With the untimely passing of such an influential figure in global Architecture, it feels appropriate this week to write about Hadid’s contribution to the wider design world. Whilst Architecture is undoubtedly her most revered legacy, her unique design portfolio is not restricted to buildings alone.
Let’s start at the beginning. Having previously been dismissed as too dynamic and too original with her unique futuristic style, Zaha Hadid’s first major built project was the fire station on the Vitra Campus. Vitra owner Rolf Fehlbaum took a leap of faith and commissioned Hadid to design the facility following a disastrous fire at the factory in 1981. The result was way more ‘Pow!’ than ‘Public Service’ (undoubtedly Fehlbaum’s intention) and the building served as Hadid’s career launchpad following its’ completion in 1993.
“There are 360 degrees, so why stick to one?“
It’s a great building to photograph, but many visitors become a little wobbly-legged on entering, as their brains desperately try to make sense of the optical illusions contained within. Angles and perspectives are set ever so slightly ‘out of sorts’, resulting in dizzy spells for unsuspecting design enthusiasts. Zaha’s magic is at work.
Hadid returned to Vitra to design the Mesa table in 2007. Comparing it to “the way water lilies sit on a pond, flat mats supported by an unseen, complex and organic structure underneath.” Four ‘place mats’ sit snugly together but are attracted by an ‘invisible gravitational force’. Plastic, elastic, fantastic.
The first time I saw a Zaha Hadid designed piece of furniture in the flesh was at an Established & Sons event in London back in 2005. Her Aqua table was like nothing I had seen before. Throughout the course of the evening, my colleagues and I were repeatedly drawn to this sculptural piece of art. I remember arguing over what chair you would partner with it. We could never agree on a worthy winner.
You can draw similarities with Zaha’s Serac Bench, designed for Lab23. Part bench, part great white whale, there’s clearly a common design language. The concept behind the bench was inspired by ‘a block of ice formed by intersecting crevasses in a glacier’. All Zaha Hadid’s furniture designs play with the idea of form and function; art with a purpose. In the case of the Serac bench, the sculptured glacial fin acts as a backrest.
“Few Architects manage to cross the threshold into the furniture hall of fame…”
Many Architects have turned their attention to furniture design during their careers. Few however make the leap into the furniture hall of fame to rub shoulders with Jacobsen, Saarinen, Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe. These legendary figures created both architecture and furniture legacies that are unmistakably theirs. Although she didn’t design the ‘classic’ iconic lounger or dining chair, Hadid will certainly be recognised as not just one of the great Architects, but one of the great Designers of the 21st Century.
“The Zaha Effect”
Hadid’s inimitable style transcended her buildings, furniture, objects, lighting, jewellery and fashion. Each Zaha design was a newly penned poem, using a literary language of her own creation. The inclusion of a Zaha Hadid piece of furniture in an interior scheme sets the tone. Or as others have said, gives a space the ‘Zaha effect’. The recent launch of her Georg Jensen jewellery collection is an extension of just that. And in true Zaha style, it was presented to the public within an interior setting she designed herself.
Queen of the curve
Too often the experience of a building’s interior is disconnected from the architectural exterior: You leave the wow factor at the door as you cross the lobby. Zaha Hadid provided the complete experience: she created her own universe. And within this universe are complex, wavy, organic natural forms, mimicking the growth and evolution of plants and living things. It was this approach that earned Zaha the nickname; ‘Queen of the Curve’.
“Would they call me a Diva if I were a guy?”
Hadid was uncompromising and at times controversial. Considered fearsome by many and often misunderstood. She was a strong voice for gender equality in a male dominated profession, a RIBA Gold Medal winner, twice Stirling Prize winner and a Pritzker prize winner. Dame Zaha Hadid smashed boundaries. And as with all trailblazers, there are those who find fault with her design style, citing it as offensive or inappropriate. I’m sure that gave her a great deal of satisfaction.
Aside from the futuristic style itself, I appreciate the continuity she managed to develop: Her furniture designs are buildings. Her Jewellery designs are furniture. Her building designs are objects. Her fashion designs are art. Her entire portfolio is an evolving concept. Ask yourself – who else can do that?
And now for the Global Architecture and Design community begins a period of mourning – alongside a period of suspense. A large number of Hadid’s current and unreleased projects are currently in progress. Some will not be realised for a number of years. The true value of her works will take time to settle and be fully digested, but it is already very clear that the world has lost a hugely talented and uncompromising visionary whose life’s work will be studied for decades to come. My condolences go to her family, friends, students and colleagues. Zaha, you will be missed.