Did you ever use a kaleidoscope as a child? By using a few mirrors, kaleidoscopes take everyday objects like beads or confetti and turn them into an ever-changing, fascinating display that is both perfectly designed and completely happenstance all in one moment.
Some people seem to view the world through a kaleidoscope. They take common objects, ideas, and practices and flip them on their head. By doing this, they astound those around them and inspire others to look at things differently, too. This is what Zaha Hadid gave to the world of architecture. She took what was common and known and changed it. She introduced curves where before only straight lines existed and art where there had only been science—and the world of architecture is better for it.
Zaha Hadid (1950 - 2016) was born in Baghdad, Iraq to a wealthy industrialist and an artist. At a young age, Hadid's family traveled to ancient Sumerian cities in southern Iraq. Hadid would later credit this trip for sparking her interest in architecture as she recalled, her father "made sure I went to every important building and museum in each city we visited. We'd go to new cities to learn about architecture… I think that's what inspired my love of buildings."
Hadid's informal education was supported by her formal. She attended boarding schools in England and Switzerland. Later, Hadid earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. She rounded off her formal education in London, where, in 1972, she studied at the Architectural Association.
It was at the Architectural Association that her genius was quickly realized. She studied under Elia Zenghelis and Rem Koolhaas—who were both impressed with her unique perspective. Elia Zenghelis remarked that "She had spectacular vision. All the buildings were exploding into tiny little pieces." Koolhaas commented that Hadid was "a planet in her own orbit."
Hadid may have been "a planet in her own orbit," but she credits the inspiration for her work to another genius—Russian suprematist Kazimir Malevich. Hadid later commented,
"I have always been interested in the concept of fragmentation and with ideas of abstraction and explosion, de-constructing ideas of repetitiveness and mass production. My work first engaged with the early Russian avant-garde; in particular with the work of Kasimir Malevich—he was an early influence for me as a representative of the modern avant-garde intersection between art and design."
Indeed, her architectural drawings were a work of art. She dismantled clear rules for detailed drawings in favor of capturing the big vision. Hadid believed that details could be worked out later, but the "broader picture" needed to be captured. And, according to Zenghelis, she was right.
Hadid graduated from Architectural Association in 1977 and immediately went to work for Koolhaas and Zenghelis. Then, just three short years later, Hadid opened her architectural firm—Zaha Hadid Architects in London.
Though Hadid's architectural firm opened in 1980, it took a bit longer for the world to recognize the genius that her professors so quickly saw in her. Many recognized her drawings' beauty; however, others were unwilling to put the capital necessary into executing her designs.
An example of this is when she submitted a design in a competition for an opera house in Wales. Her design won. However, the Welsh government refused to pay for it. Thus, her reputation as a "paper architect" (an architect whose designs are so avant-garde they cannot be realized) continued until 1993, when her first major build project—the Vitra Fire Station in Germany—was finally completed.
Hadid would go on to impart her colorful perspective through architecture in 46 completed projects in dozens of cities and receive international attention. Some of her most famous works include the Bergisel Ski Jump in Austria, Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, London Aquatics Centre, and the Guangzhou Opera House.
Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria
Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati, USA
London Aquatics Centre, London, England
Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China
Zaha Hadid saw the world through a different lens. She defied accepted standards. And through her hard work, persistence, and incredible ability to convey her vision—she let us all discover her "planet with her own orbit." In the end, she inspired us all to tilt the kaleidoscope and see the world a little differently.
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