Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Friday, September 08, 2006

Capsule: Zaha Hadid

(At the Guggenheim Museum in New York until 25 October 2006)

It is a career-defining retrospective, well-timed after her winning of the Pritzker Prize last year. But it is the oddest things that resonated in Zaha Hadid's show at the Guggenheim. For example, in her specially designed kitchen, the breakfast bar has splashed across it in LED lights:

*** Mac ***
** Lights **
* Aroma *
* Heater *

and I wondered on the irony of an Apple finally making a home for itself in a kitchen.

The exhibition design takes on Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic space well, but clearly she was itching to do more with it, as demonstrated by an animation showing cancerous tendrils issuing from some of the higher rotunda levels. 'Here's what we could have done with this baby,' she implies, wanting to dominate even more of the space(s) available.

The true magic in her architecture has always been about finding these spaces, and in particular the ones that you might not have thought existed, through shaking up your perspective: paintings like extensions and explosions, changes of pace, logic and plane (and there should be a study done about how information is represented in her work).

As an exemplar, look at her 'Vision of Madrid' - it is jaw-dropping: the balance and bias supporting the force of the visual argument. There is only one way in which the city must grow; and the orange, vivid moat given to the city is a barrier to prompt (to encourage; and to encourage quick) movement.

Her refractions of London made me homesick; and are yet thrilling, as they seek to liberate the city from myth. That is, of course, why ultimately they will fail as masterplans. But she is on the money with the idea that the expansion of the city alongside the Thames east won't be enough: London will need to be built on the sea.

The cumulative impact of her work is to give you a 1950s vision of the future vibe - The Jetsons with protractors. And isn't it interesting that, a slight increase in the gaudiness aside, the visual language of the period remains our best incarnation of what the 'future' looks like?

Do not be too downhearted by the recurring motif of the show: 'This project is unbuilt'. She has now achieved fame, impact and foundations being laid... but there's a thought that whispers at you: she was better when this project was unbuilt: more radical, more challenging, more out there. Whereas her finished work, while distinctly hers, have more than passing echoes of Liebeskind, Calatrava and Herzog and de Mouron.

She is not as much her when she is realised: as she has been built, she has become more ordinary.

That said, she is not just creating a new architectural language for theory's sake. Her work has a direct commercial impact too, best shown with her BMW building in Leipzig. This zig-zagged finger of a structure links the blue collar factory parts of the campus with the white collar offices, with the production line whizzing half-built cars above the canteen, where all plant workers eat together. It reinforces the role that architecture and the built environment can have in reinforcing brand and internal cultural change - getting the collars to break bread and engage minds.

If only her buildings are left after us, after everything else has been destroyed, future life/visitors will conclude that intelligence extra-terrestrial to earth, must have been involved in their construction. Aliens with tendrils, bearing Macs.


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