Zaha Hadid, the architect who was a sculptor at heart, died last week, and because this column faulted her work so frequently, she probably wouldn’t like another word written about her in this space. Even so, one thing about her that never deserved a discouraging word was her audacity, her daring.
Nicknamed “Queen of the Curve,” she designed as if there were no such thing as 90-degree angles or straight lines – the very pillars of architecture since the ancient Greeks. The lines of Hadad’s structures swoop and sweep with so much spunk, you feel like swooning. Granted her form didn’t always follow function, but they were testaments to her always going for broke.
“I don’t design nice buildings,” she famously said. “I like architecture to have some raw, vital, earthy quality.” Referring to what she calls “the enigmatic qualities” of her building, she also said things like this: “I believe we can create buildings that evoke original experiences, inspire people and make them excited about new ideas.” You had me at “raw, vital, earthy quality,” Zaha.
Last year, this column had occasion to defend her, and because of all the brickbats it hurled at her buildings from here, that defense bears repeating. Spurring the defense was a diatribe in Britain’s The Spectator by Stephen Bayley, founder of the Design Museum in London, who called Hadid’s buildings “zoomorphic blobs.” A critic’s prerogative covers a multitude of sins. But Bayley also went beyond his expertise and called her out for “aggressive behavior.” He even threw in Hadid’s choice of clothes and the way she wore them, as in “her global strut in billowing drapery by Prada or Issey Miyake.”
Bayley’s harangue against Hadid’s ways and wardrobe not only crossed a line but also suggested a bias against women. Referring to a time Hadid walked out of a difficult interview at the BBC, Bayley wrote, “She may also have, damagingly, confirmed prejudices about what happens when a woman is scorned.”
Yet everything that Bayley objected to about Hadid’s attitude could be said about Frank Lloyd Wright. Instead, Bayley sounded downright impressed by Wright’s egoism in a column for The Spectator on Dec. 12, 2013: “Even as a child, Wright did not want to draw Nature. He wanted to be Nature.”
Perhaps that’s why nature boy thought he was above building codes, saying, “A code is a series of rules and regulations made to be foolproof but succeeds only in being rules and regulations for fools…Early in life, I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.” Really, Frank? Not even when so many of your buildings leak like colanders?
And talk about appearance. In the many photographs of Wright through his 91 years he appears to assume a pose of Olympian detachment. Architecture critic Lewis Mumford seem to acknowledge this when he wrote, “He lived from first to last like a god, one who acts but is not acted upon.”
Then there’s master builder Frank Gehry’s hubris. When asked what he says to critics who think he creates buildings for show, Gehry flipped the questioner the bird and blustered, “My God! – leave us in peace…At the very least, don’t ask stupid questions like this.”
In view of all that sense of self-importance in Wright and Gehry, Bayley should have cut Hadid some slack.
Here’s hoping you’re still building castles in the air, Zaha.