Zaha Hadid won the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s most prestigious award, in 2004. She was in her mid-fifties at the time—practically a schoolgirl by the standards of her profession—and had completed only four buildings. Still, Pritzker’s committee already suspected that they saw possibilities in the built environment, and perhaps entire dimensions, that others did not. Indeed, she would spend the remaining dozen years proving them right, as evidenced by the legacy of impressive buildings she left behind around the world, from the Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati and the BMW Central Building in Leipzig to the London Aquatics Center and Guangzhou. Opera house.
I myself live in Seoul and have the opportunity to occasionally pass by Hadid’s building: Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which opened in 2013. Essentially a collection of shops and exhibition spaces, it has become best known as a quasi-public gathering place full of Instagram-worthy backdrops.
In its size, shape and aesthetics, the DDP stands out from its urban context, looking like a spaceship sent by an advanced alien civilization to colonize the old downtown garment district. In this respect, it is representative of Hadid’s work, which realizes the kind of irregular, relentlessly curvilinear forms virtually unknown in architecture before her rise to the highest level of fame.
“In her buildings, the walls are never completely vertical, the floors rarely stay flat for long, and the two sides don’t meet at ninety-degree angles, but rather in the kind of curves you’d find in skateboard parks,” writes The A New YorkerJohn Seabrook, profiling Hadid in 2009. “There is no single Hadid style, although a watermark can be discovered in the futuristic smoothness of her buildings. Some themes run through her use of materials (glass, steel, concrete), her lines (corridors often follow flowing arabesques, while roof struts form sharp Z-shaped angles), her structures (she favors column-free spaces), and her sculptural interiors and asymmetrical facades. “
Such bold patterns—of buildings as well as furniture, jewelry, and other consumer items—have earned Hadid the informal title of “Queen of the Curve.” You can learn more about her reign and her lasting influence in these two video essays, one by Curious Muse and the other by The B1M. Like all the most innovative architects, Hadid had visions that could only be realized and at the same time influenced by the technology of her time. “The idea is not to have any 90-degree angles,” she once said, and the development of advanced computer-aided design tools in the 1990s made that idea a reality. In pushing this idea to its very limit, she took the most concrete of all art forms and made it improbably abstract.
Watch more than 50 documentaries about famous architects and buildings: Bauhaus, Le Corbusier, Hadid and many more
The ABC of Architects: An Animated Flipbook of Famous Architects and Their Most Famous Buildings
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastson cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books about cities, book The Stateless City: A Walking Tour of 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.