Zaha Hadid, a vision for eternity
Since the untimely death of the great Zaha Hadid, her architecture studio has been pursuing her pioneering interrogation of form with a view to pushing ever further the limits of the real.
“What she has achieved with her inimitable manipulation of walls, ground planes and roofs, with those transparent, interwoven and fluid spaces, is vivid proof that architecture as a fine art has not run out of steam and is hardly wanting in imagination.” The quotation is from Jorge Silvetti, Nelson Robinson, Jr. Professor of Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Like many experts in the field, he particularly admires Zaha Hadid’s contribution to the forms of 21st-century architecture, which she transformed − alone and all-powerful in a world of men − into a territory of fantasy and sometimes even phantasmagoria. Following her untimely death, how does one sustain and keep alive this unique contribution? Such is the challenge facing her design studio, which still bears her name. “We currently have 55 projects either under construction or in development in 26 countries,” confides Patrik Schumacher, her right-hand man for nearly 30 years. “Over the next few months, a further twelve or so will be added to the list. By working with visionary clients and experts the world over, our teams honour the thinking of Zaha Hadid; they work with passion and commitment to continue to push back the limits of the real.”
It was during her time at Rem Koolhaas’s firm OMA that the Iraqi-born British architect first discovered the importance of establishing bridges between theoretical research, architectural practice and cultural context. In the name of this vision, she founded her own office, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), and taught at the most prestigious universities : Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Hamburg and Vienna. Among her first built projects, a fire station at the Vitra factory in Weil am Rhein, Germany (1993) brought her to the attention of a wide public. In 2001, the Hoenheim tramway station in Strasbourg earned her the Mies van der Rohe European Union Award for Contemporary Architecture, while in 2004 she was crowned with the ultimate architecture award, the Pritzker Prize. It was then that her career really boomed. “Her constant challenges to push back the traditional frontiers of her discipline, her experimental work and her visionary aesthetic still inspire popular enthusiasm,” explains Maha Kutay, product designer at ZHA. What place does her legacy occupy, and what form will it take in the future? “Zaha never produced just one idea for a project, she explored dozens of directions at once,” says Kutay. “We’re sitting on an extraordinary ideas bank, built up over the last 30 years.” The loyalty of her teams is also exemplary. At her side from almost the beginning, Schumacher knows her language intimately, and heads a team of 40 people who were all trained by Hadid, and who’ve all been with the firm for at least a decade.
“What defines Zaha’s work is the fluidity, the way the building and the ground are one and the same, the manner in which the built matter emerges, connected to the base,” continues Kutay. “There’s never a clear separation between the elements; everything floats, and flows into the rest. This principle runs through all that she did, from fashion to jewellery to design, as well, of course, as in her architecture. Everything in her method sought to open new roads of reflection and experimentation, to explore unknown paths. It was out of the question to accept the norm, to stop at a proposal that was merely pleasant to look at. Probably the most fascinating thing during this long story is that evolution in materials made some of the projects possible a posteriori, as if Zaha had always been one step ahead. From working with concrete and steel, we’re now turning to plastics, carbon fibre and curvilinear concretes. Until recently we were incapable of producing a piece of jewellery designed seven years ago, but with the advent of 3D metal printing this piece can at last be made.”
Moreover, commissions continue to flow in: the firm has just redesigned the statuette for the next Brit Awards which will be held in February. “Zaha was enthusiastic about this project, because she had a deep love of fashion and music. The trophy has been rethought to give it a unique form,” adds Kutay. In the same spirit, Hadid had designed for French label Perrin Paris the Eiffel Glove Clutch, an evening bag with an ergonomic, sculptural golden handle. “Zaha adored this brand’s handbags with their integrated gloves or mittens and innovative shapes,” remarks Kutay. Unveiled at the 2016 FIAC, the Crista table centrepiece celebrates her long collaboration with Swarovski: a monumental form mixing crystal and metal, it makes reference to the natural processes of crystallization. Ten years of research and development were necessary in order to bring off this technological feat: Swarovski’s new-wave cut technology. This project demonstrated that, yet again, it was impossible for matter to resist Hadid’s visionary force.
“Zaha totally transformed the definition and the sense given to architectural design. She oriented the discipline towards a discovery, a quest for absolute freedom with respect to constraints and forms. Yet nothing was arbitrary in her work: everything was always highly accomplished, seeking perfection. Her vision will continue to live through us, to inspire those who she touched,” concludes Schumacher.