In Memoriam – Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid by Mary McCartney    
Photo: ©Mary McCartney

As was the case with many in the U.S. who had not seen her work, my first encounter with a Zaha Hadid project and with the architect herself was at the dedication of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati (COMPETITIONS 2003, Vol. 13, #2), with the headline, “Cubism Comes to Cincinnati.” This was a real challenge, because the CAC site was not generous in size or configuration, but constrained on a prominent corner location in downtown Cincinnati. Because of site and floor plan limitations, the staging of large exhibitions is in itself a work of art. And the generous space allocated for the stairs in the atrium, while bringing in much needed light and resulting in a moving experience for visitors, did reduce valuable space for exhibits. This was an additional case that posed

Corner View  b&w
Photo: ©Paul Warchol

the question: whether Zaha’s design talents could also produce a building that would work ideally for users. 



Later projects, such as the BMW plant in Leipzig, indicated that function and form could happily coexist. Even her unbuilt Cardiff Opera House, a competition so well documented by Nicholas Crickhowell’s book, Opera House Lottery, held promise as one of the world’s groundbreaking performance venues. The Cardiff Opera house controversy may not have enhanced her reputation in the eyes of some potential clients; but she subsequently was able to design and build many projects around the world, but few in this country—one of the notable exceptions being the new Michigan State University Art Museum.
Over the years, Zaha’s firm became one of the foremost invited participants in competitions worldwide. We never counted them, but we were amazed that she could devote so much energy and time to the number of competitions which her firm participated in.


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Photos: Stanley Collyer

Most of all, she will be remembered for making a strong statement about the convergence of art and architecture. Although supposedly strongly influenced by the Russian deconstructivists, art deco had to be present at least in the conceptual subconscious. This imprint was evident in many of her designs, but most pervasively in a project I was fortunate enough to visit almost two years ago—the university library at the Viennese Wirtschafts Universität (Vienna University of Business and Economics). Sure, the building was tilted somewhat as a Russian deconstructivist might have imagined, but the inside was purely art deco, more resembling the lines of a sleek ocean liner.

Although Zaha will no longer be with us, her legacy will live on, as we will see many of her ideas presented by others in future competitions.