Zaha Hadid

By Hall, James | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Zaha Hadid


Hall, James, Artforum International


INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART

The Baghdad-born, London-based architect Zaha Hadid is one of the most important contemporary exponents of sculptural architecture. This term--which became prevalent at the beginning of the twentieth century--is most often applied to asymmetrical, freestanding, and labyrinthine structures whose plan and layout cannot be reconstructed from a single frontal viewpoint. Rather, the viewer has to walk around and through the building to comprehend it. Sculptural architecture is thus the corollary to sculpture "in the round": It is predicated on movement and activity.

The organizers of Hadid's ICA retrospective--like most commentators on her Work--stress that she has shown "an uncompromising commitment to modernism." Yet these models, drawings, and paintings are a fascinating mixture of ancient, modern, and archetypal. They variously suggest Islamic calligraphy, Futurist force lines, Suprematist layering, ducting for cables and pipes, and landscapes. Perhaps because of this idiosyncratic mix of sources, Hadid has had difficulty getting her designs built, and it is only now, at the age of fifty, that her career is really taking off.

The models, which are made from Perspex or thin sheets of white cardboard that have been shaped and stacked, are beautiful objects in their own right. What distinguishes them from most other modernist and indeed sculptural architecture is their horizontal orientation. Whereas the buildings of, say, Frank Gehry or Daniel Libeskind pay little attention to gravity and can rear up into the sky and plunge down toward the ground almost at random, Hadid's tend to hug the ground.

Her buildings often suggest speed and flight, but it is flight along or near the ground rather than in the sky. …

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