The Dame of Design: The Lasting Influence Of Zaha Hadid

Once named by London’s The Guardian as the ‘Queen of the Curve’, Dame Zaha Hadid’s architectural designs are so widely renowned that, at the time of her death in 2016, her firm issued a statement that Hadid was “widely regarded to be the greatest female architect in the world today.”

From the breathtaking luminescence of the Guangzhou Opera House to the dynamic, fluid form of the London Aquatics Centre, the iconic works of the late British-Iraqi architect are scattered throughout the world, serving as architectural landmarks and destinations in their own right. With a style famously hard to categorize, Hadid’s designs have often been shuffled between various ‘isms’ by critics and scholars; words like deconstructivism, parametricism, and abstractionism have all been volleyed around in critical discourse on her work. Hadid blurred the lines, honing an aesthetic that was difficult to pin down because it was always so uniquely her own.

Hadid’s career may have been tragically shortened by her sudden death, but her life’s work was widely acknowledged and filled with honours and accolades. In feminist terms, she broke the glass ceiling of her field; in 2004, she was the first woman to ever receive the Pritzker Prize in Architecture, and was later the first (and only) woman to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. So extensive was her contribution to the field that in 2012, Hadid was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth for services in architecture.

March 31st marks the two-year anniversary of Hadid’s passing, and we’re honouring her life and career by taking a look back at some of her most iconic works, along with the lasting influence she’s had on culture and the architectural field.

Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg, Germany (2000–2005)

Hadid won an international design competition (together with structural engineers Adams Kara Taylor) for the Phaeno Science Center in 2000. The structure sits on a plot of public land developed by city officials in Wolfsburg and took five years to complete. According to Hadid’s still-active firm (now led by Patrick Schumacher, Principal and Partner), the building is described variously as ‘an architectural adventure playground’ and ‘the magic box’, continuing Hadid’s vision of creating fluid spaces in complex and dynamic forms. The structure has been featured in such films as The International (doubling as the headquarters of an Italian weapons company) and the German film Helden – Wenn dein Land dich braucht, in which it served as a large hadron collider. The Financialist has named the Phaeno one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Extension of Ordrupgaard Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark (2001–2005)

Located north of Copenhagen, the Ordrupgaard was originally built between 1916 and 1918 and was designed by architect Gotfred Tvede for Wilhelm and Henry Hansen. Built in the neo-classical style in the form of a three-winged, trellised country mansion, it houses a considerable collection of French and Danish art. The extension was designed, according to the firm, to reimagine the relationship between the buildings and the surrounding gardens, turning one’s interaction with both into a fluid, congruent experience. With the extension’s edge gently protruding over the sloping landscape, the structure almost gives the appearance of an otherworldly vehicle about to tip over land’s edge and embark on a mysterious journey.

Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, Spain (2005–2008) 

Constructed for the Expo 2008, the Bridge Pavilion is a two-hundred-and-eighty-metre covered bridge that spans the River Ebro. Designed as both a pedestrian footbridge and exhibition pavilion, it was built as an interpretation of the Expo’s theme, ‘Water and Sustainable Development’. The shape mimics that of a gladiola, a jagged flower sometimes referred to as the ‘sword lily’. The structure’s exterior is composed of twenty-nine thousand fibre-C triangles in alternating shades of grey. Its dramatic, twisting presence over the river has made this a Spanish landmark.

Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China (2003–2010)

In 2016, this building made our list of the five most beautiful contemporary theatres around the world, and it’s a choice we stand by two years later. Hadid won an international architectural competition for the project in 2002, winning with her striking ‘double pebble’ design. The structure was built to provide riverside access to a dock area, merging the opera house’s artistic offerings with the practical needs of its urban environment. This freestanding structure took five years to complete, but the wait was worth it; upon its grand opening, Hadid’s work was highly praised by critics. The Guardian described the concrete and granite auditorium as “at once highly theatrical and insistently subtle.” Today the theatre is the biggest performing arts centre in southern China.

Galaxy SOHO in Beijing, China (2008–2012)

This structure almost seems to have been built with the help of a time machine, rising up from the Beijing skyline like the quintessence of some futuristic civilization. The building houses offices and commercial spaces in the heart of Beijing, with each of its four ovoid structures connected by passageways; essentially, Hadid imagined “four continuous, flowing volumes” that would “coalesce to create an internal world of continuous open spaces.” In developing a vision for this structure, Hadid looked to the design of the classical Chinese courtyard, reimagining this in the commercial world to create an immersive experience in the city’s downtown core.

Port Authority Building (Havenhuis) in Antwerp, Belgium (2016)

Once a derelict fire station, Antwerp’s Port Authority is the only government building that Hadid designed in her lifetime. Built from steel, glass, and white concrete, the structure echoes the silhouette of a ship, suspended almost thirteen hundred metres above ground. The building also subtly mimics the shape of a diamond, honouring Antwerp’s position as a major market in the European diamond trade.

It was, of course, not an intentional element of the design, but given that the project was completed in the year of Hadid’s death (and is one of her last works), it seems fitting that this structure appears to float dramatically in the air, prepared to ferry Hadid’s enigmatic soul into the next life.