Architecture & Design

Zaha Hadid in 7 Minutes: What Makes Her Architecture So Extraordinary?

Often known as the "Queen of the Curve," Zaha Hadid was one of the most admired and extraordinary architects of her time. Forbes even named her among the 100 most powerful women in the world. Her daring and unconventional buildings tiptoe the line between fantasy and reality, changing our understanding of what architecture can do. She has won some of the world's top honors in the realm of architecture, including the Pritzker Prize. 

So, why are Zaha Hadid’s buildings so extraordinary? What influences her signature style? Finally, is it true that her inspiration comes from the ‘Black Square’ author, Kazimir Malevich? Keep watching to find out!

Zaha Hadid was born in 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq. Her father was a wealthy industrialist and her mother an artist. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, she moved to London in 1972 to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture.

Hadid’s work first engaged with the Russian avant-garde movement, notably Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin. Their work inspired her to adopt painting as a design tool, liberating herself from the conventions of an architectural drawing, which she found to be limiting. For Hadid, there were no boundaries between architecture, art, and design. She revisited the work of Malevich in a new, dynamic way, translating his geometric abstract art into actual buildings.

During the early 1980s, Hadid introduced the architectural world to this new style through her radical and experimental designs characterized by abstraction, fragmentation, and movement. Although widely published in architectural journals, these early ambitions were never realized. One of them included a plan for The Peak, a leisure center in Hong Kong. A "horizontal skyscraper" formed by different layers of shard-like panels appeared to hover at a diagonal down the hillside site. Although left incomplete, the project represented a significant breakthrough in Hadid's career, bringing her international recognition.

Aside from Malevich and Tatlin, Zaha Hadid’s design language shows a strong element of Islamic calligraphy, which she encountered during her childhood in Iraq. Through free calligraphy, she explored the ideas of weightlessness and fluidity that would later take shape in her buildings through bold curves and flowing arabesque forms. 

Despite creating her own architectural firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, in 1980, it was not until 1993 that Hadid’s first project was realized. This was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany. The world could finally see her imagination come to life in a brick-and-mortar structure. Visitors can see the superposition of razor-sharp geometric planes, fragmentation, dynamic stream of movement, and multi-viewpoint perspective.

Later, her work turned more curvaceous, fluid, and sculptural, but the fundamentals of the style expressed in Vitra Fire Station remained. She continued to distort form, space, and perspective, play with fragmenting and inter-penetrating forms, and explore movement in architecture, giving free rein to her creativity.   

With Hadid, it has always been about innovation and pushing boundaries. In one of her early
interviews, Zaha said, “I almost believed there was such a thing as zero gravity. I can now believe that buildings can float.” The digital age allowed her to create architectural designs that could float, slide, and move. Hadid was one of the early adopters of a fully digitized 3D design process, which helped her intensify her experiments revolving around dynamism and fluidity.

Hadid has faced many criticisms during her career, especially for her lack of interest in optimizing space and functionalism. Regardless, she refused to curb her creativity. She continued to create extravagant buildings that radically expanded the possibilities of architecture. Her last work before her death in 2016 was the Port House in Antwerp, Belgium.

Daring, intensely creative, and larger-than-life, Zaha Hadid developed shapes in architecture that no one thought could be done. Through her extraordinary body of work, she has broadened the horizons of what is possible in architecture and inspired new architectural thinking and process. Despite her death, Zaha Hadid’s vision lives on through her company, Zaha Hadid Architects, ensuring that future generations will be able to enjoy her artistic vision for years to come.
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