Zaha Hadid: Sketching the Future

Hans Ulrich Obrist

Zaha Hadid revolutionised the language of architecture and transformed the way we think about design. An artist who sought to question everything taken for granted, she created some of the most spectacular buildings of the 20th and 21st centuries. Hans Ulrich Obrist, a curator, collaborator and longstanding friend, describes how Hadid’s method began in her sketchbooks with ‘superfluid’ drawings, which reflected her belief in the connection between art and architecture.

Obrist traces Hadid’s childhood in Baghdad, the formative influences of her family and her time studying at the Architectural Association in London, a highly experimental school where she was exposed to the ideas of the early twentieth century Russian avant-garde. Obrist goes on to explain how the development of digital technology allowed Hadid to realise her futurist ideas and create new possibilities in architecture, allowing her to seemingly ‘defy gravity’.

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Zaha would always have a notebook with her, you know, and that was like her visual diary, these 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.

[Voiceover]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 Tektonik.

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. 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 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 twenty and twenty-first centuries and I think there are so many dimensions to her work which still ought to be discovered.

With thanks to…

Christian Richter

David Gill Gallery

Established & Sons

Georg Jensen

Hélène Binet

Iwaan Baan

Louis Vuitton

Luke Hayes

Roland Halbe

Hufton + Crow

Jacopo Spilimbergo

OKO Group

RIBA

Sawaya & Moroni

Kenny Schachter / Rove

Serpentine Galleries

Slamp

Werner Huthmacher

Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Foundation

 

Archive

Architectural Association

Alamy Stock Photo

AP Archive

Bridgeman Images

British Pathé

Getty Images

Pond5

Shutterstock

 

Music

Audio Network

9 Lives Music

 

Full List of Artworks Shown:

A look through Zaha Hadid’s Sketchbook

Serpentine Sackler Gallery

8 Dec 2016 to 12 Feb 2017

Bloomberg Philanthropies

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Foundation and Serpentine Galleries

 

Zaha Hadid’s Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria

Hélène Binet, 2002

© Hélène Binet

 

Phaeno Science Centre

Wolfsburg, Germany

Zaha Hadid Architects, 2000-2005

Photo: © Werner Huthmacher

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany

Photo: © Christian Richter

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

The Aquatics Centre, London, England

Steve Vidler, 2014

Mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Heydar Aliyev Centre

Lerner Vadim / Shutterstock

 

Nordpark Railway Stations (Hungerburg Station) Innsbruck

Photo: © Werner Huthmacher, n.d.

Courtesy of RIBA

 

View from Trafalgar Square

Drawing of: Grand Building, Trafalgar Square, London, UK

Zaha Hadid, 1985

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Hommage à Verner Panton

Painting

Zaha Hadid, 1990

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Tektonik, “The Great Utopia”

Painting

Zaha Hadid, 1992

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

‘Blue Slabs’

Painting for: The Peak, Hong Kong, China, 1982–1983

Zaha Hadid, 1983

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

‘I think there should be no end to experimentation’

From: The Art of Handwriting

Instagram post, Hans Ulrich Obrist

March 31st2016

@hansulrichobrist

 

Dame Zaha Hadid receiving the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture

AP Archive, February 4th2016

 

RIBA Royal Gold Medal 2016 Lecture: ‘The Way Forward’

Zaha Hadid, February 4th2016

Courtesy of RIBA

 

Sketch by Zaha Hadid

Drawing of: MAXXI: National Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome, Italy 1998-2009

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Foundation

 

Sketch by Zaha Hadid

Drawing of: MAXXI: National Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome, Italy 1998-2009

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Foundation

 

The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant Garde 1915-1932

Exhibition design

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York

26 September 1992 – 3 January 1993

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Shrine of al-Mahdi, Samarra, Salah ad Din Province, Iraq

Danita Delimont / Getty Images

 

Sketch for Phaeno Science Center
Wolfsburg, Germany 2000-2005

Zaha Hadid, n.d.

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Foundation

 

Young Zaha Hadid with her parents at the Trevi Fountain

Photo as shown in:

The Way Forward

RIBA Gold Medal Lecture

Zaha Hadid, 2016

Courtesy of RIBA and Zaha Hadid Foundation

 

Aqua Table for Established & Sons

Zaha Hadid Architects, 2005

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects / Zaha Hadid Design

 

Aqua Table

Zaha Hadid exhibition at the Design Museum, London, Britain

Tony Kyriacou / Shutterstock, 2007

 

Icone Bag for Louis Vuitton

Zaha Hadid Architects, 2010

Courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects / Zaha Hadid Design

 

Vortexx Chandelier for Sawaya + Moroni

London Design Museum

Universal Images Group / Getty Images, 2007

 

Liquid Glacial Seating for David Gill Gallery

Zaha Hadid Architects

Photo: © Martin Slivka, 2015

Courtesy of David Gill Gallery

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Z Chair for Sawaya & Moroni

Zaha Hadid Architects, 2011

Photo: Enrico Sua Ummarino

Courtesy of Sawaya & Moroni

 

Lamellae Collection for Georg Jensen

Launch Event for the Georg Jensen X Zaha Hadid Jewellery Collection

Victor Hugo/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images, 2016

 

Launch Event for the Georg Jensen X Zaha Hadid Jewellery Collection

Victor Hugo/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images, 2016

 

Nova Shoes for United Nude

Courtesy of United Nude, 2013

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Nova Shoes for United Nude in Stuart Weitzman Flagship Store

Stuart Weitzman Opens Zaha Hadid Designed Boutique In Hong Kong

Jessica Hromas, 2014

Jessica Hromas/Getty Images for Stuart Weitzman

 

Liquid Glacial Table for David Gill Gallery

Photo: © Jacopo Spilimbergo, 2015

Courtesy of David Gill Gallery and Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Liquid Glacial Table for David Gill Gallery

Photo: © Jacopo Spilimbergo, 2015

Courtesy of David Gill Galleryand Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Aria Transparente Chandeliers for Slamp

Exhibition of Zaha Hadid design in Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Alina Zamogilnykh, 2014

Alina Zamogilnykh / Shutterstock

 

Crest, Zaha Hadid Installation, London, United Kingdom

Ed Reeve, 2014

Ed Reeve/View Pictures/UIG via Getty Images

 

Lilas

Zaha Hadid Architects, 2007

Photo: © Luke Hayes

Courtesy of Serpentine Galleries

 

Z-Car 1 for Kenny Schachter / ROVE

Zaha Hadid Architects, 2005-2008

© Zaha Hadid Architects / Zaha Hadid Design / Zaha Hadid Foundation

 

Bridge of Styx across Ching’s Yard

Valerie Bennett, 1988

© Architectural Association

 

Zaha Hadid, Peak Project Party

Unknown Photographer, 1985

© Architectural Association

 

Library Terrace and Ching’s Yard from above

Valerie Bennett, 1988

© Architectural Association

 

Planetary Architecture II Exhibition Opening

Valerie Bennett, 1983

© Architectural Association

 

Zaha Hadid, Peak Project Party

Unknown Photographer, 1985

© Architectural Association

 

Suprematist Composition

Kazimir Malevich, 1916

Private collection

 

Exhibition Design for:

The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant Garde 1915-1932

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York

26 September 1992 – 3 January 1993

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Supremus No. 56

Kazimir Malevich, 1916

State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Architecton Beta

Kazimir Malevich, c.1920

State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Malevich’s Tektonik

Zaha Hadid, 1976-1977

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Supremus No. 58 Dynamic Composition in Yellow and Black

Kazimir Malevich, 1916

State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia / Bridgeman Images

 

Sketch for: MAXXI: National Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome, Italy 1998-2009

Zaha Hadid

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Foundation

 

Corner Building Rotation

Painting for: Hafenstrasse Development, Hamburg, Germany, 1989

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Suprematist Composition, Eight Red Rectangles

Kazimir Malevich, 1915

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

 

Reproduction of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument blueprints

SPUTNIK / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Tatlin Tower and Tektonik Worldwind

Painting for:The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant Garde 1915-1932

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum , New York

26 September 1992 – 3 January 1993

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

‘Blue Slabs’

Painting for: The Peak, Hong Kong, China

Zaha Hadid Architects,1982-1983

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Metropolis

Painting for:Metropolis Exhibition, ICA, London, UK

Zaha Hadid Architects,4thAugust – 1stOctober 1988

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Victoria City Aerial, Mixed use development, Berlin, Germany

Painting

Zaha Hadid Architects, 1988

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Vitra Fire Station 01

Hélène Binet, 1993

© Hélène Binet

 

Vitra Fire Station

Hélène Binet, 1993

© Hélène Binet

 

Vitra Fire Station

Hélène Binet, 1993

© Hélène Binet

 

Vitra Fire Station 06

Hélène Binet, 1993

© Hélène Binet

 

Vitra Fire Station, animation

Weil am Rhein, Germany

Zaha Hadid Architects, 1991-1993

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Vitra Fire Station, painting

Weil am Rhein, Germany

Zaha Hadid Architects, 1991-1993

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Painting: ‘Aerial Site Plan’

Vitra Fire Station

Weil am Rhein, Germany

Zaha Hadid Architects, 1991-1993

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Vitra Fire Station

Hélène Binet, 1993

© Hélène Binet

 

Vitra Fire Station 02

Hélène Binet, 1993

© Hélène Binet

 

Vitra Fire Station 05

Hélène Binet, 1993

© Hélène Binet

 

Sketches for:MAXXI: Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome, Italy 1998-2009

Zaha Hadid Architects

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

MAXXI: Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome, Italy 1998-2009

Photo: © Iwan Baaan

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Interior of MAXXI: Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome, Italy 1998-2009

Photos: © Iwan Baaan

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Sky Soho by Zaha Hadid, Shanghai, China

VCG, 2014

VCG via Getty Images

 

Jockey Club Innovation Tower, Hong Kong, China. Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects, 2014

Doublespace/VIEW/REX/Shutterstock

 

Dominion Tower, Moscow, Russia.

Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects, 2015

Hufton+Crow/VIEW/REX/Shutterstock

 

Galaxy Soho, animation

Zaha Hadid Architects, 2009-2012

© Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Phaeno Science Centre, Wolfsburg, Germany, Animation/Project video

Zaha Hadid Architects, 2000-2005

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Phaeno Science Centre, Wolfsburg, Germany

Photos: © Werner Huthmacher

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Phaeno Science Centre, Wolfsburg, Germany, 2006

View Pictures/UIG via Getty Images

 

Phaeno Science Centre, Wolfsburg, Germany

Photo: © Werner Huthmacher

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

 

Zaha Hadid in her London office, UK, c.1985

Christopher Pillitz / Getty Images

 

Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria

Hélène Binet, 2002

© Hélène Binet

 

Lois & Richard Centre for Contemporary Arts, Cincinnati, USA

Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects, 1997-2003

Photo:  Roland Halbe

Photo courtesy of RIBA

 

Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects, 2010

Hufton+Crow-VIEW / Alamy Stock Photo

 

The Galaxy SOHO project in central Beijing

Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects, 2009 -2012

Pealiku / Shutterstock

 

Port House, Antwerp, Belgium

Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects, 2009 -2016

Rudy Mareel / Shutterstock

 

Capital Hill Residence, Moscow, Russia

Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects, 2006-2018

Courtesy of OKOGroup.com

 

High Speed Train Station Napoli-Afragola, Naples, Italy, animation

Zaha Hadid Architects,2015-2017

© Zaha Hadid Foundation / Zaha Hadid Architects

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