press release

“My ambition is always to realize theoretical projects that seem difficult at the time.” —Zaha Hadid

Having first achieved international recognition through her striking images and designs, architect Zaha Hadid is widely known as one of today’s most innovative architects, consistently testing the boundaries of architecture, urbanism, and design. Born in Baghdad in 1950, Zaha Hadid studied in Switzerland, England, and Beirut. She pursued architectural studies at London’s Architectural Association in 1972 and received her diploma in 1977. Shortly after, she joined the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) with her previous professors, Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis. She opened her independent practice in London in 1979. In 1982 she garnered international recognition when her submission The Peak won the competition for a leisure club in Hong Kong. The project was never completed, but since then, several audacious buildings have given material form to her search for challenging ideas. In 2004, Zaha Hadid was the first woman to receive architecture’s most prestigious award, the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Today, using London as the base for her firm, her vision is being transformed into suggestive buildings all over the world.

True to Hadid’s interdisciplinary approach to architecture, this 30-year retrospective presents a wide range of mediums: paintings, sketches, architectural drawings, urban plans, models, relief models, animations, furniture, and design objects. The exhibition is organized chronologically and fills the museum rotunda and the adjacent Tower gallery. The chronology is supplemented by presentations of Hadid’s thematic approaches, lines of research into architectural questions that coincide with particular points in the chronological order. The themes link projects from different periods, as Hadid revisits recurring concerns in each building. Some of the themes, such as the concepts of fields, folds, ribbons, and clusters, have today become important points of departure when discussing the production of contemporary space.

At the outset of her career, Hadid’s architectural practice followed Russian Constructivist ideals from the early 1920s. Based on floating simple geometries, lines and planes frozen in time and space, her early architectural representations presented broken, compound angles with acute interstices that expressed considerable tension. These early projects were most commonly represented in large-format paintings. For Hadid, turning to painting was a necessity. Feeling that traditional methods of representing architecture were not appropriate for inventing new ideas, she used painting to research representations of three dimensions through multiple perspectives. Her reconsideration of the architectural drawing, through nontraditional floor plans with spatial configurations open to interpretation, had a major impact on all areas of design and architecture. Since then, she has moved from abstraction and fragmentation to fluidity and seamless complexity. The first fractured forms have given place to a system of fluid and undulating shapes.

While the formal treatment of the three-dimensionality of the Constructivists influenced Hadid as a student, her primary interest was their utopian program of inserting “social condensers” into architecture. These condensers were spaces meant to encourage social contact. Hadid’s research has focused on potential forms that would integrate public space in the dispersed 20th-century city by creating spaces whose functions are not defined.

Hadid resorts to different strategies in her search for a new texture for the public space. She has challenged the Cartesian grid and the single perspective, set forth the potential of fragmentation and distortion, and developed the notions of “fluidity” and “artificial landscapes” to achieve it. The attack on the Cartesian grid, the geometric system that organizes shapes into horizontal and vertical coordinates, has allowed her to explore territories untapped by architecture. The painting The World (89 Degrees) (1983), for example, presented a distorted horizon, revealing unexplored intermediate spaces. The relevance of those spaces is their capacity to become part of a public space aimed at social and cultural interaction.

Challenging gravity and the logic of the single perspective, Hadid’s paintings suspend the body of the viewer in a succession of perspectives. The result is a multiplicity of viewpoints and an absence of structural and spatial hierarchy, producing an unfolding of the space that appears to be fragmented. Fragmentation allows for new interaction between the architecture and its site. The plans for the Zollhof 3 Media Park in Düsseldorf (unbuilt, 1989–93), situated along a harbor, fragment one continuous structure through a number of incisions to create different relationships with the water. Through the fragments of this long building, Hadid created an unorthodox response to the site and provided different options of public access to the waterfront.

Multiple viewpoints also produce distortion, and Hadid takes advantage of that distortion as an optimistic tool to adapt the architecture to a site. After experimenting with this notion in The Peak, Hadid was finally able to materialize these explorations in the 1994 Vitra Fire Station (Weil am Rhein, Germany, 1990–94). She achieved distortion here by stretching the building alongside the development’s central street and breaking it into different planes that serve as walls. The walls appear to tilt, move, break, and want to fly away. Constructed in solid concrete, the Vitra building achieves a sense of transparency through a multiplicity of views into the interior. The disappearance of one prominent frontal plane opens up the possibility of mulitple entries into the building.

The fluid relation between ground and building, a constant program in Hadid’s work, is the dominant characteristic of the environmental research center and exhibition space LFOne Landesgardenschau (Weil Am Rhein, 1996–99). The building intends to recuperate the way nature establishes territories that define space by means of overlaps, rhythms, and textures. The figure of LFOne is not contained—it continues into its surroundings while simultaneously emerging from the paths already suggested in the landscape. The consolidation of those different paths also gives way to a lifting of the ground, making it unclear where the “ground floor”begins or ends as it curves up and expands into different terraced spaces. The indefinite boundaries create fluid spaces that allow for spontaneous social activities.

The blurring of boundaries and the creation of fluid spaces also inspires the creation of new artificial landscapes. As her architecture continues to explore new possibilities for public space, Hadid incorporates smoother surfaces, and the built form becomes almost a landscape form. Her latest work, the Phaeno Science Center (Wolfsburg, Germany, 1999–2005), rises from the ground with strange undulating forms that liberate an open space below its belly. This rescued urban space unifies the elements of its surroundings and produces a new artificial landscape dominated by funnel- shaped cones. The strangeness of the landscaped access to the building are also present in the interior. The Phaeno’s smoothness, seamlessness, and distortion is evident in walls that seem to melt, floors that curve upward, and ceilings that appear to compress, bend, and expand, creating a sense of constant transformation.

Hadid’s early fractured forms have given place over her 30-year career to more fluid and undulating shapes without letting go of her initial intensity and conviction. Her suggestive buildings with tilting spaces, exteriors that blend with the interiors, and forms that project out into their surroundings, have found a way to incorporate seamlessness and deformation in exciting and moving ways. For Hadid architecture is not about recognizing and feeling comfortable in familiar spaces. Her buildings are stages for new ways of socializing, for the unpredictable to occur.

Mónica Ramírez-Montagut


Zaha Hadid
Thirty Years in Architecture