In Memoriam Zaha Hadid

Why the death of Zaha Hadid is a great loss for the world of architecture

British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, past away on March 31, 2016 at the young age of 65. Ask ten people on the street who is Zaha Hadid and almost two in ten knows the answer. While that should actually be ten out of ten.

For these three reasons:

Woman in a shark’s world

Cultural Center Heydar Aliyev in Azerbaijan
Cultural Center Heydar Aliyev in Azerbaijan

Famous architects are almost always men. Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster, David Chipperfield, Jean Nouvel, …. To find female names is finding a needle in a haystack. Architecture is a man’s business and it’s a sector where women still have to take many steps to bridge the wide gap. In 2004, Hadid was the first woman in history to win the renowned Pritzker Prize, compare it with the Nobel Prize for Architecture. Ten years later, in 2014, its Cultural Center Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan won the Design of the Year Award. Which is awarded by the London Design Museum, and also because she was the first woman who won the prize. If you look at the building, you know why: it is emerging as waves of whipped cream.

There is currently no female architect with the same reputation as Zaha Hadid. She knew as a woman to break into the hermetic world of men. The company she owned was stomped out of the ground, and now employs over 400 staff and has offices around the world. Maybe you did not know her name, but some of its buildings you certainly do. As the Aquatics Centre in London, where athletes in 2012 swam their way to Olympic medals.

Stamp on the Antwerp skyline

Antwerp Port Authority
Antwerp Port Authority

Antwerp is currently working on a building by Zaha Hadid: the Port House, the new headquarters of the Port Authority. It looks like a spaceship that has descended on the old fire station, on which the structure is built. Granted, you love it or you hate it. Zaha Hadid has as many supporters and opponents. For the latter are buildings ‘show-off architecture’ or bling-bling bricks. Buildings that show off a lot and do not fit into their surroundings. Or few are functional, such as the museums of Hadid with sloping walls where you can’t hang an artwork. They are “oversized mussels or eggs” as a stand-alone sculpture. In the last years of her life people increasingly protested against it.

In Tokyo they wanted to build an Olympic stadium, a mastodon of 70 meters high would tower over the low-rise buildings around it. Under pressure of public opinion Japanese Prime Minister took her of the project. In Antwerp, the clash with the surroundings and the old fire station are gigantic. Christian Rapp, the new Antwerp city architect, is calling it “a nightmare realized.”


London Aquatics Centre
London Aquatics Centre

Hadid fits on the list of ‘starchitects’ from the eighties and nineties. Who didn’t think of livability and sustainability, two threads which are topical today. And money is never an issue, because who builds with Hadid can be sure that the costs always rise. Just ask the city council of Antwerp.

In London they were so angry about the rising price tag they didn’t even send an invitation to the opening of the Aquatics Centre. But one thing is certain and that can’t be denied: the ‘Port House’ Hadid designed for Antwerp made the world press and put the city on the architectural map. The building is almost finished and now you can say that the deceased architect put her mark on the changed city’s skyline.

The famous starchitects, including Zaha Hadid, have encouraged the phenomenon of architectural tourism. People are more interested in architecture, and we can only encourage this, and they have certainly played a role in the photogenic constructions Hadid made. More and more people travel merely to see buildings, and photograph them, and posting them on Facebook what they have seen. You can bet on it ‘Havenhuis’ a hit on Instagram. Hashtag #amazing.

The proponents of Zaha Hadid are fans of her wavy lines and round forms. Zaha Hadid has developed a completely own style, from the architectural style of her colleagues in the 20th and 21st centuries. Organic, shapely, flowing, alien. Wavy as whipped cream. Some call it ‘poetry in stone’. ” She draped a form of femininity in her designs where her male colleagues can only be jealous.

Her style was so unique that a word had to be invented for it: neofuturistic. The term could not have chosen better. Buildings look indeed futuristic, as if they come from another planet. They rarely fit into their surroundings. But who cares if a building is so impressive that you can admire it for minutes? So sensual that it almost seems to move. So surreal that it takes a different form if you see it from a different angle. Were our cities not all gray and uniform enough? Zaha Hadid was different. And that’s why you have to bring her a final farewell. Visit one of her designs or sit on a terrace overlooking these spectacular UFO’s, and drink in her memory.