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Zaha Hadid’s work in retrospect

Zaha Hadid's work in retrospect

September 2016

Known as the “Queen of the Curve,” Zaha Hadid’s work has shaped the world of architecture forever. We present some of her best known past and current projects.



The death of Zaha Hadid in March at age 65 was a shock to the world of architecture, but it did not signal the end of her influence. The only woman to win the Pritzker Prize for Architecture (2004) designed some of the world’s most beautiful structures. They include the ones built and performing their intended function; the ones still under consideration and/or construction; and those being continued by Zaha Hadid Architects, the firm she founded in London in 1980.

With a total of 950 projects in 44 countries and 36 current projects in 21 countries, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) is too big and too important to stop. Patrik Schumacher, co-director with Hadid in ZHA, says in a recent documentary film, “I believe the kind of organisation we are is unprecedented and is yet to evolve.” ZHA has more than 400 staff representing 55 nations.

Earlier projects

The Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany (1994) was her first architectural project that was built. It brought Hadid international fame for the dramatic lines that she had first explored in paintings. Hadid’s mother was a painter and Hadid continued to find inspiration in painting and design. However, unlike some of her peers, she embraced computer-assisted design (CAD) as well. In a discussion with several Pritzker Prize winners in 2015, Hadid rejected the claim that CAD has been bad for architecture. She said she likes to draw by hand as well as to benefit from the shortcuts provided by CAD.

The Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati (2003) was Hadid’s first project in the U.S. From the 97 architects who submitted ideas, 12 were selected to provide designs. Hadid won over her teacher and mentor, Rem Koolhaas, as well as other Pritzker Prize winners like Herzog & de Meuron, Jean Nouvel, and Toyo Ito.

Most of ZHA’s work continued to be in Europe including the BMW Central Building (2005) in Leipzig and the MAXXI – National Museum of the 21st Century Arts in Rome (2010). MAXXI was awarded the 2010 Stirling Prize, the most prestigious award for architecture in the UK. However, in the same year, Hadid’s dramatic Guangzhou Opera House was completed in that city as well as the Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi, and the iconic international projects continued.

Some international projects

The London Aquatics Centre was designed in 2004 before London was selected to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. The Centre was modified prior to construction and after, initially to reduce cost and later to adapt to normal post-Olympics use. The two wings for seating 17,500 guests were removed. After it re-opened as a public amenity, the Aquatics Centre seats a flexible 2,500 – 3,500.

One of ZHAs more controversial projects was the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan (2012).  While the Centre has been praised for its fluid exterior that melts into the fluid interior, Hadid was criticised for accepting a commission from a country charged with human rights abuses. In 2014 Hadid became the first woman to win the Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award for the Cultural Centre.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in East Lansing, Michigan (2012) was the result of a competition won by ZHA. The angular stainless steel and glass structure provides “an ever-changing appearance that arouses curiosity yet never quite reveals its content,” in the words of ZHA.  Not only is the architecture striking but the museum may generate millions from tourists and local visitors who shop, eat, and enjoy themselves in the museum and its neighbourhood.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) in Seoul, South Korea (2014) created a landmark with futuristic curving buildings. DDP has been called an important reason for the city’s being designated as World Design Capital in 2010. It features rooftop parks, big exhibition space, retail stores, and incorporates part of the historic Seoul fortress.

Wangjing SOHO in Beijing, China (2014) was initially conceived as two buildings. However, in order to lower the height, ZHA redesigned the office and retail complex as three curving asymmetric towers. Because they are located in a suburb of the city near Beijing Capital International Airport, Hadid said the project is a “welcome and farewell to Beijing.” It won the Emporis Skyscraper Award in 2014, selected from among 300 skyscrapers more than 100 meters tall by an international panel, becoming the first skyscraper in China to win.

Projects completing in 2016

The Maritime Terminal in Salerno, Italy, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in April. ZHA won a competition in 2000 to design the ferry and cruise ship terminal that will allow 500,000 additional visitors annually. The interior features gentle ramps that lead passengers to and from the ferries and ships. At night the structure glows, a state of the art lighthouse welcoming marine travellers to the city.

The Port House in Antwerp, Belgium, headquarters for the Port Authority, is due to open in late September. It will be an instant landmark adding an extended floating beam above the former fire brigade building. The Port House will provide offices for 500 employees. Glass walls allow spectacular views of the city and the harbour as well as sparkle, a reminder of the importance of the diamond trade to Antwerp.

The King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is set to open in October. The project commissioned by ARAMCO started in 2009 on a huge site of 530,000 square metres. ZHA promises the Centre will be “rising as a cellular structure of crystalline forms from the desert landscape” with “a strong protective outer shell concealing soft, porous sheltered courtyards within.”

Continuing projects 

Among 36 projects under way is One Thousand Museum in Miami, a 62-storey condominium tower across from the Perez Art Museum Miami, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, one of the most prestigious locations in Downtown Miami. As always with a ZHA project, it will look revolutionary and galvanise critics and supporters when it is completed in 2018 with 83 “museum quality residences” including 4 duplex townhouses, 70 half floor units, 8 full floor penthouses, and 1 two-storey full floor penthouse. Prices range from USD 5.7 million to 49 million for the two-storey penthouse. Foundation concrete was poured in August 2015.

The Opus in Dubai is the first foray into the emirate by ZHA. Located in the Burj Khalifa district, which is also home to the world’s tallest building, The Opus is an exclusive high-rise residential tower that combines a variety of residences and a design hotel operated by leading hotelier group ME by Melia Hotels International.

The cube structure features an organic void right at the heart of the building, which is flooded with light at night, bringing to life the distinct character of the building. The peculiar, reflective façade of the void is the centrepiece of the building.

ZHA without Zaha Hadid

Patrik Schumacher met Hadid in 1988 in London before she had built anything, but she was already known through her paintings of architectural projects. He joined the practice that same year, telling Dezeen magazine: “I was lucky enough that I entered when it was a very young team.” He worked his way up to co-director and plans to continue ZHA without Hadid.

Three projects that began during Hadid’s life – Sherbank Technopark in Moscow; a mixed-use development in the central business district of Prague; and a fluted hotel shaped like the desert hyacinth in Qatar’s new Lusail City – were assigned after her death on March 31. The test for ZHA in the future will be winning competitions for projects designed without the master hand of Zaha Hadid.

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