In Depth

Grand designs: Zaha Hadid’s best buildings

When the architect died suddenly on 31 March last year, she left behind an extraordinary legacy that reverberates across the world

The life and career of Zaha Hadid is one full of firsts. The British Iraqi-born architect was the first woman to ever win the Royal Institute of British Architects' (RIBA) gold medal and the Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award in 2014 for her Heydar Aliyev Center, and she was the first female recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. But despite her many accolades and achievements in a notoriously male-dominated industry, Hadid often eschewed the label of being a female architect making it in a man’s world, instead wanting her extraordinary portfolio to speak for itself.

Ambitious, divisive and never dull, Hadid blazed a trail in contemporary architecture. She was, in the words of RIBA president Jane Duncan, 'an inspirational woman, and the kind of architect one can only dream of being. Visionary and highly experimental, her legacy … is formidable.' Here we explore some of her finest works.

Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany (1993)

The stark, sculpture-like fire station designed for Swiss furniture giants Vitra is significant as the first project of Hadid’s ever to be built. Part of the Vitra Design Museum campus, the station was commissioned after a disastrous fire in 1981 presented the need for one, although ironically it has only ever been used as an exhibition space. Built from reinforced concrete and glass, devoid of colour or detail, Hadid’s vision was to create a physical representation of a ‘frozen moment’, alluding to a sense of constant alert. Now regarded as a modern icon of deconstructivist architecture, the station made Hadid’s peers sit up and take notice, and was to launch her career into the stratosphere.

London Olympic Aquatic Centre (2011)

Critics of Hadid have deemed a number of her designs unbuildable. Thanks to its sweeping, undulating wave roof, the London Aquatics Centre was one of them. The gargantuan swimming complex was in fact the first completed building in the Olympic masterplan in Stratford, east London. The Aquatics Centre incorporates two 50-metre pools and seats 2,500 spectators; its trademark flowing design inspired by the 'fluid geometry of water in motion' – befitting its purpose and mirroring the surrounding waterways and canals.

Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China (2010)

One of Hadid's most ambitious and iconic designs, the Guangzhou Opera House defines a new cultural destination on the city’s waterfront. The striking, avant-garde design is reminiscent of two eroded pebbles nesting on the banks of the Pearl River. Inside, the opera house hosts a dazzling 1,800-seat theatre and 400-seat multi-purpose hall, but it’s the statement folded glass facade made from reinforced gypsum that cements it as a masterpiece of contemporary design. Architectural critic Jonathan Glancey described it as 'one of the most remarkable buildings, not just in China, but in the whole world.' 

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan (2012)

Arguably the most futuristic of Hadid's completed buildings, the Heydar Aliyev cultural centre was described by the architect herself as an 'incredibly ambitious project' and 'one of her most important recent works.' The curved, flowing building houses an auditorium, gallery hall and museum and was designed as a defiant symbol of a city looking to the future. Since gaining independence in 1991, the Azerbaijani capital has strived to form an identity of its own, and Hadid's fluid, cutting-edge creation that seems to rise naturally from its surroundings has been the cornerstone of its resurgence.

Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Abu Dhabi (2010)

Hadid's architectural talents transcended buildings to include furniture, jewellery, cars and even bridges – all incorporating her trademark sculptural form. One of her most famous works is the Sheikh Zayed Bridge, which connects Abu Dhabi to Saadiyat islands, an area that will soon open as a vast cultural centre featuring a performing arts centre designed by Hadid. The bridge took nearly eight years to complete and features arching steel waves rising more than 60 metres above the four-lane highway. As well as its statement architecture, the bridge is renowned for its colourful lighting system designed as a ‘language of light’ to celebrate the people of the United Arab Emirates.  

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