Dame Zaha Hadid was an Iraqi-British architect and was widely regarded as “the greatest female architect in contemporary architecture”. In 2004 she was the first woman to be given the Pritzker Architecture prize, an award that honors architects who demonstrate vision, talent and consistent contributions to the environment. She also won the UK's top architecture award, the Stirling Prize, once in 2010 and then again in 2011.
While Hadid had a successful practice for decades, it took the architect years to turn her drawings into physical forms with many disregarding her designs as pure fantasy. With perseverance though, she soon became known by many as the “queen of the curve”, never compromising on her ideas. Though Hadid didn’t subscribe to one school of thought when it came to her designs, many have attributed her style of architecture to movements including Deconstructivism, Parametricism and Abstraction. It's clear the architect had a tendency to play with the geometry of buildings, having once said about her projects: “The idea is not to have any 90-degree angles”.
Hadid died in 2016 from a heart attack at 65, and she left behind her practice, Zaha Hadid Architects, as well as a legacy of buildings that add intrigue, awe and wonder to the skylines of cities all over the world. Here we go on a virtual tour to discover some of Hadid’s best-known works and the buildings that shaped her career.
1. Vitra Fire Station, Weil-am-Rhein, Germany
Starting her architectural career in the 1970s, it wasn’t until 1994 that Hadid’s drawings were realized in physical form and she completed her first project for Vitra, the renowned Swiss furniture company. The Vitra Fire Station in Weil-am-Rhein was created after a major fire occurred on the Vitra Campus in 1981. Within the building there is space for fire engines, showers and changing rooms as well as a conference room and kitchenette.
The sculpture-like building was cast in concrete on site. Positioned alongside the angular features of neighboring production facilities, it has the effect of a frozen explosion. The lack of color and right angles provides an unusual spatial experiences and demonstrates Hadid’s ability to challenge the viewer. Vitra’s fire brigade was disbanded a fews after being created after realizing that the company fire brigade would only be able to combat a fire in its initial stages and not replace the public fire services. The building remains in use though for exhibitions and conferences.
2. Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria
The Bergisel ski jump in Innsbruck, Austria contains a ski ramp and sports facilities, as well as a tower-top cafe with viewing terrace. Started in 1999 and completed in 2002, the structure is distinctive in its part-tower, part-bridge form, and the way it emulates the topography of the slopes. At 50m tall and 90m long, the sleek finish gives the natural ski jump impact and turns it into a place worth visiting.
3. Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg, Germany
The Phaeno Science Center has been described as an “architectural adventure playground” and visualizes Hadid’s philosophy of creating “complex, dynamic and fluid spaces”. Built on concrete cones that allow visitors to pass through underneath without interfering with the workings of the building, the building contains artificial hills and valleys, a crater-like museum floor and funnels that lead to naturally lit spaces.
4. Bridge Pavilion, Zaragoza, Spain
The Bridge Pavilion was created as part of the 2008 Expo in Zaragoza as one of the main landmarks. The 280-meter long bridge stretches across the river Ebro, and is made out of fibre-glass reinforced concrete, with the outer skin of the structure covered with 29,000 fibre glass triangles in different shades of gray. Inspired by gladioli, the half pedestrian walkway, half exhibition area, the enclosed structure was built to link the La Almozara neighborhood to the main entrance of the Expo.
5. Guangzhou Opera House, China
Opened in 2010, Hadid’s design for the Guangzhou Opera House was inspired by the image of “pebbles in a stream, smoothed by erosion”. It is a freestanding concrete auditorium set within an exposed granite and glass-clad steel frame, which took over 5 years to build. Designed to blend in with its riverside setting, the folded glass structure lets light flood in and aimed to create a new dialogue with the surrounding architecture. Although after a year, the idea of erosion was taken a little too literal as cladding panels already started to fall off.
6. Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Scotland
Glasgow’s Riverside Museum is currently home to the city’s Transport Museum. Built between 2004-2011, Hadid described the 10,000-square meter building as “a shed in the form of a tunnel, open at the extreme ends, one end toward the city and the other toward the Clyde”. Like many of her designs, the full impact can only be perceived when viewed from above.
The roof is a series of peaks and angles with the building’s facade covered in zinc plates, a nod to the location which is on an old shipyard site. While the museum was well received overall, the interior galleries caused some controversy as vintage cars were mounted on the walls, and while this created more ground space, were placed too high for visitors to peek inside of.
7. London Aquatics Centre, London, United Kingdom
Inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion, the London Aquatics Centre was completed in 2012 as part of the Olympic Park. The building contains two 50-meter swimming pools with floors that can be moved to change the depth and a 25-meter diving pool. Hadid’s design sees the undulating roof sweep over the building life a wave echoing the purpose of the building. Here you can see the giant open side windows that allow light to flood the structure.
8. Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan
After Hadid’s firm won a competition to work on the building in 2007, the Heydar Aliyev Center was completed in 2012. A building complex in Baku, Azerbaijan, the center is named after Heydar Aliyev, the first secretary of Soviet Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982 and president of Azerbaijan Republic from 1993 to 2003.
The design of the building aimed to break away from the rigid Soviet architecture prevalent in Baku and instead expressed the optimism of a nation that looks to the future. The white structure looks like sheets of softly curved paper and seeks to create a fluid relationship between the surrounding plaza and its interior.
9. Galaxy Soho, Beijing, China
Completed in 2012, Galaxy Soho is an office, retail and entertainment complex devoid of corners and looks like it's from a city of the future. Comprising of four domed structures linked by a mixture of bridges and platforms, the ever-flowing appearance creates an “internal world of continuous open spaces”. Though futuristic in aesthetic, the building’s design is a reinvention of classical Chinese courtyards. Though largely well-received, initially the structure was criticized by local heritage groups for flattening an area of historic hutongs, groups of alleyways associated with the streets of Beijing.
10. Port Authority, Antwerp, Belgium
The Port Authority building in Antwerp was Hadid’s only government building. The Port House as it's known brings together 500 staff that previously worked in separate buildings around the city. There’s humor within this design with the ship-like glass and steel structure set on a concrete perch being placed on top of a derelict fire station building from 1922. The contrast created is striking and the jewel glass structure also alludes to Antwerp’s role as the major market of diamonds in Europe.
The project was completed in 2016, only months after the architect’s death. To honor the life and work of Hadid, the square in front of the building was renamed Zaha Hadidplein (Zaha Hadidsquare).