Translated by Lilian Tong (Keypad)
When it comes to architecture, which architect exactly should be deemed most well-known of all — I.M. Pei, Normal Foster or Frank Gehry? On a different note, identifying the most accomplished female architect in the world does not seem to be a brain teaser — it is definitely English architect of Iraqi descent Zaha Hadid.
Plagiarism in the design world is not an uncommon matter, but to have an imitation complete its construction ahead of the original is a first of its kind. Such has happened with the famous Beijing’s Galaxy SOHO – the large commercial building comprising of a complex curvaceous design that is strikingly similar to interlinking hills, with bridges connecting the various structures. Though the modernistic design has received criticism for undermining Beijing’s heritage, the daring design strongly reflected Hadid’s signature style of organic curvature and free flowing fluidity. Evidently, this particular building has received widespread attention even before its completion. While all the buzz and attention is focused on Galaxy SOHO, the ‘pirate copycats’ has been discreetly speeding up its construction work, with aims to finish its construction before SOHO’s. The developers behind Chongqing Meiquan building insist their design is an original and claimed that they “never meant to copy, only want to surpass”. Legal actions have been imposed on the copycats to cease construction. Hadid voiced her displeasure by saying that “it is fine to take from the same well – but not from the same bucket.”
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the story of this particular architectural replication not only brings to light China’s trend of ‘copycat’ culture, it also proves that Hadid’s design is massively beloved all around the world. There are currently 950 buildings that are designed by Hadid, where the portfolio includes many high-profile projects such as the construction of 2020 Tokyo National Olympic Stadium and Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup Al-Wakrah stadium. As an individual, Hadid has received numerous accolades including the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004 and the International RIBA Award for Beijing’s Galaxy SOHO. It is without a doubt that Hadid is one of the most sought after architects in the world.
Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid pursued her passion by studying in Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. By 1980, she has established her own London-based practice, and two years later in 1982, she won the top prize for the Peak Leisure Club, eventually gaining momentum as a force to be reckoned with. Nonetheless, there were doubters who criticized Hadid’s designs as too futuristic and too expensive to be feasible to construct, hence giving her the title as ‘Paper Architect’. A case in point was the Peak Tower – an award winning design that was never materialized. So how exactly did Hadid evolved from a ‘Paper Architect’ to become one of the world’s most in-demand architects today?
Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain is one of the most iconic landmarks recognized for its peculiar design of irregular asymmetrical contortions. Once deemed neither possible to design nor construct, Frank Gehry developed an innovative architectural software that specifically caters to conceptualizing complex building types. Such fluid designs are materialized because of this software. Since then, the trend of free form architectural designs has taken off.
The materialization of Guggenheim Museum not only proven to the world the unlimited possibilities of buildable architectural constructions, the museum also led the city of Bilbao to flourish economically, hence the term “Bilbao effect”. It is widely believed that the architectural design of a building has a promising outcome for the enterprise and the city, bringing a dead city back to life. Regardless of the hefty construction and design fees, many property owners are willing to invest huge sums.
No longer deemed a ‘Paper Architect’, Hadid is one of the true success stories of following these archisculpture trends, daring to be bold in modernistic designs and architectural advancement. From the iconic London Aquatic Centre to Guangzhou Opera House and Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Innovation Tower, all of her completed projects have inevitably become landmarks for the respective cities. Futuristic, avant-garde, spiral and morphology are signature elements used in Hadid’s fluid architectural designs. Her ability to incorporate formal purity in her designs is said to be of greater range than Frank Gehry’s. Her designs are favourably appealing to the masses as her versatile design style works seamlessly with a diverse range of building types and massing. The magnificent work showcased worldwide is a strong testament to Hadid role as a groundbreaker for female architects; she is also simply the best.
In 2004, Hadid became the world’s first female winner of the prestigious Pritzker prize. Widely deemed as a success story for female architects, her accomplishments not only proves her outstanding talents, but also proves that this particular industry is still highly male-dominant.
It is no wonder Hadid lament the architecture industry by saying “it’s still a man’s world”.