Zaha Hadid is among the most famous architects working today. A designer of buildings and objects, a celebrity and a diva, architect and artist, Hadid is a polarizing figure, to say nothing of her rarefied position as a woman among many, many men.
Cinematographer is a new title the expanded and updated volume The Complete Zaha Hadid bestows on Hadid. In his introduction to the book, architecture critic Aaron Betsky writes: “She sees like a camera. She perceives the city in slow motion, in pans, swoops and close-ups, in jump-cuts and narrative rhythms.” Then more dramatically, perhaps making her a cinematographer who relies heavily on the special effects department, “She builds the explosion of a tenth of a second.”
Not many would confuse the work of Zaha Hadid with whatever the Hollywood auteurs choose to blow up. But Betsky is right in drawing the comparison. Flip through the hundreds of buildings, plans, and paintings in the monograph, and you quickly get an idea for the architect’s blockbuster-like touch.
From her earliest projects (including speculative urban, topography-warping structures) to her latest works vividly realized (see the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Azerbaijan), Hadid has always been obsessed with speed. Buildings zoom by with great velocity, their facade markings suggesting lines of movement. Her structures are frequently angular and sometimes poised on legs that appear topsy-turvy. They’re also serpentine, slippery things that skillfully navigate small tracts of city as they wend this way and that.
Of course, a lot of it has to do with photography, and there’s plenty of stimulating imagery in the book, published by Thames & Hudson. Hadid, along with her frequent partner Patrik Schumacher and, by extension, Zaha Hadid Architects, seems to craft her buildings with these cinematic moments in mind. She wants them to move, but because they can’t, she frames them in dynamic poses, suggesting a velocity that isn’t often associated with architecture.
The effect is undeniably appealing, even if the more recent, parametrically charged efforts achieve the sensation all too easily, giving more the impression of showing off than picking up speed. Her earlier, more brooding buildings, like the Vitra Fire Station (1994) and Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati (2003), reinterpret Constructivist and Suprematist forms with great success. The Phaeno Science Center (2005) in Wolfsburg, Germany, makes excellent use of concrete; it looks beamed in from another planet, where a martian kind of Brutalism reigns supreme.
Of the architect’s latest structures, the most satisfying are the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton, which was awarded the Stirling Prize in 2011, and Beijing’s Galaxy Soho, the building most famous for spawning a Chinese copy and an intense, if short-lived, debate on counterfeiting architecture.
Head on up to the slide show for our essential Zaha Hadid projects. Buy The Complete Zaha Hadid here for $28.