Zaha Hadid

Sanford Kwinter’s excellent essay collection Far from Equilibrium contains several short reflections on the work of contemporary architects he finds compelling. After Zaha Hadid’s death, I revisited Kwinter’s piece on her, and decided it was worth reposting in full here:


  Hadid’s Zitra Fire Station (source

During the 1970s, when it had become an obligatory affectation of macho bravura in architecture to manipulate the ruler and straightedge with something akin to a virtuoso performance—note Libeskind, Tschumi, Eisenman and others—Zaha Hadid eschewed the posturing of these anti-classicizing classicists by inventing a new kind of line entirely. The new line was at once the centrifugal expression of a pulse of energy fleeing from a moving point—as in a universe not of grids but of vortexes—but also the reinvention of the line in relation to a new type of eye. On the one hand, Hadid’s softly arcing lines that compress such enormous energy into their subtly inflected bends are generated by the hand and body itself, by the inescapable rotational dynamics of the hips, shoulder, elbow, and wrist as they coordinate to extend the pen through space yet also leave a powerful trace of their orbital roots. Far from seeking to hide these organic geometrical foundations, Hadid extended and exaggerated their seductive and radical qualities, to the infinite perplexity and fascination of her self-proclaimed avant-gardist colleagues. Those most threatened by the unexpected (and untimely) affirmation, within Modernism, of the body and its lines of flight, dismissed this type of work as “paper architecture.” But the question of the eye was a critical weak point of the modern and Modernist tradition, and this is where Hadid’s ace resided. Modern space was born of a rational connection to optics, the moment when Brunelleschi and others formalized the modern perspectival approach to drawing based on a vanishing point and the straight lines that emanated from it. But the universe was not like this at all and every Renaissance theorist knew it. The cosmos was rather a play of orbits and attractions, bends and perpetual influences, a continuum of ongoing angular interaction and modification. What’s more, the eye itself was dual and mobile, its imaging surface spherical, and the ground to which it is anchored was defined by a horizon and an azimuth, both of which bend and bend visibly and meaningfully. It was in many ways Zaha Hadid who restored this tension and reality to the world of space-making.

Hadid’s vertiginous work both transposes and displaces the very horizon that serves as our orientation point in the world. Her curves arc ever-so-slowly as they careen across the canvas or page as if to mock the straight lines that they partly portray, but also to free our intuition from the many regimens of conventional orthogonality to which our modernity has subjected us. Until recently, perhaps the last seven or eight years, her lines never ventured to risk more than a single inflection; today, one finds two- and even three-part arabesques as the work becomes ever more plastic, and the development of the semi-free “line” becomes ever more extended into developing the possibilities of sheets and surfaces and even three- and four-dimensional flows of space and material.


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