Monday, March 22, 2004

Zaha Hadid Wins the Pritzker

And I'm less than surprised - which isn't to say that I think she's undeserving. Hadid's conceptual creations were so striking to my eye when I first saw them that I instantly knew that this was someone to watch out for. What a change a few years can make: it wasn't so long ago that she couldn't find anyone to build her work, especially in Britain.

The Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid has been selected to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize for 2004, considered the profession's highest honor. She is the first woman to receive it.

The prize, which carries a grant of $100,000, is to be awarded at a ceremony on May 31 at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was announced today by Thomas J. Pritzker, president of the Hyatt Foundation, the award's sponsor.

Movement, curvature, porosity, extreme horizontal elongation: these are some of the aesthetic properties that helped to establish Ms. Hadid, 53, as a major influence in her field well before she began to build. The powerful forms of her unbuilt projects, like the Cardiff Bay Opera House (1994), were widely published. Typically presented in the form of paintings, these projects have been publicly exhibited in the United States and abroad.

Ms. Hadid was born in Baghdad in 1950. She studied mathematics in Beirut before moving to London to study architecture at the Architectural Association School. After graduating in 1977, she worked with Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis at the fledgling Office for Metropolitan Architecture, a practice that subsequently moved to Rotterdam under Mr. Koolhaas's direction. She is now based in London and is a British citizen.

Ms. Hadid's personal charisma has also helped to publicize her work, though to mixed effect. Beloved by journalists and members of her own profession for what is frequently described as her diva presence, Ms. Hadid has only recently found the clients willing to look beyond her reputation for being difficult. She reached a professional high point last year, with the completion of her first building in the United States, the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati. An immediate critical and popular success, the Rosenthal Center presaged a string of major commissions now at various stages of construction and design development. These include two buildings in Germany: the BMW Central Building in Leipzig and the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg; and two projects in Italy: Maxxi, the National Center for Contemporary Arts in Rome, and a high-speed train station in Naples. Design work is under way for a second American building, an addition to the Price Tower Arts Center in Bartlesville, Okla.

Hadid does indeed enjoy a reputation for being a "difficult" person, but this hardly marks her out from a lot of high-profile architects. The real reason for her meeting with such resistance seems to have been the sheer innovativeness (or, if you prefer, strangeness) of her conceptions, which were typically thought to be unbuildable, little more than high-concept architectural fantasies in the manner of a Hugh Ferriss or an Antonio Sant'Elia.

POSTSCRIPT: Here's a link to an old 2blowhards post that happens to have links to some of Hugh Ferriss' illustrations, which really ought to be seen to be believed. The same post also has links to images of drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (more of whose work can be seen here)and Claude Nicolas Ledoux (see here for more), two other masters of architectural fantasy. I won't bother providing links to the works of Zaha Hadid or Antonio Sant'Elia on here, as I'm feeling lazy, and it's easy enough to find a surfeit of images for either of the two anyway with a bit of Googling.