By Marni Prichard Manko| October 27, 2011 |
Z-Chairs by Zaha Hadid
In 1957, when Zaha Hadid was seven years old, she accompanied her parents to a furniture maker’s studio in Beirut, Lebanon. “My father was a forward-looking man with cosmopolitan interests, and in those days, Baghdad, where I was born and where we lived at the time, was undergoing a Modernist influence—the architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Gio Ponti both designed buildings there,” she recounts. “I can still remember going to the studio and seeing our new furniture. The style was angular and modernist, and for my room there was an asymmetric mirror. The mirror thrilled me, and it started my love of asymmetry. When we got home, I reorganized my room. My cousin liked what I had done and asked me to do hers, then my aunt asked me to design her bedroom, and so it started.”
Yes, that one moment begat the storied career of Hadid, one of the most—if not the most—prominent and critically acclaimed female architectural designers to ever live. She has been hailed as a visionary, as a fantastical dreamer, as an architect whose vision and imagination are as powerful as her flamboyancy. She has been credited for changing the face of contemporary architecture and design through her exploration of fluid geometries and her use of cutting-edge techniques and technology. She has been criticized as a “paper architect,” a designer who envisions theatrical, out-of-this-world ideas only to find them decidedly unbuildable. She has even been referred to as a diva for her single-minded determination and her inability to compromise. But above all, Hadid is a pioneer, a woman who has broken boundaries, both as a female and as an architect. This is a woman who, at the opening of her first project in the US, at the acclaimed Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, had her staff wear T-shirts that read, WOULD THEY CALL ME A DIVA IF I WERE A GUY? Enough said.
Hadid’s Chanel “mobile art” in Paris
Although Hadid is best known for grand-scale architecture, her oeuvre covers other elements of design. And from September 17 through late March 2012, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is showing Zaha Hadid: Form in Motion, an exhibition that she herself developed to showcase her avant-garde furnishings, accessories, and even tabletop utensils. This exhibition will feature more than 40 objects that she personally deemed emblematic of her design. Some highlights include a decidedly futuristic sterling silver coffee and tea set for Sawaya & Moroni, reptilian-like shoes created for Lacoste, a straight-from-thefuture carbon fiber three-wheeled aerodynamic concept car, a sleek bevy of Swarovski crystalencrusted necklaces and bracelets, and sinuously sculptural furniture crafted from steel, aluminum, and polyurethane.
“By warping, pulling, and pushing the boundaries of the gallery spaces, we develop spatial representations that redefine the notion of physical space to create interior landscapes informed by the work exhibited,” says Hadid. “I think it will be very exciting to continue this dialogue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which already has a well-established history and excellent reputation for exhibitions of the highest quality.”
After growing up in Baghdad (in one of the city’s first Bauhaus-inspired houses, of course), Hadid bounced between schools in Switzerland and Lebanon before finally settling in London in the mid-’70s, where she now sits at the helm of her own architectural firm. She and her firm have since created some of the world’s most elaborate structures, including the BMW Central Building in Leipzig, Germany, the Guangzhou Opera House in China, and the Museum of XXI Century Arts (also known as MAXXI) in Rome. Currently, Hadid is in the process of finishing London’s controversial Aquatics Centre, a majestic, wave-inspired structure built for the 2012 Summer Olympics. She even designed a mobile art pavilion for Chanel in Paris, for artists inspired by the brand’s iconic quilted handbag.
Hadid has received numerous awards for her work, though none as impressive as the 2004 Pritzker Architecture Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture. Making it even more meaningful was that Hadid was the first woman in history to ever receive the coveted accolade. “Winning the Pritzker Prize represented the full recognition of what started 20 years ago as my projections of a possible future architect. I think it’s important to keep focused to achieve in any profession—and as a woman, you need the confidence that you can carry on and take new steps every time,” she says of the accomplishment. “You now see more established, respected female architects all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes the difficulties are incomprehensible. But in the past 15 years, there has been tremendous change, and now it is seen as normal to have women in this profession.”
In conjunction with the exhibit here in Philadelphia, Hadid will be honored in November with the Collab Design Excellence Award, given annually by a group of industry professionals supporting the modern and contemporary design collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Past winners of the award include Florence Knoll Bassett, Denise Scott Brown, Alberto Alessi, Frank O. Gehry, and Philippe Starck. When asked about this honor, Hadid bestowed upon it a broader meaning. “Of course it is an honor, but what I find most exciting is that people outside the industry now know a great deal about architects and architecture,” she says. “Twenty-five years ago, they did not. It is quite a change in such a relatively short period, and I am pleased to have been part of this.” Perelman Building at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fairmount and Pennsylvania Avenues, 215-763-8100; philamuseum.org