Posted: Thursday, March 30th, 2017
For the last few months I've been working with Laura Mark and The Architects' Journal to produce a half hour documentary on Zaha Hadid. We visited four of her key works to try and tell the story of her architectural life, from her time at The AA, to her first permanent built project at Vitra, her Stirling Prize winning MAXXI, being catapulted into the public eye with the London Olympic Aquatic Centre and finally, one of her last projects, the Winton Mathematics Gallery at the Science Museum.
In the film, we had the privilege of interviewing some incredible people such as Eva Jiricna, Christine Murray, Hanif Kara, Patrik Schumacher, Ricky Burdett, Giovanna Melandri and Nigel Coates.
You can with the finish film on The AJ's Youtube channel, HERE (I'd recommend clicking 1080p on the settings cog to get the best quality).
As soon as we started making the film, we discovered that everyone has an opinion on Zaha; not just on her work but on her as a person. There was a huge amount of mythology surrounding her, some of it turned out to be true and some of it, not so much. We stared off filming some of her incredible early drawings and paintings at an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. What struck us was the leap in imagination needed to look at the paintings of say, The Peak in Hong Kong, and see the mental and creative path she must have taken from them to what should become a completed physical building.
Often with great architecture I can trace the thought process from blank sheet of paper, through all the influences like context, architectural style, purpose and so on, to the finished building. Even if I couldn't do it myself (which is usually the case!), I can see a lineage. With Zaha's paintings and her finished buildings, I couldn't see that. Somewhere in the middle there was a leap of genius that couldn't be followed.
The relationship between her paintings and a finished project was evident at our visit to the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Standing inside the building felt visceral. It felt like being inside one of her paintings as all the planes of the structure seemed to rush toward and away from us.
A lot of the talk about the early work of Zaha Hadid Architects surrounds the difficulty she and her collaborators had in persuading clients to build out her drawings and paintings. Of relating and idea and it's chosen method of presentation to a traditional risk-averse industry. MAXXI in Rome was ZHA's first Stirling Prize winner.
Whereas at Vitra it felt like being in one of Zaha's early angular paintings, at MAXXI we could see that calligraphy like pen-stroke creating all those meandering curves. The building marks a turning point in the practice, to a more computational method that continues to this day.
By the time ZHA was appointed to design the Aquatic Centre for the London 2012 Olympics, Zaha was undoubtedly a star in the architecture world. This building made her a star in the public eye. It was one of the buildings used to sell the Olympics to the committee who would choose London as the host city, and one of the most recognisable elements of that Summer.
Zaha Hadid died one year ago today. On her death her practice had over 60 projects on the go. We decided to finish our film at the new Mathematics Gallery at The Science Museum. Here, we hear all our interviewees, Eva Jiricna, Christine Murray, Hanif Kara, Patrik Schumacher, Ricky Burdett and Nigel Coates, discuss the legacy of invention and experimentation that Zaha left behind. We also get an idea of the warmth, humour and loyalty she had toward her group of friends. One of the most repeated things that people who did not know her well would tell Laura and I was that Zaha was 'difficult' and a 'diva', which is ridiculous. No doubt she was driven and single minded, powerful and determined, but so are most of the world's great architects. The only difference seems to be that Zaha was a women, and therefore was branded as 'difficult'.
I never met Zaha. I'd visited a handful of buildings by ZHA and listened to lots of stories about her, some true and some not, but what I can say after completing this film is that her legacy runs deep and will last for decades if not centuries, both as an architect and an artist. People may debate her architecture, and it may not be to everyone's taste, but you can't deny the genius at work.