are always collaborating with engineers and specialists in the development of construction technologies, and the industry continues to respond by providing ever more sophisticated tools and materials.

MAXXI National Museum of Art
MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome embodies the concept of the confluence of lines, where the primary force of the site is the walls that constantly intersect and separate to create both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Photo Credit: Iwan Baan

INSIDE: Of all your built works, which was the most challenging to design? Why is that so?

HADID: That’s hard to say as I find all our projects equally fascinating, although there are obviously large differences in the process: the focus, the technique, and the scale of specific projects. The recently completed MAXXI:National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome is one of the most ambitious and complete statement to date of our quest for complex dynamic and fluid spaces. This project combines formal and geometric complexity with structural audacity and material authenticity. A lot of time and energy was concentrated on achieving this result.

Aqua Table
The enigmatic liquid form of the Aqua table awakens one’s curiosity
Photo Credit: Dan Toben Smith

INSIDE: Besides buildings, you also design furniture, shoes, cutlery, jewellery and even a tea and coffee piazza. Are you making your work more accessible?

HADID: Designing products is of great importance to us. The pieces are experimental, quicker to execute than the architecture projects and they inspire creativity. These design collaborations provide an opportunity to express our ideas in a different scale and through different media. We see it as part of a continuous process of design investigation. It’s a two way process; we apply our architectural research and experimentation to these designs but we also learn a great deal from the process of designing products. Of course there is a lot of fluidity now between art, product design and architecture; a lot more cross-pollination in the disciplines, but this isn’t about competition. It’s about collaboration and what these practices and processes can contribute to one another. It is essential to find key collaborators to work on new discoveries.

Z-scape Ice-berg’s
The Z-scape Ice-berg’s outstanding features are two icicles: one darting into horizontally whereas the other points vertical. This bench enables the user to sit on both sides
Photo courtesy of Sawaya & Moroni

INSIDE: You are known to consistently push the boundaries of architecture and urban design. What kinds of boundaries would you like to push next?

HADID: We’ve learned to apply our new techniques to urbanism. As we’ve done in our buildings, where elements fit together to form a continuum. We’ve begun to apply these principles to whole cities. We can develop a whole field of buildings, each one different but logically connected to the next; an organic, continually changing, field of buildings - three or four types of buildings that are highly correlated. With these techniques we can do something radically different than we saw at the beginning of the last century, when buildings were oriented in disconnecting chaos. We see an order, a logical, lawful differentiation of buildings that has the elegant of coherence. We look at lot at nature’s systems when we try to create environments, at her coherence and beauty.

INSIDE: What does your home look like? Did you design it yourself?

HADID: Unfortunately, I didn’t design the building I live in – it’s not one of my projects. My previous home flooded and I had to find a new place quickly – and this apartment near my office was available. It had the space to hold several of my larger furniture designs including the Aqua Table we did for Established and Sons and the Z-Scape furniture we did for Sawaya & Moroni. Of course, I would love to build a house for myself one day.

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