Saturday 20 February 2016

Zaha Hadid - the tabula rasa architect

So she has finally made it. Recently Zaha Hadid was awarded the most important accolade of the architecture establishment, the RIBA Gold Medal. She is the first woman to get this prize in her own right. Whilst this marks the well deserved culmination of a long and distinguished career, her rise to architectural stardom has had its hiccups.

Zaha Hadid

An early stumbling bloc was the Cardiff Opera house. She won the competition twice, but locals just simply did not warm to her hypermodern design and, in the end it was rejected. The house now standing on the site was designed by Jonathan Adams, whose design is said to be incorporating Welsh elements and reflect Welsh national culture. As a former resident of Cardiff and frequent visitor to the Welsh Millenium Centre, I am actually glad that her design was never built. Whilst the current house certainly has its flaws, its gentle, non-threatening nature is probably right for the city. There is a pedestrian-ness about it, without ever being dull, and it may just be the best design for the Welsh capital.

Hadid's design for the Cardiff Opera House

And therein lies part of the problem with Hadid. Her indisputable genius often appears to be outside of time and context. And so her designs sometimes struggle to latch on to local environments. Her work seems to work best where she can start with a blank sheet of paper. Her most recent work, the Olympic Swimming Pool in the London Olympic Village is a courageous piece of breathtaking curves. Beautiful as it is, its design would simply refuse to relate meaningfully to any other building in the locale. Luckily for Hadid, the building was practically built on wasteland with no context other than its own.

London Aquatics Centre
In a recent interview she mentioned her work for BMW as one of the most gratifying pieces in her portfolio. She may just be one of those architects who thrive on the tabula rasa. As blank spaces are rare in this country, she may come to build even less than previously, which is our loss.

BMW Headquarters in Leipzig

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