An Introduction to the World-Renowned Architect Zaha Hadid, “the Queen of the Curve”

Zaha Hadid won the Pritzk­er Prize, archi­tec­ture’s most pres­ti­gious award, in 2004. She was then in her ear­ly fifties — prac­ti­cal­ly a school­girl by the stan­dards of her pro­fes­sion — and had only com­plet­ed four build­ings. Yet the Pritzk­er com­mit­tee already sus­pect­ed that she saw pos­si­bil­i­ties in the built envi­ron­ment, and per­haps entire dimen­sions, that oth­ers did not. Indeed, she would spend her remain­ing dozen years prov­ing them right, as evi­denced by the lega­cy of impres­sive struc­tures she left all across the world, from the Con­tem­po­rary Arts Cen­ter in Cincin­nati and the BMW Cen­tral Build­ing in Leipzig to the Lon­don Aquat­ics Cen­ter and the Guangzhou Opera House.

Liv­ing in Seoul, I myself have occa­sion every so often to pass through a Hadid build­ing: the Dong­dae­mun Design Plaza, which opened in 2013. Essen­tial­ly a col­lec­tion of shops and exhi­bi­tion spaces, it has become best known as a qua­si-pub­lic gath­er­ing place full of back­drops suit­able for Insta­gram pho­tog­ra­phy.

In its size, shape, and aes­thet­ic, the DDP stands well apart from its urban con­text, look­ing like a space­ship sent by an advanced alien civ­i­liza­tion to col­o­nize an old down­town gar­ment dis­trict. In that respect it’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Hadid’s work, which real­izes the kind of irreg­u­lar, unre­lent­ing­ly curvi­lin­ear forms prac­ti­cal­ly unknown in archi­tec­ture before her rise to its high­est lev­el of star­dom.

“In her build­ings, walls are nev­er quite ver­ti­cal, floors sel­dom remain flat for long, and the twain meet not in nine­ty-degree angles but, rather, in the kinds of curves one finds in skate­board parks,” writes the New York­er’s John Seabrook, pro­fil­ing Hadid in 2009. “There is no sin­gle Hadid style, although one can detect a water­mark in her build­ings’ futur­is­tic smooth­ness. Cer­tain themes car­ry through her use of mate­ri­als (glass, steel, con­crete), her lines (cor­ri­dors often trace flow­ing arabesque shapes, while roof struts make sharp Z‑shaped angles), her struc­tures (she favors col­umn-free spaces), and her sculp­tur­al inte­ri­ors and asym­met­ric façades.”

Such dis­tinc­tive designs — of build­ings as well as of fur­ni­ture, jew­el­ry, and oth­er con­sumer objects — earned Hadid the infor­mal title of “queen of the curve.” You can learn more about her reign and its last­ing influ­ence in these two video essays, one from Curi­ous Muse and the oth­er from The B1M. Like all the most inno­v­a­tive archi­tects, Hadid had visions real­iz­able only with, and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly influ­enced by, the tech­nol­o­gy of her time. “The idea is not to have any 90-degree angles,” she once said, and the devel­op­ment of advanced com­put­er-aid­ed design tools in the nine­teen-nineties made that idea a real­i­ty. In pur­su­ing that idea to its very lim­its, she took the most con­crete of all art forms and, improb­a­bly, made it abstract.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch 50+ Doc­u­men­taries on Famous Archi­tects & Build­ings: Bauhaus, Le Cor­busier, Hadid & Many More

The ABC of Archi­tects: An Ani­mat­ed Flip­book of Famous Archi­tects and Their Best-Known Build­ings

The World Accord­ing to Le Cor­busier: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Most Mod­ern of All Archi­tects

Why Do Peo­ple Hate Mod­ern Archi­tec­ture?: A Video Essay

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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