Zaha Hadid

Building change and freedom

Amber Stokes
3 May 2013

2 min read

Dame Zaha Hadid is internationally recognized as an innovator in avant-garde architecture that interprets the complex life around it.

COMPASS: How did you come to consider architecture as a career?

ZAHA HADID: If you look back to the 1960s when I was growing up in Baghdad, it was a new republic undergoing a moment of nation- building. 

There was a lot of emphasis on architecture. There was a renewed pride in the structure of the city, and the ideas of change, liberation, and freedom of this era were critical to my development. When I was a child I came to Europe every summer with my parents, and my father made sure I went to every museum, mosque and cathedral in sight! I remember going to see the Great Mosque in Cordoba when I was seven years old. It left a tremendous impression on me. Before coming to London to study at the Architectural Association, I studied mathematics at the American University in Beirut. Geometry has a tremendous connection to architecture – even more so now with the advanced computer scripts we use in the office.

What is your source of inspiration for your designs?

ZH: Ultimately, architecture is all about well-being – the creation of pleasant and stimulating settings for all aspects of life. But I think it is also important to ensure that each project provides uplifting experiences that inspire, excite and enthuse.

People ask me, “Why are there no straight lines, why no 90 degrees in your architecture?” This is because life is not made in a grid. If you think of landscape, it’s not even and regular. People go to places of natural beauty and find them very inspirational. I think that one can do that in architecture – so we use the natural landscapes and rhythms of the surrounding urban environments to develop buildings that have a direct relationship with their context.

Zaha Hadid’s design for the Guangzhou Opera House (Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan)

What else influences your designs?

ZH: True avant-garde architecture does not follow fashion or economic cycles – it follows the inherent logic of cycles of innovation generated by social and technological developments. Contemporary society is not standing still, and buildings must evolve with new patterns of life to meet the needs of their users.

I think what is new in our generation is a greater level of social complexity. One of the great challenges for contemporary urbanism and architecture is to move toward architecture for the 21st century: an architecture of flexible specialization that addresses complex work and life processes and the much greater fluidity in careers and corporate organizations.

Where did your inspiration to teach come from, and how do you get the most from your pupils?

ZH: I will always remember the teachers who taught sciences in the nuns’ school I went to in Baghdad. They were all from the university, so the quality of the courses was incredible. The headmistress, who was a nun, was very interested in the education of women. So, in a way, she was a pioneer in that part of the world.

I remember discovering that teaching was also a learning experience for me. It’s not only about what I know, but what my students know as well. It’s reciprocal. You never know what can come out of students when they’re given the opportunity. They just need to be given confidence to do their best, with a degree of freedom.

Are you working on any interesting projects for the future?

ZH: We’re currently working on a multitude of projects worldwide, including national institutions such as the new Central Bank of Iraq headquarters and the new National Stadium of Japan in Tokyo. The rapid developments that computing has brought to architecture are incredible. There is a strong reciprocal relationship whereby our more avant-garde designs encourage the development of new digital technologies and construction techniques, and those new developments in turn inspire us to push the design envelope further.

Learn more about Zaha Hadid

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