11 Zaha Hadid Buildings, Structures & Architectural Marvels
Iraqi-born, British architect Zaha Hadid was undeniably one of the most influential figures of 21st century architecture, and her unexpected death in 2016 was grieved by the architectural community. Born in 1950, Hadid studied at prominent institutions around the world, including the American University in Beirut and later at the Architectural Association in London, a beacon of progressive architectural thought during the 1970s. Since the beginning of her career, her radical, deconstructivist designs made her an instant standout, helping shape society’s idea of contemporary architecture. Former professor Rem Koolhaas aptly described her as “a planet in her own orbit.”
Throughout her 40-year career, she was commissioned for projects across the globe, from Hong Kong to Berlin; each considered radical in their own way. What was truly extraordinary about Hadid’s expertise was her fusion of technological and artistic influences. Together with her partner, Patrik Schumacher, Hadid created a new style of architecture known as parametricism, an approach that uses computer technology and algorithms responsible for producing the curving, non-rectilinear buildings she is known for.
She became the first woman to win the legendary Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004; an outstanding feat in a male-dominated industry. Not only was she an iconic architect, but she was also successful in the realms of interior design, fashion, industrial design, and fine art, establishing her legacy as a visionary for a variety of creative disciplines.
Characteristics of Zaha Hadid Architecture
Zaha Hadid buildings and structures don’t fit neatly into one singular architectural style, a characteristic that was voiced by the architect herself. Hadid was adamant about not limiting her practice to one movement, and as a result, her works include influences from a swath of creative styles. What was constant was her drive and ability to push the boundaries of structural possibility, creating visually striking constructions that had a lasting influence on contemporary architecture. Below are some of the best-known features of her designs.
Hadid was known as “The Queen of the Curve” because she had a knack for creating dynamic, fluid buildings through the use of curvilinear geometric shapes. This resulted in swooping, elegantly complex structures that transformed skylines, creating a neo-futuristic illusion. This is evidenced best in her design for the Heydar Aliyev Center that opened in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2012, for which she won the London Design Museum’s Design of the Year in 2014.
Much of Hadid’s influence stems from her love of abstract painting and drawing. She even presented projects to clients through abstract paintings early on in her career. She was particularly inspired by the work of Russian painter Kazimir Malevich, who was considered a leading figure in geometric abstract art. Building upon his work, she added more complexities and sought to complete what she referred to as “unfinished modernity.”
The use of new materials was paramount to the success of Zaha Hadid’s buildings and designs. Her ideas of dramatic structures with sinuous curves and non-right angles could only be supported by composite materials, materials that did not stifle her imagination. Composite materials, by definition, are those made by two or more constituent materials that, when combined, produce a stronger one. Hadid’s building skins were often clad with composite fibers, and she regularly used concrete and glass, known for making concrete appear weightless.
Noteworthy Zaha Hadid Buildings and Structures
Throughout her career, Hadid constructed some of the most visually striking buildings around the world. From functional structures like bridges to prominent art museums, each project presented its own complexities and signature style that wowed audiences. Below are some of her most notable realized projects.
Vitra Fire Station, Weil Am Rhein, Germany (1993)
Among her earliest designs, the Vitra Fire Station in Germany was an opportunity to actualize her abstract drawings and paintings. Conceived as the end-note to existing factory buildings, this structure was built with sharp, angular concrete planes and a linear, layered series of walls, an extravagant glimpse into the future of Hadid’s bold designs.
MAXXI, Rome, Italy (1998–2010)
Considered one of the great achievements of her career, Italy’s national museum of contemporary art and architecture took a decade to complete, due in large part to a change in government six times over the course of the production. Upon completion, it garnered much deserved praise, winning the 2010 Stirling Prize for Architecture. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the design points to the uppermost gallery which protrudes carefully over the former barracks site.
Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg, Germany (2005)
One of the first of its kind for Germany, the Phaeno Science Center was a considerable investment for the city, and one that did not disappoint. This particular design fuses contemporary materials with more classic, reserved forms. It features glass cutouts, impressive ceiling latticework, and concrete pillars—all recurring themes in Hadid’s work.
Olympics Aquatics Centre, London, England (2005–2011)
This structure was created for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Hadid drew inspiration from the fluidity of water in motion, creating an undulating roof that rises up like a wave with concrete finishes. After the run of the 2012 Olympic Games, the building reopened to the public in a new “legacy mode” with 2,500 seats to accommodate future events like the World Diving Series and European Swimming Championships.
Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (2007–2010)
This highway bridge connects Abu Dhabi to the southern Gulf shore, proving that Hadid’s curving, stylized forms can be fully functional. The design was inspired by the shapes of sand dunes, featuring road decks suspended from symmetrical steel arches that mimics the appearance of a curve.
Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan (2007–2012)
Another one of Hadid’s standout designs, the Heydar Aliyev Center demonstrates the architect’s soaring creative ideas. The design features a roof that folds over itself, 12,000 individuals panels which form an outer shell, and fluid walls. It is a stark contrast to Soviet Modernist styles previously found throughout Baku. The building was awarded the 2014 Design of the Year by London’s Design Magazine.
Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan (2007–2012)
This contemporary art museum on the Michigan State campus was Hadid’s second project in the United States. The pleated stainless steel facade calls upon a complex use of metal that requires high-level precision to create its sharp, angular form.
Galaxy SOHO, Beijing, China (2009–2012)
A delicate mix of futuristic forms and cultural significance, the Galaxy SOHO in China acts as a bustling dual commercial and office center. The building features a cluster of four circular buildings topped with glass and connected by curved pathways that accentuate the prominence of her signature sinuous lines. Because the circle represents a symbol of unity, the design of the building adds to the cultural significance in China as well.
Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China (2010)
This opera house is one of the largest theaters in China with an outstanding riverside location overlooking the Pearl River. Hadid beat out her former professor Rem Koolhaas to win commission to create the unique, twin boulder design.
Dominion Office Building, Moscow, Russia (2015)
Built in response to the city’s growing technology and creative sectors, this seven-story office building is complete with off-set floor slabs that unevenly stack to create irregular protrusions, a dramatic black-and-white atrium, curving balconies, and crisscrossing staircases.
Port House, Antwerp, Belgium (2016)
The Port House was built in order to revitalize Antwerp’s port, hosting 500 Port Authority staff who were previously working across separate sites throughout the city. Hadid added a spectacular glass cloud that suspends over the original building, creating a sharp, geometric design. It’s covered in triangular facets, some transparent, allowing the interior to be flooded with light. The building opened six months after Hadid’s death.
The Legacy of Zaha Hadid
Although Zaha Hadid died unexpectedly in 2016, her work is far from over, and her posthumous career guarantees to deliver nearly 50 more buildings. Zaha Hadid Architects, a firm Hadid established in London in 1979, has expanded from 40 to nearly 400 employees committed to finishing projects she left behind and commissioning new ones that extend her legacy. But her contributions to the industry run deeper than that of the impressive buildings she conceptualized over her 40-year career.
As a woman architect born in Iraq diving into a male-dominated industry, Hadid was a pioneer in her field. Throughout her career, she pushed both artistic and social boundaries, encouraging a new generation of architects to step forward, both male and female. As Hadid insisted on dreaming big and making her imaginative ideas become reality, she overcame many challenges: an industry run predominately by men, the idea of what a building should look like, and how art can influence architecture.
Sources: My Modern Met | Architectural Digest | Zaha Hadid | Arch Daily | The New York Times