Zaha Hadid was known as the “queen of the curve” and as the greatest female architect in the world – she was also one of the most polarizing figures in contemporary design. Her sudden death has left people in-the-know mourning her loss worldwide.
Many others, however, are only just coming to recognize and understand the impact of the great body of work she leaves behind – 950 projects in 44 countries. From a cultural center in Azerbaijan, to a bridge in Abu Dhabi, to a pair of Adidas designed with musician Pharrell Williams, the 65-year old, Iraqi-born Hadid left her mark in so many ways.
If you want to get to know her a bit better, don’t miss the amazing Desert Island Discs episode she recorded for BBC Radio in February. And, even though the internet is awash with tributes to this enigmatic woman, the team at Rustik wanted to create our own. Here is a personal list of 10 favourite pieces by which to remember architecture’s leading lady, Zaha Hadid.
A hybrid of pedestrian footbridge and exhibition pavilion, this enclosed interactive space spanning the River Ebro in Spain formed a gateway to the Zaragoza Expo 2008. Its fluid, dynamic design interpreted the Expo’s theme: ‘Water and Sustainable Development.’
The design for the Central Building for BMW in Leipzig, Germany constituted a radical reinterpretation of the traditional office. Hadid aimed for organizational transparency through a fluid design that allows employees, no matter what their position, to be aware of other activities going on around them. Overhead conveyors at ceiling height move car bodies from one production department to another in full view, for all to see.
The first building Hadid completed in England was the Evelyn Grace Academy, a secondary school set in south London’s Brixton neighbourhood. The architect’s challenge was to create a highly functional space on a small footprint that would – following the principle of ‘schools within schools’ – allow four smaller schools to coexist but each have a distinct identity. The design won a 2011 Stirling Prize for the greatest contribution to British architecture in the previous year.
The Mesa table evolved from an architectural experiment about creating connections. Stripping the formal idea of a table back to its constituent parts – ground, structure and surface – the design creates a world between two horizontal planes. In this world, the voids express the form as much as the solids. Hadid compared it to water lilies sitting on a pond; flat mats supported by an unseen, complex and organic structure beneath.
Hadid’s floating staircase makes concrete seem lighter than air. Each stair tread is a ribbon of ultra-high performance concrete, cast from a single adjustable mould engineered in Italy. The floating staircase was designed so that it could be demounted.
The design for the Guangzhou Opera House springs from the interplay between architecture and nature. In this design, which is set on the banks of China’s Pearl River, Hadid engaged with the principles of erosion, geology and topography, particularly influenced by river valleys and the way in which they are transformed by erosion. The result is an arresting 1,800-seat auditorium and a smaller 400-seat multi-function hall that signal the rising status of this emerging city.
Also set on the banks of a major river, the Glasgow Riverside Museum projects the relationship between the city and the Clyde River. “The museum is the voice of both, connecting the city to the river and also the transition from one to the other,” her firm’s website says. The building’s exterior evokes a wave or a pleat while on the inside, views outward allow visitors to build up a gradual sense of their external context.
Hadid teamed up with renowned Austrian winemaker Leo Hillinger to design a limited edition of 999 bottles for the winemaker’s Icon Hill 2009 vintage. The bottle design is derived from the profile of liquid droplets, with a concave indentation suggesting the waves that are created when droplets break the surface of a liquid. The bottles are designed to interlock together and be perceived as singular whole.
The Adidas Superstar shoe is one of the world’s most popular and recognizable fashion designs. In a unique collaboration, Adidas invited Pharell Williams to curate a collection of contemporary reinterpretations on the iconic shoe. Williams chose Hadid to take on the the classic shell toe of the shoe. “I think that Zaha’s designs are just like her buildings,” he explained. “They augment reality forever. With the Supershell she created, I feel like she used dimensions of what already exists, and cast shadows that weren’t necessarily there.”
Azerbaijan was part of the former Soviet Union. Today, it is an oil-rich state looking to make a mark and set a course for the future. This ambition is embodied in Hadid’s design for the Heydar Aliyev Center, in the country’s capital of Baku. It’s one of the best examples of what the ‘queen of the curve’ did best – creating larger-than-life fluidity that is still grounded and accessible.