Writing Sample

Revolutionary Architecture: Zaha Hadid

                “We only see what we have been trained to perceive. If only we can look in fresh ways, we can change the world by just that act (Betsky, 1998, P6).” According to critic Aaron Betsky, that is exactly what Baghdad born, London based architect Zaha Hadid does. She has studied art, painting, sculpture, landscape, form, movement, culture, and mathematics among many other things to bring her the success she has today. With a true commitment to modernism, Hadid defies the authority of gravity and form starting with paintings that are works of art in themselves. Focusing on space and landscape, Hadid’s process as a designer has revolutionized architecture.

It all begins with a painting. This untraditional approach is what makes Hadid’s design process so unique. She uses the colors and shapes on the two dimensional plane to form her design, and although an integral part of her work, Hadid explains in an interview for Architecture and the Museum:

“I’m not a painter. I have to make that quite clear. I can paint, but I’m not a painter. It was clear to me in my fourth year [of architecture education] that I could not explain or explore what I wanted to do through a normative method of presentation. Just doing a plan and a section and an elevation was not enough…but the paintings…really informed the work (Papadakis, 2005, P8Smilie: 8).”

Despite this declaration, her paintings have stood as exhibitions in galleries all around the world in places such as New York, Berlin, Paris, London, Madrid, Vienna, Venice, Tokyo, Wales, and Denmark (Betsky, 1998, P174). While she does not create these to represent a final product, they directly express her process. She uses multiple pieces to show the form and energy of the architectural space she desires to create.  Understanding these pieces as space can be achieved by moving through the composition as a succession instead of from the different viewpoints. The space created can be seen as a world with its own characteristic forms, compositional laws, and spatial effects. Her paintings range from showing a city on the vertical plane of a skyscraper in 59 Eaton Place (1981) to skyscrapers dangling upside down from the sky in Blue and Green Scrapers (1990). While one may take a look at the latter and wonder how Hadid is going to accomplish hanging buildings out of the sky, her paintings must not be taken literally. Her idea in this painting is to take the structures in Leicester Square, London and sink them into the ground, instead of using the tired idea of fountains to decorate the public space (Papadakis 2005). It is because of ideas so intricate and intense, like the previously stated one, that it wasn’t until she was in her forties that her career really began to take off.

The first major building she designed was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany, which was completed in 1993. This construction set the tone for the importance of landscape in her designs, and that she was an architect who was committed to testing the boundaries of traditionally practiced architecture. Hadid desired to introduce organization into the street by placing a dynamic force such as the narrow and elongated form of the Fire Station. It mimics the horizontal agriculture fields that are adjacent. In her book, Margherita Guccione relates the exterior and interior of the station:

“…the structure is played out in a series of centrifugal lines of force that chase after one another and extend into the landscape. Because the building’s partition like walls define an ever-changing space made up of uncertain boundaries between interior and exterior, they materialize the images that the architect fixed in her paintings. At the same time, the station is connected to the landscape in a very unusual way: a system of visual references that the building’s sharp-edged volumes are capable of generating in the context. This close attention to a synergy with the environment, apparently in contrast with the plan’s abstract layout, will be developed in numerous other projects… (Guccione, 2010, P22).”

Hadid has stayed true to this “synergy with the environment” even in her latest project, the aquatic center for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Water was her obvious inspiration for this project, especially the geometry of water in motion. In correlation with the adjacent Waterworks River beside the site, the roof flows like cascading waves creating linear movement to nearby Stratford City. The roof figure as a whole can be described as a double wave, highlighting the two pools on the interior (Papadakis 2005).

Both of these building fit into the term “sculptural architecture”, a term that became prevalent at the beginning of the twentieth century describing asymmetrical, freestanding, and labyrinthine structures. Hadid has studied how to slow down and accelerate the rhythms of life experienced every day, resulting in interiors and exteriors that are both fluid and full of motion. Sculptural architecture is predicted on movement and activity and cannot be reconstructed from a single viewpoint (Hall, 2000). Her goal is to use sculptural architecture to make new landscapes with complex, unusual, and paradoxical shapes. The effect she strives for is to create public spaces that provide pleasure and add something new to our lives, calling into question of how we view them and how we react to them (Guccione 2010). This theme has united her work throughout her career.

Despite the similarities in her work, it has still changed over time. In the 1990s, her buildings shifted from collage type compositions of several elements and evolved into singular gestures. As the forms began to unify, so did her colors. This began with the previously discussed Vitra Fire Station, where the continual lines folded into forms clashed with disparate shards of color. She began to draw inspiration from fields rising up over hills and caves opening below them, how rivers move through land, and mountain peaks provide the sense of orientation. She explored what already existed to find free spaces (Betsky 199Smilie: 8).

Now known as an “archistar,” Hadid has accomplished what few have, to defy gravity and single point of view, and create space in an entirely new way. Frank Gehry, a notable architect, states that “Zaha has one of the clearest architectural trajectories we’ve seen in many years. Each project unfolds with new excitement and innovation (Papadakis 2005).” In 2004, her success also led to her being the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize. In addition to buildings and paintings, she has also designed stage sets for concerts, the Pet Shop Boys world tour in 1999, and Broadway musicals like Frederic Flamand’s ballet Metapolis also in 1999 (Guccione 2010).  It is Hadid’s dedication to exploration that makes her such a successful designer. She does not limit herself to the precedents set by previous designers, instead she creates by her own rules, a lesson all aspiring designers can learn from.

59 Eaton Place

Blue and Green Scrapers

Vitra Fire Station

London Aquatic Center






Betsky, A. (2002). Zaha Hadid- The Complete Buildings and Project. Great Britain: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Guccione, M. (2010). Zaha Hadid. Milan: ORE Cultural srl.

Hadid. 1990. Blue and Green Scrapers[painting]. Retrieved from https://classic-nardy.com

Hadid. 1981-82. 59 Eaton Place[painting]. Retrieved from https://archello.com

Hadid, Z. Schumacher, P. 2012. Aquatic Center[image]. Retrieved from https://designlike.com

Hadid, Z. 1994. Vitra Fire Station[image]. Retrieved from https://designboom.com

Hall, J. (2012). Zaha Hadid. ArtForum. 29(3), pp 5-6.

Papadakis, A. A. (2005). Zaha Hadid-Testing The Boundaries. London: New Architecture Group Ltd.



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