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Discover what made the future: Zaha Hadid

  • Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, photo by Hufton+Crow
  • Galaxy Soho: www.zaha-hadid.com (Iwan Baan)
  • Portrait: Mary McCartney

“Rarely has an architect so radically changed and inspired the field,” writes architect and critic Joseph Giovannini in his essay on British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid’s 2004 Pritzker Prize, architecture’s biggest accolade.

By the early 80s, modernism in architecture had long exhausted itself with its ongoing minimalist simplifications, and many of its heady early ideals had foundered. Postmodernism’s pastiche and self-conscious stylistic clashes had reached a bit of a dead end, and it might have seemed like architecture itself had run out of ideas. But then, along came Hadid and exploded the world’s idea of what a building could be.

With her understanding of complex mathematics and love of painting, she fragmented the geometries of modernism, exploded any remaining reverence for simplicity with complex and difficult forms, and brought curves, gravity-defying flamboyance and expressiveness to her buildings.

“She created a new architectural reality that we did not know before, and succeeded in pushing even that reality to places we can never quite anticipate,” continued Giovannini.

Known as the “Queen of the Curve”, her wild originality actually had its roots in her love of the avant-garde Russian artists of the early 20th century. And the expressive and decorative aspects of architecture she embraced reawakened something of the spirit of Futurism or even Art Deco.

But the simple fact is, that with buildings like the Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaij, the Guangzhou Opera House in China, the London Aquatics Centre for the London Olympics and Galaxy Soho in Beijing dotting the architectural landscape, the possibilities for spatial reality changed forever with Hadid.

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