Each day we experience what one might best be labeled “pragmatic architecture,” because it is exactly that. From America’s beloved big box store with the gigantic (and changeable) sign to the prolific utilitarian gas stations that dot the corners of our residential fabric, utility is convention, and thoughtfully-designed architecture, sadly, is often the exception.
As children we are taught to draw a house in the form of a square with a triangle roof, windows where bedrooms might be, and a door for entry on the first floor. Each element has a purpose and a lesson, but the drawing is symbolic rather than artful; explanatory rather than suggestive.
In late March the architecture community lost an architect that preferred architectural pyrotechnics to pragmatics; exploding onto the scene in the late 1970’s/early 80’s, Zaha Hadid is and will always be remembered equally weighted as an artist and architect that understood form as something fluid-but-faceted, expressive, and at its best moments, uninhibited.
After digesting the many articles that have been written in her memory, I was amazed to learn more about the person (and personality) behind the dramatic pictures (of Dame Hadid and of her work.) Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Hadid studied mathematics at the University of Beirut prior to moving to London to attend the Architectural Association in 1972. After working at OMA with rising Starchitect Rem Koolhaas, a friendship sustained throughout her lifetime, Zaha left to pursue her unique and individualistic architectural approach.
Starting her own practice in 1980, Hadid became prolific in the mediums of drawing and painting as tools to explore architectural investigations one might only think possible with a computer. This type of representation led her to notoriety after winning the prestigious international competition for the Hong Kong Peak Club. Although the Club was never realized, commissions followed including her seminal Vitra Fire Station (1993,) a buoyant ski jump in Innsbruck (2002,) the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio (2003,) and many more impactful projects that today, according to the Zaha Hadid Architects website, totals 950 projects across 44 countries/55 nations.
Growing up as an aspiring architect in the 1980’s and 90’s, as a child my architectural role models were pretty boiler plate. There were Frank Lloyd Wright coloring books, history books touting the famed woman architect, Julia Morgan, and fancy spreads of New York penthouses and Aspen ranches in Architectural Digest issues that I admittedly devoured each month.
It wasn’t until my 20’s and immersion into architecture school that I fully understood the challenges, achievements, and artistry of contemporary architects like Hadid. This understanding was fully reinforced when Hadid was recognized as the Laureate of the Pritzker Prize in 2004; the first woman to be awarded the prize.
Despite a smaller portfolio of built work at the time, architects such as Bill Lacy, speaking as the executive director of the Pritzker Prize in 2004 remarked, “Only rarely does an architect emerge with a philosophy and approach to the art form that influences the direction of the entire field. Such an architect is Zaha Hadid who has patiently created and refined a vocabulary that sets new boundaries for the art of architecture.”
Many people say Hadid was the most influential woman architect of our time. I prefer to look to her as a role model, but to share a sentiment that has been expressed that she is simply one of THE most influential Architects of our time.