Zaha Hadid's style and design philosophy

Many of us recognise famous buildings and eye-catching architecture when we pass it, but would you know the creator responsible for these designs? Often they remain little known. Here we explore the history and style of one of the great minds behind luxury architecture – Zaha Hadid.

Hamburg - Zaha Hadid's style: what is it about this architect's design language that is so polarising?

Zaha Hadid's early biography

Anyone who has passed the London Olympic Aquatic Centre would recognise the stamp of Zaha Hadid’s style. The Iraqi-born British architect is known for being a rare woman on a male-dominated podium. Her accolades included a Royal Gold Medal for architecture – the first one to be awarded to a woman in its 167-year history – and two Stirling Prizes, to name just a couple.

Zaha Hadid’s style was born early in her career, as she planned a famous design for The Peak, in Hong Kong. It was to be a deconstructed, horizontal skyscraper, turning heads in the architecture world. Unfortunately the concept – and most of her radical '80s and early '90s designs – including the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin and the Düsseldorf Art and Media Centre, were never brought to life. They were considered too avant-garde to be taken beyond sketches, and she started to gain a reputation as a "paper architect".

Zaha Hadid’s later work

Her public buildings are often described as dynamic, as if they're a freeze-frame of an action shot. Zaha Hadid's style embraces striking lines, sometimes bold with expressive curves; other times brutalist in essence. Her first commissioned work was the Vitra Fire Station in 1994, followed shortly by the geometric shape of the Contemporary Arts Centre in Cincinnati and the alien-esque concrete structure of the Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg, Germany. More recent productions include the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton, which won her the 2011 Stirling Prize, and the vividly expressive Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Her firm, established in 2006, has a wide portfolio beyond the walls of architecture including accessories, jewellery, interiors, exhibition and set design. She’s also created limited-edition furniture fit for a truly luxury lifestyle, like the well-loved Le-a Table, born of a collaboration between Zaha Hadid Design and Leblon Delienne. The sculptural fibreglass coffee table was inspired by Princess Leia's iconic hairstyle in the Star Wars film franchise.

Zaha Hadid’s design philosophy

Hadid stated that her architectural designs were not intended as a personal stamp on the world, or an act of self-indulgence. Rather, addressing 21st-century challenges and opportunities is the cornerstone to Zaha Hadid’s style and creations.

Architecture, she claimed, "must contribute to society's progress and ultimately to our individual and collective wellbeing." The buildings born of her vision and the collective genius of her firm Zaha Hadid Architects, may sometimes seem fantastical, triumphant and even a bit loud, but they all stem from architecture’s base function – to facilitate and even perform everyday life.

This successful architect is a polarising figure, with outspoken suggestions to pedestrianise vast swathes of London, a plan which aims to alleviate problems such as pollution and road safety. Plans by Zaha Hadid Architects for two soaring towers in Vauxhall have also had their fair share of opposition, as well as support.

Whether it's for her more controversial designs, her unrealised dreams or her masterpieces which have come to fruition, Zaha Hadid’s style is rightly globally recognised, and she has obtained legendary status since her death in March 2016. In the following, we will introduce you in more detail to some of her best-known creations.

Hamburg - Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid in Baku.

Zaha Hadid in London: the London Aquatics Centre

Many of you might still remember the said London Aquatics Centre as the venue of the 2012 Summer Olympics and the Paralympics in that same year. If you haven’t set your eyes on the water sports arena since, the drastic architectural changes it has undergone may come as a surprise. After the games in London ended, the temporary grandstands in the iconic side wings of the arena were disassembled. They had initially been erected to accommodate a total of 17,500 Olympic spectators. Without the characteristic wings, the remaining grandstands have a seating capacity of barely 2,800 spectators. Nevertheless, due to its flowing lines and choice of materials, the London Aquatics Centre can still clearly be recognised as a work by Zaha Hadid.

In the footsteps of Zaha Hadid in Hamburg

Once again, Zaha Hadid remained true to her mantra “form follows function” in her work in the hometown of Engel & Völkers in Hamburg. The meandering harbour promenade along the Elbe with its many stairs and seating areas serves both as a rest area and as flood defence. The completion of the promenade with its distinctive steps winding along the harbour is planned for 2019. Much of the area is already accessible, offering both locals and tourists the perfect opportunity for a leisurely stroll. What is especially impressive is the broad view across the world-famous port of Hamburg that the openly designed promenade offers.

Zaha Hadid’s The Opus in Dubai

The Opus in Dubai represents Zaha Hadids’s last great work. Located in the luxurious Burj Khalifa district, this building accommodates, among others, a hotel, several restaurants, office space as well as numerous luxury residences. The building, which was inaugurated posthumously, is another testimony of the architect’s unique form language. The Opus is divided into two glass towers with the same curving forms that characterise all her works. The two parts of the building are joined together by a bridge of steel and glass. In 2017, this excellence in design and creative diligence was awarded the Middle East Architect Award in the category Leisure & Hospitality Project of the Year 2017.

​Whether in Dubai, London or Hamburg: with her distinctive sweeping contours, Zaha Hadid has left a lasting impact on the architectural world. And although no new buildings by the architect will see the light of day, it is comforting to know that her work will be preserved for future generations. In this way, the master architect will surely posthumously inspire many young architects to follow in her footsteps.

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