Zaha Hadid: Sketching the Future

Zaha would always have a notebook with her, you know, and that was like her visual diary, amazing, amazing super-fluid drawings. Most of her buildings you could find as sketches in her notebooks. Often lights would be switched on in her studio and people would pass by her house and she would work late night hours to do these extraordinary paintings which are really very big, big visions for fluid, 21st century cities I post a handwritten note everyday by an artist or an architect for my Instagram, it’s kind of a protest against the disappearance of handwriting, and it connects deeply to Zaha, you know, because it has to do with doodling and drawing and so Zaha took a pen and she wrote on a post-it. “It’s also fantastic that I’m acknowledged for work that’s really not mainstream, that was very deliberately trying to question all the things that people kind of took for granted.” I would go to the RIBA that night and she would not only talk about Art and Architecture, but it was also fascinating because for the first time started to show sketches, doodles, she had never shown before and I was completed amazed. When you see these young girls in their Western clothes, so assured and confident, you’re inclined to forget how surprised their mothers would have been, the idea of training for jobs their daughters take in their stride. Zaha grew up in in Baghdad. Baghdad was full of basically optimism and hope and positivity. There was a very strong presence also of modern architecture. We should never forget that she also grew up with calligraphy. She encountered early on calligraphic drawings and that’s something which continued for the rest of her life. The parents of Zaha encouraged her from very early days to experiment. She was encouraged to design her own living room, to design her own clothes. So, this idea which of course means that all aspects of life could be design, from the clothes to the living room, from the apartment to the cities, to the world, to maybe the universe, you know! There are no boundaries in a way between art and architecture and design. I think this idea not only of the Utopia of art and architecture entering society, the transformative power art and architecture could have or something, she experienced very early on. When she arrived in London, she already really ready for the radical experiments of the Architectural Association at the time, which was very, you know, futuristic in spirit. From the very beginning Zaha showed this interest in the Russian Avant-Garde. She said I was a senior at the AA, in 1977, and I titled my graduation project ‘Malevich’s Tectonic’. It was a hotel sitting on, or hanging from, a bridge, so she would bring the Russian Constructivism into London. So, you have here lots of elements, like the horizontal elevation, as well as the residues of this super-imposition which continued to play a role later on. It’s kind of interesting and fascinating that Zaha never was nostalgic. There was never a sense of the past as something finished. She would revisit Malevich, or she would revisit Tatlin, who of course another big influence. She would do that in a very dynamic way. So, it would basically be the past as a toolbox to invent the future. You could say that Zaha early on found her language. Interlocking angular forms and these fluid urban spaces which anticipated so much of the city. It also took a long time for her to actually have her first building realised, which is in ’93. The Vitra Fire Station is very much a manifesto, you have her language there. You have fragmentation, you have abstraction. You have deconstruction, and this idea of repetitiveness and mass production. There is also this idea that it defies gravity, but we can see things being frozen, and things being in movement. If you look at a complex construction, an individual building, of crashing and tilted planes, we can of course see there the link to Suprematism which creates a suspense and creates a tension which is something I had never experienced in that kind of a way. It doesn’t remind you of anything else you’ve seen before, and I think that’s what happened, you know, people went to Vitra and saw this structure of Zaha and realised that she had invented a totally new world, a totally new language. One of us would do a sketch, and the sketch would be translated into a more elaborate sketch, and then it has an idea. You know, you move faster if you are versatile and able to do things quite quickly. Here’s what Zaha told me: “the sketches are interesting because they became a method. If I would trace one layer to another on paper, it gave me the right degree of transparency”. She mixes angles and the curves and creates a kind of frozen movement and that’s of course something that happens in her drawings and in her paintings. She showed me one notebook where you see really the genesis of the MAXXI museum and you saw how the entire building just grew. Zaha told me, you know, it’s, it’s why she likes drawing so much, it’s because – you make mistakes, and when you make mistakes, you can start seeing things differently. There isn’t much of an element of chance unless you build randomised progress into a project. I think what was interesting, in a way, what we decided even with hand-drawings, drawing plans and sections was not enough to explore, maybe, new thinking and architecture. I think what is also fascinating about Zaha’s drawings is that all of a sudden, the digital age allowed her to build what she conceived much earlier in the drawings. And you know, people would never have thought at the moment of her early drawings that that would ever be buildable. I will never forget when I visited her Phaeno Building at the very beginning, when it opened. First of all, it completely changed the kind of feeling I had about concrete, because I always thought that concrete was somehow, you know, connected to Brutalism, that it was a brutal material, that in a way, almost weightless, has a kind of fluidity. How Zaha uses concrete makes it very human. A kind of human Brutalism. Yeah, it was the Phaeno and also the MAXXI buildings that are, of course, two examples where Zaha could really apply her language at full complexity on a large scale. So, the second building of the Serpentine basically became Zaha’s first building in central London. Even now that she built an aquatic centre for the Olympics, and also a school, it remains her only structure in central London. Zaha basically added a completely contemporary element which is very much an oxymoron, you know, where the past meets the present and projects it into the future. You know, it is not touching the old structure, but it is completely adjacent so it’s kind of an encounter, you can say, by separation. We should never forget that sometimes we encounter historic figures, you know, among our contemporaries and I always think, you know, that Zaha is one, she’s a historic figure, you know, we’ve been so lucky to work with, to be friends with her. And I think she’s one of the great artists and architects of the 20th and 21st centuries and I think there are so many dimensions to her work which still ought to be discovered.


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