recent passing of Zaha Hadid, Hon. FAIA, at age 65, and the subsequent tributes
to the architect and her work have invariably mentioned two terms: “starchitect”
and “digital architecture.” Hadid has been widely praised for being the first woman
to win the Pritzker Prize and for rising to a position within the male-dominated
pantheon of internationally renowned architects that have dominated the media.
What has been more telling, in my opinion,
has been the description of her work process. Hadid’s early forms came from her
abstract paintings, from which it was nearly impossible to make the translation
into built structures. Over the years, technology played an important role in realizing
those forms. A review of her built work reveals the evolution from the sharp, jagged
forms of the Vitra Fire Station (1993) to the sinuous curves of the Heydar Aliyev
(2012). The algorithm is clearly showing.
In his fascinating 2009 piece forThe New Yorker, John Seabrook observed “Hadid
rarely uses the word ‘space’ in talking about her designs, preferring words like
‘energy’ and ‘field’ and ‘ground conditions’; the dynamism of the city, rather than
the static forms of buildings within it, is her source of inspiration.” This is
an important observation. Indeed, it feels as though technology has relegated space
to a second-class citizen over the decades. Those of us who visited R.M. Schindler’s
Presburger Residence (1945) late last year were reminded of the power of space in
architecture. Not only did Schindler draw, he was constantly making changes in the
field to capture the spatial opportunities that presented themselves—a creative
process that is all but eliminated today through 3D modeling.
So it seems, then, the process for architecture
often drives the results. Seabrook posited that “the computer was only a tool that
helped [Hadid] realize a preexisting vision; it did not create her aesthetic.” I
would argue they are much more tightly intertwined.
Obviously, technology is here to stay.
Will it continue to drive design? Or will a nostalgia for the old way of doing things
find a way back into the process somehow? I’m encouraged by young people’s embrace
of such “analog” media as vinyl records and SLR film cameras. In the past decade,
the pendulum of architecture has swung decidedly toward digital visualization. If,
how, and when it will swing back is the big question.