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imagine… Zaha Hadid: Who Dares Wins – Tuesdays, BBC1 10.35pm

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The first time I heard of the architect Zaha Hadid was almost twenty years ago, in the nineties, when the Millennium Commission was looking for a design for the Welsh National Opera building. Hadid, an architect who came from Iraq, won

Over the years she’s grown in stature and I was very taken with Hadid’s sculpture at this year’s Summer Exhibition (if you remember, that’s the one I wanted to have in my fantasy garden as a seat.)

Looking at the model of the unbuilt design, it’s hard to see why it caused such a pre-Millennium fuss. Hugh Pearman, Architecture critic for the Sunday Times, was clearly still furious, rejecting the official factors cited – cost, buildability – as spurious. Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum, and Hadid suspected more unofficial factors – Hadid’s Iraqi origins, her femaleness, her non-Welshness, or more specifically, her London base. We will never know the real reasons. Geometric, angular, white, it would have been a building that would have fitted into the modern landscape to this day.

The Cardiff set back was not a one off. Winning bids and then not being able to build them was a pattern that followed Hadid and her small organisation. It was amazing that she had the tenacity, vision and belief to keep going.

Anyway, happier times did follow, when Hadid won the competition to build the Maxxi Arts Centre in Rome. It was very concrete, in a way that reminded me of childhood shopping trips to the Whitgift Centre in Croydon, a 60s built thing with metal stair cases and ramps, like a giant not quite playground, part functional, part excitement. From the outside, that was what the Maxxi made me think of. Presenter Alan Yentob went on about the fluidity of it. I sort of went hmmmm inside my head, as this was what the first footage of it looked like:


It’s not until you see the footage of the inside (like this):


that you realise what all the fuss is about – massive, sweeping, precise.

The last part of the programme erupted into some astonishing late work based on parametric forms. Gravity defying curves, beautifully lit. You can look in photos, but there is something about the way the camera pans across the curves that makes them come alive.

The programme concentrated on the HeyDar Aliyev cultural centre in Azerbeijan, and the currently being built extension to the Serpentine Gallery, which look very similar. but I coudn’t find pictures of them on, so please enjoy this picture of the Nordketten Cable Car station above, which looks very similar.

“We do this really so you can be in a very simple space like this and feel good.  It’s as simple as that.” – Zaha Hadid

“[Zaha is a] very inspiring person… you have to give her room.  If you try to constrain her then she will explode.” – Elia Zenghelis, former teacher of Zaha Hadid 


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