Hemalatha M

Hemalatha M

Known as the ‘Queen of Curve, Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize (the Nobel Prize of her field), architecture’s biggest prize 15 years ago. The legendary architect, late Zaha Hadid, was an Iraqi-born British architect who was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal in 2015, the first ever given to a woman; and was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DME) in 2012.

Hadid was born in 1950 in Baghdad, but after studying mathematics initially, moved to London to pursue her studies at the Architectural Association School of Architecture under great teachers. Her professor, Rem Koolhaas described at her graduation as ‘a planet in her own orbit’. Rated as the most outstanding pupil by another professor, Elia Zenghelis said of Zaha Hadid,’ We called her the inventor of the 89 degrees. Nothing was ever at 90 degrees. She had a spectacular vision. All the buildings were exploding into tiny little pieces. The way she drew a staircase you would smash your head against the ceiling, and the space was reducing and reducing, and you would end up in the upper corner of the ceiling. She couldn't care about tiny details’.

Post her graduation, she went on to work for her former professors, Koolhaas and Zenghelis. Subsequently she became a naturalised citizen of Britain and opened in 1980, her own architectural firm Zaha Hadid Architects. During the 1980s, when people were focussed on postmodern designs, Hadid ushered in a new modern architecture style by way of detailed and professional sketches.

Hadid was one of a group of innovative architects who helped usher in a new age of architecture with a cross-pollination of technological and artistic influences. She also left a lasting impact as a teacher at the Architectural Association, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge University, Columbia University, among others.

Heydar Aliyev Center uses parametricism but by designing spaces to occupy geometries in new ways. The design of the Heydar Aliyev Center establishes a continuous, fluid relationship between its surrounding plaza and the building’s interior.

It is extremely difficult to group Zaha Hadid’s architecture with one particular architectural style, because she rarely limited her practice to a specific movement. She made a mark by using geometric shapes to create dynamic, fluid structures – and much of her influence originates from her love of abstract painting and drawing.Specifically using industrial materials like concrete and glass, Hadid bent them into forms that subtly recall natural shapes. By deconstructing these forms, she was able to present cutting-edge work that also evokes human emotion.

Dying prematurely in 2016, Hadid has left behind a stunning body of work, including some unfinished works. It is really hard to chronicle her best works, because each one of them had a unique identity and earned her a badge of recognition.

The swimming pool at the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics has been described by The Guardian as the ‘most jaw-dropping municipal swimming pool in the world’. With its cathedral-like space seats, its wave of a roof rests on only three concrete supports, and it houses two 50-metre pools with a spectator capacity of 2,500.

Another work, called the ‘Glasgow Guggenheim’, and winner of the European Museum of the Year Award (2013), Hadid transformed an old shipyard into a column-free 7000-square metre exhibition space with a steel-framed structure, beneath an amazing zinc-clad zigzag roof.

The Guangzhou Opera House which was designed to blend with its riverside setting and considered as one of the most remarkable opera houses displaying a folded, flowing glass structure was described by Hadid thus, ‘Like pebbles in a stream smoothed by erosion’.

Hadid’s fame and canvas spread across continents. Sheikh Zayed Bridge at Abu Dhabhi is a 840-metre bridge spanning the Maqtah channel and is a sight to behold especially at night; the rippling of sand dunes is emulated by way of the bridge’s swooping arches and curves.

Beijing Daxing International Airport allows ease of movement as the radial planning allows maximum number of aircraft to be parked directly at the terminal with minimum distances from the centre of the building. The building has the perfect blend of functionality and aesthetics.

Winner of the London Design Museum Award 2014, the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center at Baku is embellished with a softly folded roof, and this 619,000-square foot complex houses a museum, an auditorium and a multi-purpose hall. Seeing the swooping curves and flowing space, one of the award jury termed it ‘as pure and sexy as Marilyn’s blown skirt’.

Among the most notable of Hadid’s creations is Galaxy Soho at Beijing. Commenting on this work The Guardian had this to say,’ Possibly the most space-age-looking of all Hadid’s works, this spooling creation comprises four domed structures linked by a ravishing mixture of bridges and platforms flowing around what can only be called a central canyon. Like a smoothed off mille-feuille, the 18-storey retail, office and entertainment colossus boasts interior courts intended to reflect traditional Chinese architecture’.

The Liquid Glacial Coffee table has the perfect balance between the static structure and the dynamic imagination, the table has a flat table top with wave ripples flowing through the legs.

Zaha Hadid also dabbled in interior architecture and product design. When she died at the age of 65, many unfinished projects which were left behind were taken up by her firm Zaha Hadid Architects. On her death The New York Times wrote: "…her soaring structures left a mark on skylines and imaginations and in the process re-shaped architecture for the modern age...Her buildings elevated uncertainty to an art, conveyed in the odd way of one entered and moved through these buildings and in the questions that her structures raised about how they were supported ... Hadid embodied, in its profligacy and promise, the era of so-called starchitects who roamed the planet in pursuit of their own creative genius, offering miracles, occasionally delivering’.


Hemalatha is a Chennai-based architect with experience in practicing & teaching architecture, and co-founder of SIDART Photography.