about Zaha Hadid

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum

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Posted April 8, 2016

Olympic Aquatics Centre

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Posted April 26, 2013

Top Architectural Record Award for Guangzhou Opera House? Really?

Architectural Record recently gave Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House its Best Public Project: Honor Award in the Good Design Is Good Business: China competition and published it on the cover. http://archrecord.construction.com/ar_china/China_Awards/2012/Guangzhou-Opera-House/Guangzhou-Opera-House.asp

Unbelievable! I visited the building last January and was absolutely dismayed at how inept and poorly designed it is. Had anyone from the awards jury (which “included editors from Architectural Record and respected Chinese architects and experts”) actually visited the building? If so, I cannot believe they would consider it “good design.” The building’s failures are glaring and are certainly no secret. The fellow showing me around in Guangzhou did not want to take me to the opera house because he was “ashamed” of it.

The photos in Architectural Record do look dazzling—proof again that photos can be made to lie. The images are dominated by distant views and night shots that obscure the building skin. Included here are some of my own shots, presented without the benefit of Photoshop.

If you were an arrogant westerner it would be easy to say that the embarrassing crudeness of the building is not the architect’s fault, but the result of a Chinese building industry not yet up to the visionary imagination of the designer. But that notion is belied by the fact that within view of the opera house are the extraordinary Guangzhou New Library by Nikken Sekkei, the Guangdong Museum by Rocco Design and the Guangzhou Tower by Mark Hemel and Barbara Kuit—all of which are ambitious, meticulously designed and beautifully executed. The problem at the opera house is poor design.

Is it possible to create curvilinear forms with very tight radii, superimpose a series of triangular grid patterns, make the building out of a very heavy, brittle material like granite, and realistically expect any sort of success? These seem to be ill-fated conceptual directions. When things very went badly awry, fat caulk joints apparently were the universal solution to poorly resolved design.

The interiors have the same kinds of problems—chases that seem to have been added as an afterthought, indirect lighting imbedded in sumptuous glass-fiber-reinforced gypsum forms where the faceted T-5 fixtures are clearly visible because no one checked cut off angles to be sure the lamps would be concealed.

Promoting clearly flawed design as the “best” we have to offer is demeaning and makes us look ridiculous to people outside the architecture subculture. This is how we lose power in the larger society and become marginalized as a discipline. Elevating “stars” and “signature design” at the expense of deeply rooted and rigorous standards of excellence does a disservice to our field.

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Thinking about Building Technology, Contemporary Practices, Life as an Architect
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Posted August 16, 2012

Stararchitects

I was in a meeting the other day in which a pundit (not an architect) proclaimed that the era of stararchitects is over.  The argument was that, in a more pared-down economy, the often “showy” work of stararchitects seems excessive and even decadent.  The direction we should be going now is to really good design that is not so ego-driven or such a personal statement.

I have never been completely sure about the definition of “stararchitect”.  I presume, at least in this context, that Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid would be included but Peter Zumthor or Glenn Murcutt might not.  If the comparison is made to movie “stars” versus just fine actors or actresses, then Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie might be in the “star” category and Colin Firth or Judi Dench might just be a fine actor/actress.  Being a “stararchitect” might have more to do with being a media darling or playing the fame game than with just doing wonderful buildings.  Whatever you do–including your buildings–would  need to garner a lot of attention.  There would have to be a focus on the “star” and there would have to be a personal agenda.

If all of that is the case, then I am fine with an end to the stararchitect era.  I think there has been some benefit to the kind of attention these architects have drawn to what we do.  They have attracted media notice and have made anticipating their next new thing kind of fun.  But there has also been a distraction from what architecture is really meant to do–make people’s lives better, create richer urban environments, help organizations accomplish their laudable missions, etc.  The flash and pizazz has sometimes overpowered the meat of the matter.  The cult of personality has sometimes dominated the actual building as a living breathing place apart from its author.

A movie full of “eye-candy” stars can be cool, but it does not compare to the kind of compelling drama that wraps you in its web and digs deep to your soul.  An era of architecture that pays real attention to making stimulating, meaningful buildings for the people that inhabit them and cities that reflect the values and aspirations of their citizens might be a better focus for now than just making more “cool” things.

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Thinking about Contemporary Practices, Cultural Identity
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Posted February 28, 2010

Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art

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Posted February 19, 2010

Phaeno Science Museum

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Posted February 5, 2010