In memoriam: Zaha Hadid, 1950-2016

Zaha Hadid passed away unexpectedly today, suffering a heart attack in a Miami hospital where she was being treated for bronchitis. She was 65.

It would be disingenuous for me to claim I was an admirer of Hadid’s oeuvre. Doubtless she was an important figure within contemporary architecture, and in many ways a pioneer. As an Iraqi-born woman working in a field dominated by white men, Hadid overcame numerous obstacles to achieve rare prominence among her peers. Other women had enjoyed moderate success as builders, like the urban planner Catherine Bauer and the architect Eileen Gray, but never won the accolades Hadid did in her lifetime. Non-Western architects have likewise made only modest headway in the modern period. Gabriel Guévrékian, of Persian-Armenian origin, was one of the founders of CIAM in 1928, while the Chinese-born architect I.M. Pei perhaps alone can claim to rival Hadid’s accomplishments.

To be perfectly honest, I was much more torn up about the 2012 death of Lebbeus Woods. But he’d been sick for a long time. Woods was something of a mentor to Hadid when she was first starting out in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Her early architectural delineations — or “paintings,” as she called them — were often quite impressive on a formal level. She worked in much the same speculative vein as Woods or Daniel Libeskind. Incidentally, before he died, Woods devoted a short essay split up into three posts on his blog, all of which analyzed Hadid’s drawings:

Hadid’s work of the eighties was paradoxical. From one perspective, it seemed to be a postmodern effort to strike out in a new direction by appropriating the tectonic languages of an earlier epoch — notably Russian avant-garde at the time of the Revolution — but in a purely visual, imagistic way: the political and social baggage had been discarded. This gave her work an uncanny effect. The drawings and architecture they depicted were powerfully asserting something, but just what the something was, in traditional terms, was unclear. However, from another perspective this work seemed strongly rooted in modernist ideals: its obvious mission was to reform the world through architecture. Such an all-encompassing vision had not been seen since the 1920s. Zaha alluded to this when she spoke about “the unfinished project” of modernism that she clearly saw her work carrying forward. With this attitude she fell into the anti-postmodern (hardly popular) camp championed by Jürgen Habermas. Understandably, people were confused about what to think, but one thing was certain: what they saw looked amazing, fresh and original, and was an instant sensation.

Studying the drawings from this period, we find that fragmentation is the key. Animated bits and pieces of buildings and landscapes fly through the air. The world is changing. It breaks up, scatters, and reassembles in unexpectedly new, yet uncannily familiar forms. These are the forms of buildings, of cities, places we are meant to inhabit, clearly in some new ways, though we are never told how. We must be clever enough, or inventive enough, to figure it out for ourselves — the architect gives no explicit instructions, except in the drawings. Maybe we, too, must psychically fragment, scatter, and reassemble in unexpected new configurations of thinking and living. Or, maybe the world, in its turbulence and unpredictability, has already pushed us in this direction.

Like Libeskind, but unlike Woods, Hadid eventually transitioned from paper architecture to the realm of built objects. Receiving major commissions around the world, she began to cultivate a complex, curvilinear, and organic style. Patrik Schumacher, her theoretical spokesperson, called it “parametricism.” Aided by new digital programs, which could calculate the area of contoured surfaces, Hadid developed a biomorphic expressionism that became her trademark. My opinion of these later structures is considerably lower than it is of her earlier, more suprematist-inflected buildings. I quite like the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, as well as the Rosenthal Center in Cincinnati. Essentially I agree with Woods here: “In one sense, [computer-aided design] liberated Zaha, enabling her to create the unprecedented forms that have, by the present day, become her signature. In another, it brought an end to a certain intimacy and feel of tentative, almost hesitant expectancy, in her drawings and designs, that was part of the intense excitement they generated.”

Below I am appending some extremely hi-res images of Zaha’s drawings. Longish essays by Hal Foster and Gevork Hartoonian, both insightful and making similar points about the prioritization of image and spectacle over building and tectonics, also follow.

Hadid, Zaha Title Vitra Fire Station Date 1994 Location Weil am Rhein, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany Description aerial view; landscape painting 1 Hadid, Zaha Title Vitra Fire Station Date 1994 Location Weil am Rhein, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany Description longitudinal section

Neo avant-garde gestures

Hal Foster
The Art-Architecture

In the last decade, Zaha Hadid has advanced from a vanguard figure in architecture schools to a celebrity architect with credibility enough in boardrooms to have several big buildings completed and several other projects launched. This upswing began in 2003 when her Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, her first structure in the United States, opened to wide acclaim, and it was confirmed in 2005 when her BMW plant center in Leipzig, which proved her ability to design for industry, was completed. In 2004 Hadid won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize — the first woman to be so honored — and in 2006 she received a retrospective of thirty years of her work (paintings as well as designs) at the Guggenheim Museum. More recently, her Museum of XXI Arts (MAXXI) in Rome appeared to warm reviews in 2009, and there are other large commissions in the works, including office buildings and cultural complexes in the Middle East, an opera house in Guangzhou, and an aquatic center for the 2012 Olympics in London. Hadid can no longer be dismissed, as her critics were once wont to do, as a woman who stood out in a male profession on account of her brassy personality and exotic background (she was born in Baghdad in 1950). Indeed, for her proponents Hadid has done more than any of her peers to rethink old representational modes of architecture and to exploit its new digital technologies. It is this view I consider here, with special attention to her recourse to select moments in modernist art and architecture.

For several years after her 1977 graduation from the Architectural Association (AA) in London, Hadid had little work of her own. In this lull she turned to modernist painting, in particular the Suprematist abstraction of Kasimir Malevich. Hadid explored this work in painting of her own, which she regarded primarily as a way not only to develop an abstract language for her architectural practice, but also to render the standard conventions of architectural imaging (plan, elevation, perspective, and axonometric projection) more dynamic than they usually appear. Already in her AA thesis, an unlikely scheme for a hotel complex on a hypothetical Thames bridge, Hadid adapted the idiom of the Malevich “Arkhitektons,” plaster models, built up in geometric blocks, that he proposed in the middle 1920s for a monumental architecture in the young Soviet Union. This was only an initial gesture, but it was not an auspicious one, for, however enlivened with Suprematist red and black, the Arkhitekton blocks remain static in her adaptation. Nevertheless, her project was shaped: “I felt we must reinvestigate the aborted and untested experiments of modernism,” Hadid wrote in retrospect, “not to resurrect them but to unveil new fields of building.”1

To recover the suspended experiments of the historical avant-garde was a principal strategy of neo-avant-garde art after World War II (think of the multiple remotivations of Dada alone). Of course, modernist art suffered a traumatic suppression under the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, and (to a lesser extent) Mussolini; as a result, such movements as Expressionism, Constructivism, and (again, to a lesser extent) Futurism became somewhat occluded, and a return to them could have the force of rediscovery and revaluation. The case of modern architecture is different: its suppression was not as severe, and, as key figures like Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe not only persisted but prospered in the postwar period, there was not distance enough to make them appear strange or new. Thus, for example, when young architects like Peter Eisenman and Richard Meier revisited Le Corbusier in the 1960s, it had little of the repercussive effect of a neo-avant-garde return; it did not reset the terms of discourse radically. Of course, there are partial exceptions to this general rule. Reyner Banham had urged designers of his generation to reconsider Futurist and Expressionist architecture, long sidelined by the functionalist and rationalist preoccupations of the International Style, and later in the 1960s another generation of designers began to explore the largely lost precedent of Russian Constructivist architecture.2 Hadid also probed this precedent at the AA with her teachers Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, yet it was unusual for an architect to look to a painter like the Suprematist Malevich — and it was untimely, too, for by the middle 1970s advocates of a return to representation in postmodern architecture had begun to dismiss modernist abstraction in toto — and what more absolute apostle of modernist abstraction could one evoke than Malevich? At least in this respect, Hadid might be aligned with the different enterprise of postmodernist art, which sought to subject representation to critique rather than to restore it.3

“I have ripped through the blue lampshade of the constraints of color, “ Malevich wrote in 1919. “I have come out into the white. Follow me, comrade aviators. Swim into the abyss.”4 This is a radical claim to non-objectivity, one that aims to negate not only all representation but any worldly association of color, not to mention the earthbound orientation of the traditional picture (with a vertical position that mirrors our own upright posture). Yet not all Suprematist paintings plunge so fully into the abyss: sometimes a residue of a referent remains in Malevich, and often his geometries still read as colored figures against white grounds, even when these grounds might also suggest a space beyond “the blue lampshade” of the sky. In her paintings Hadid exploits some of these ambiguities, such as how Suprematist forms can appear as horizontal or vertical and Suprematist spaces as recessive or shallow. At the same time she complicates these uncertainties, for often in her paintings perspective is not banished so much as multiplied, with the effect that different views exist within single images, and spatial axes are not only rotated but also warped, with the result that her planes run in various directions at once — from us, toward us, and at many angles and curves in between. Suprematist painting was once seen as a radical flattening of the picture plane; Hadid motivates it instead as a dramatic break into an indefinite space-time, in an attempt to “crack open” her objects, to “compress and expand” her spaces, to intensify and liberate her structures, all at once.5

An early statement of these goals is her 1983 painting The World (89 Degrees), where, hubristically enough, Hadid transforms a section of the globe into a survey of her own projects to date, with the earth turned on its ear, minus — in a pointed deviation from rectilinear regularity — one degree. “The real world becomes Hadidland,” Aaron Betsky enthuses about this manifesto-painting, “where gravity disappears, perspective warps, lines converge, and there is no definition of scale or activity. This is not a specific scene of functions and forms, but a constellation of possible compositions.”6 Here, her longtime collaborator Patrik Schumacher also enthuses, Hadid announced a “new paradigm” of “complex curvilinearity.”7 However, if this is a new paradigm, it has its problems. To be sure, the turn to abstract painting was a striking move, but it rendered her designs pictorial, even weightless. Hadid points to this tendency in her own account of her early projects, where she writes of “floating pieces” of architecture “suspended like planets.”8 Once released, how are these structures to be regrounded? Malevich forged his abstraction not only by suppressing the referent but also by unmooring the viewer, in part through an extrapolation of aerial views that makes any subject-position difficult to imagine. This was a radical gesture in painting, but is it a valid one in architecture? Where is the subject, let alone the object, in this floating? At this early stage, however, such concerns did not count for much, and her provocation that representation was as important as construction advanced Hadid in architectural circles.

Hadid did deploy, as a materialist counterweight to the airborne idealism of Malevich, the Constructivism of Vladimir Tatlin. Already in the late 1970s this “opposition between Malevich’s Red Square and Tatlin’s Corner Relief” governed her designs for Koolhaas and Zenghelis (in their fledgling Office for Metropolitan Architecture), designs that strive to hybridize the different languages of Suprematism and Constructivism (the former concerned with the transcendental, the latter with the tectonic).9 Hadid pursued this unlikely synthesis in her own practice after 1979, too, especially in The Peak (1982-1983), her winning entry in a Hong Kong competition. She describes this unbuilt scheme, in which a resort complex is fractured into a cliff site, as “a Suprematist geology,” a paradoxical phrase that points to the tension between the principles represented by Malevich and Tatlin.10 Yet it was this very tension that positioned Hadid first to be included in the landmark “Deconstructivist Architecture” show curated by Mark Wigley and Philip Johnson at the Museum of Modern Art in 1988, and then to be tapped as the designer of the “Great Utopia” exhibition at the Guggenheim in 1992-1993 (where the old rivalry between Malevich and Tatlin was restaged).

For Hadid the next move was to demonstrate that her dynamic representations could be translated into actual buildings, and here again the proposals of Constructivism suggested a way to stitch together her complex geometries. It is also true that, as work began to trickle into her office by the middle 1980s, Hadid simplified her forms. Prow shapes were prominent in the designs of the late 1980s; they govern her first major buildings, a Berlin housing complex (1986-1993) and the Vitra Fire Station near Basel (1990-1994). In the early 1990s these shapes were joined by wedges and spirals, as in her Spiral House project (1991), and then in the middle 1990s by folds and ramps, as in her Blueprint Pavilion (1995) and her plan for a Prado Museum extension (1996). As with other architects in this new period of computer-aided design, her formal ambitions expanded with her technical capacities, and this conjunction soon allowed Hadid to imagine walls that emerge “in all directions,” as in her Wish Machine pavilion of 1996, and to propose skins that “weave and sometimes merge with each other to form floors, walls, and windows,” as in her project for the Victoria and Albert Museum extension in the same year.11 These devices can be dismissed as extravagant gestures, but they are not entirely arbitrary; in contrast to other architects given to idiosyncratic forms, Hadid worked to make her shapes appear as motivated generators of her structures and spaces.

In the beginning Koolhaas was a guiding star for Hadid: her decision to look back to neglected precedents in modernism was supported by his example, as was her tendency to develop one element in a program or a site as the key to an entire scheme; his attention to the metropolis at large also influenced her. Yet, in the matter of representations elaborated into buildings, Hadid revealed another affiliation, here to Eisenman. In the annals of architecture the elaboration of a representation into an object is hardly a novel operation: the application of single-point perspective was foundational to Renaissance architecture, for example, just as its complication was important to Baroque architecture (think of Brunelleschi and Borromini, respectively). Understood broadly (from El Lissitzky to Theo van Doesburg, say), Constructivism also exploited perspectives and projections as generators of design. Yet Eisenman went further in this direction; sometimes in his early houses his projections seem to determine his buildings. Hadid went further still, as she pushed familiar modes of architectural representation — not only isometric and axonometric projections but also single-point and fish-eye perspectives — into strange explosions of structure and “literal distortions of space.”12 At this time, too, architects like Frank Gehry had developed the form-making of avant-garde design to such a point that it had to confront (once again) its own modernist dilemma: how, given this apparent freedom, to motivate architectural decisions? It was largely an engagement with modes of representation that saved Eisenman and Hadid from the willful shape-changing of Gehry and his followers.

In the midst of her “literal distortions of space,” Hadid revealed a drive to challenge the assumed verticality of architecture, to open up building on its horizontal axis (already in 1996 she imagined a bridge for London as “a horizontal skyscraper”).13 In principle this lateral opening can render architecture less monumental and more dynamic; it can also pull the building across its setting in a way that complicates both the relation to its ground and the threshold between its interior and its exterior. It is primarily in this manner that Hadid expanded her practice from discrete structures to “new fields of building,” in which her schemes seem to emerge out of tensions immanent in the sites. Sometimes, too, she ran this transposition of axes the other way around: Hadid “flipped up” the ground “to become a vertical plane” as early as a 1990 project for an Abu Dhabi hotel, and she did much the same thing in her 2005 proposal for a Louvre extension for Islamic art.14 This vertical-horizontal play became central to her architecture, and it made her folds, ramps, and spirals appear as structural elements as well as stylistic flourishes — elements that mediate not only between the levels of a given building but also (again) between interiors and exteriors and among structure, site, and city. This kind of axial transposition and inside-out connection is still at work, variously, in most of her recent buildings, such as the MAXXI in Rome.15

No one would confuse Hadid with a functionalist; often in her practice function follows structure, and structure follows imagination. At the same time, despite her eccentric shapes, she is not quite a formalist either. Rather, a primary motive of her architecture is the release of forces detected in a given project or site, out of which unforeseen structures and spaces might be developed. Yet this site-specific impulse is at odds with the tabula rasa of her Suprematist abstraction, which prompts one to ask to what extent her schemes are indeed derived from her sites. Consider her Car Park and Terminus in Strasbourg (1998-2001), which is sometimes offered as a good example of site-specific architecture. The outline of this complex follows an obtuse angle, which in turn follows the given intersection of road and rail lines, but the design can also be seen as an architectural abstraction laid over an infrastructural abstraction (Hadid adds a decorative abstraction, too, as she carries the white of the terminus roof over to the car park like a Nike swoosh). In short, the forces here are projected as much as extracted, and one might argue much the same about the braided vectors that make up the MAXXI. Moreover, in architecture no less than in art, the putative extrapolation of a scheme from its site has become a familiar operation; first embraced as a way to avoid the arbitrary, it has become arbitrary in its own way.16

Nonetheless, the concern with such forces does point to other historical precedents for Hadid, precedents that her interest in Suprematism and Constructivism has obscured in the reception of her work: Futurist and Expressionist architecture. Sometimes she intimates these affinities in her language. “The whole building is frozen motion,” Hadid remarks of her first signature building, the Vitra Fire Station, “ready to explode into action at any moment”; and generally she has called for a “new image of architectural presence” with “dynamic qualities such as speed, intensity, power, and direction.”17 What could be more Futurist in spirit than such statements? “Let’s split open our figures,” the Futurist sculptor Umberto Boccioni proclaimed in 1912, “and place the environment inside them. We declare that the environment must form part of the plastic whole, a world of its own, with its own laws: so that the pavement can jump up on to your table, or your head can cross a street, while your lamp twines a web of plaster rays from one house to the next.”18 As much as any architect since that time, Hadid has responded to this Futurist call for an opening of structure onto space, an interpenetration of interior and exterior, an intensification of “figure” and “environment” alike. Certainly the planar vectors in her paintings and buildings often seem to fly out of a Futurist box of forms.

Just as the Constructivist dimension in her early work grounds its airborne Suprematist aspect somewhat, so an Expressionist dimension in her later work controls its dynamic Futurist aspect somewhat. Some of the forceful geometries that Hadid has proposed since the Vitra Fire Station are modeled in massive materials such as concrete, and more and more she has tended to an Expressionist sculpting of large volumes. For example, the sleek but sturdy profile of her Landesgartenschau (1996-1999), an exhibition hall and research center in Weil am Rhein, Germany, suggests a synthesis of Futurist speed and Expressionist modeling (it both cuts across its landscape and sits heavily in it), and the same is true of her Ordrupgaard Museum extension (2001-2005) near Copenhagen, which also resembles a paradoxically suave bunker, her celebrated BMW plant center (2001-2005), and other recent buildings. Current projects include a media complex in Pau, France, a train station in Naples, and the aquatics center for the London Olympics, all of which evoke Futurist concerns with media and/or movement. Yet Hadid has modeled them, too, as so many Expressionist shapes, and when her Expressionist modeling overwhelms her Futurist dynamism, the result is often a static image.19

Indeed, her buildings do not convey movement so much as they represent it — they are precisely “frozen motion” — and, more than a multiplicity of mobile views, they set up a sequence of stationary perspectives.20 Vitra, for example, is effectively a built drawing, a cluster of perspectives made literal, and the interiors of her museums in Cincinnati and Rome also suggest a matrix of designed views, complicated but fixed, and evocative of set design as much as anything else.21 Minimalism showed us long ago that simple objects prompt us to move about them — in large part to test the ideal forms of our conception against the contingent shapes of our perception. Ironically, with her complex geometries Hadid might arrest her viewer-visitors more than activate them.22 Moreover, despite the lightness of her pictorial and digital means, there is often a heaviness in her materials and masses. This effect counters the vaunted immateriality of her work; it also leads one to question its rethinking of architectural imaging.

“Which features of the graphic manipulation pertain to the mode of representation rather than to the object of representation?” Schumacher asks. It is an excellent question, one that is hardly restricted to contemporary architecture (it might be the primary epistemological puzzle in visual culture today), yet here it seems a red herring, for, despite the formal complication of the two, Hadid tends to collapse her representation into her objects. Indeed, she seems to use digital technology to minimize material constraints and structural concerns as much as possible, and so to jump from drawing to building as directly as she can. This elision marks a key difference from Eisenman, who worked to thicken such translation, not to reduce it, even as he also manipulated axonometric projection in order to generate his early architecture as though automatically, without apparent intervention by any authorial subject (here he was influenced by Sol Le Witt, who wrote famously of his Conceptual art that “the idea becomes a machine that makes the art”).23 For her part, Hadid manipulates perspective even more extremely; yet, however distorted and multiplied her perspective might be, it still privileges the subject: artist and viewer remain at the center of the representation-become-building. In short, the displacement of the subject proposed by Eisenman is countered more than affirmed by Hadid (and many others in digital design), and, at least in this respect, the deconstructive line of avant-garde architecture is reversed rather than developed.

Finally, what are we to make, in political terms, of the rapport here with Futurism and Expressionism? As for Futurism, its sexist celebration of power and nihilistic attack on culture are not easily forgotten and not always far away. Expressionism also seems weirdly close today: its expressive values are condoned, even encouraged, in a world of neoliberal capitalism. These may not be problems for Hadid (in any event they are hardly hers alone), yet they cannot be dismissed out of hand. And what about the fate of the other modernisms that she explores? Hadid has carried the utopian visions of Suprematism and Constructivism into the promised land of actual building, yet, as she has done so, she has also diverted them — turned Suprematism away from its radical autonomy and Constructivism away from its materialist critique. Here, too, Hadid can hardly be blamed for reversals that occurred long ago; in the final analysis, however, her relation to all these modernisms is less deconstructive than decorative — a styling of Futurist lines, Suprematist forms, Expressionist shapes, and Constructivist assemblages that updates them according to the expectations of a computer age. Too often, then, Hadid suggests not a formalist whose reflexivity is generative, but a stylist whose signature shapes become involuted and stagnant. In this regard she is finally closer to postmodern architecture than to postmodernist art; the difference is that the ingredients of her pastiche are not traditional styles but modernist forms. In the end, then, Hadid might not escape the accusation that the theorist Peter Bürger made long ago against the neo-avant-garde project in his Theory of the Avant-Garde (1974): to fail in its critique, as the historical avant-garde did, is one thing, but to repeat such a failure — more, to recoup this critique as style — is to risk farce.24 It is in this way that the neo-avant-garde becomes a gesture.

This point leads to a final one. When Banham urged a recovery of Futurism and Expressionism to guide the architecture of a Second Machine Age (his own Pop period), he did so in part because he felt that postwar architects must be concerned, as he believed those prewar movements were, with the imaging of new technologies. At least in this respect Hadid might be considered a latter-day Banhamite, a paradigmatic designer of our own Third Machine Age of the computer. And one strain in the Hadid literature does argue that her twists, layerings, and interpenetrations anticipated design parameters that have become viable only with recent digital programs — more, that her visionary demands prodded these technical advances into being (Schumacher writes of a “dialectic amplification” between her architectural schemes and computational tools).25 Along with Gehry, then, Hadid is presented as a prime architect of the digital period.26 Yet, ideologically, this position is a fraught one, and it has led her associates to dubious pronouncements about the primary purpose of contemporary architecture (“More than ever,” Schumacher asserts, “the task of architectural design will be about the transparent articulation of relations for the sake of orientation and communication”).27 According to some new-media enthusiasts, critical inventions of modernism such as montage are now absorbed by computer programs as so many automatic options, and this kind of argument has also served to position Hadid at the forefront of avant-garde design. “The model for her work,” Betsky writes, “is now the screen that collects the flows of data into moments of light and dark.”28 Is this all that it means to further “the incomplete project of modernism”?29 One hopes that this is not the first and last context for “new fields of building.”


1 Zaha Hadid quoted in Zaha Hadid: The Complete Buildings and Projects (New York: Rizzoli, 1998): 24. The catalogue for her 2006 show at the Guggenheim (also titled Zaha Hadid) contains useful essays by Germano Celant, Joseph Giovannini, Detlef Mertins, and Patrik Schumacher.
2 See Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (London: The Architectural Press, 1960). As for the reception of Constructivism in architecture at this time, see Stan Allen and Hal Foster, “A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton,” October 106 (Fall 2003). Suprematism was not as occluded historically: for example, an extensive sampling of Malevich paintings remained in Western Europe after they were exhibited in Berlin in 1927, and El Lissitzky was active in the West as a writer, editor, and lecturer.
3 Whether this connection is borne out is a question to take up in what follows. I allude here to an old distinction between kinds of postmodernism first proposed in Hal Foster, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983).
4 Kasimir Malevich, “Non-Objective Art and Suprematism” (1919). There are various translations; I have used the one in Larissa Zhadova, Malevich: Suprematism and Revolution in Russian Art 1910-1920 (London: Thames &C Hudson, 1982).
5 Hadid in Zaha Hadid (1998): 68, 24.
6 Aaron Betsky, “Beyond 89 Degrees,” in Zaha Hadid (1998): 9.
7 Patrik Schumacher, Digital Hadid (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2004): 5.
8 Hadid in Zaha Hadid (1998): 19, 20.
9 Ibid.: 82.
10 Ibid.: 20.
11 Ibid.: 130, 126.
12 Schumacher, Digital Hadid: 17. As Schumacher points out, these distortions can also unify space. In this respect, too, Hadid is part of a neo-Baroque turn in contemporary architecture.
13 Hadid in Zaha Hadid (1998): 135.
14 Ibid.: 74.
15 As projects brought to Hadid have increased in scale, her attention has turned to the skyscraper (which certainly complicates her prior privileging of the horizontal axis). For a discussion of this direction in her office, see Patrik Schumacher, “The Skyscraper Revitalized: Differentiation, Interface, Navigation,” in Zaha Hadid (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2006): 39-44.
16 If Eisenman updated this operation, Greg Lynn made it semi-automatic through the digital generation of designs. Elsewhere1 explore a different relation to field work proposed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
17 Ibid.: 64, 133. “Frozen motion” is a play on the famous definition of architecture as “frozen music,” usually credited to Goethe in Conversations with Eckerman (published 1836), though Schelling used it previously in Philosophy of Art (published 1802-1803).
18 Umberto Boccioni, “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture,” in Umbro Apollonio, ed., Futurist Manifestos (London: Thames &C Hudson, 1973): 63. Here Boccioni points to what a truly Futurist architecture might be more persuasively than does Antonio Sant’Elia (who was largely dragooned into the movement). Boccioni also used axonometric projections in his sculptural practice.
19 For example, her Pau media complex and London aquatic center resemble giant seats or mammoth mollusks (in keeping with the fascination with biomorphology among digital designers). Her recent emphasis on image (especially in projects in the Middle and Far East) often overrides her commitment to abstraction, and aligns her practice with the sculptural architecture of Gehry.
20 This rethinking of architecture in terms of temporality points to the possible influence on Hadid of another young teacher at the AA during her years there, Bernard Tschumi. Richard Serra introduced temporality and mobility into sculpture precisely to disrupt its status as an image-object.
21 Hadid has designed not only exhibitions and displays but also sets (for opera and other performances).
22 One need not refer to Minimalism; this tension is already active in modern architecture, as in the Villa Savoye (1929) described here by Le Corbusier: “In this house, we are dealing with a true architectural promenade, offering constantly varied, unexpected, sometimes astonishing aspects. It is interesting to obtain so much diversity when one has, for example, allowed from the standpoint of construction an absolutely rigorous pattern of posts and beams” (Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 2 [Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006]: 24).
23 Sol Le Witt, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” Art forum (Summer 1967): 80. See also Peter Eisenman, “Notes on Conceptual Architecture” (1971), in Inside Out: Selected Writings, 1963-1984 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004). On matters of translation see Robin Evans, Translations from Drawing to Building and Other Essays (London: Architectural Association, 1997), and Stan Allen, Practice: Architecture Technique + Representation (New York: Routledge, second edition, 2009).
24 Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (1974), translated by Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984). Although I critique his model in The Return of the Real (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), it seems appropriate in this case.
25 Schumacher, Digital Hadid: 7.
26 Like Gehry, Hadid is attracted to total design, which in her case includes a “Z” line of silverware, furniture, and jewelry as well as a prototype for a futuristic car. The iconography of the Second Machine Age was self-evident (grain elevators, skyscrapers, bridges, ocean liners, and so on); that of the Third is uncertain: how to make visible, let alone iconic, contemporary technologies? The Hadid swooshes already look dated; in some ways we are back to the past of the House of Future.
27 Schumacher, “The Skyscraper Revitalized”: 44. This suggests that design is fated to be little more than a disciplinary diagram.
28 Betsky, “Beyond 89 Degrees”: 13. On montage within the computer, see Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).
29 Schumacher, Digital Hadid: 20. Jürgen Habermas first used this phrase in the early 1980s, and, following Hadid (see her first quotation in this text), her supporters have adapted it to describe her practice as well. Yet the Habermas term is “modernity,” not “modernism.” This slippage may seem slight, but it suggests a detachment of modernism from the greater project of modernity, a detachment that tends to reduce it to a repertoire of styles less able to engage the values of modernity, let alone the processes of modernization, critically.


Zaha Hadid: Proun without a cause!

Gevork Hartoonian
Architecture and Spectacle:
A Critique

Much has been written about the influence of El Lissitzky’s Wolkenbügel project on Rem Koolhaas’ design of the CCTV. Equally well known is the extent to which Zaha Hadid’s work, from her early pictorial drawings to her recent projects, is influenced by the visual culture of constructivism. Most of what she has produced thus far enjoys a level of theatricality and abstraction comparable to El Lissitzky’s Proun. Central to this analogy is the creation of a dynamic visual field composed of elementary geometries. Proun, however, primarily sought to demolish “pictures,” painting as such. El Lissitzky set the Proun in motion to move his work towards “neoplasticism.” Conceived from various viewpoints, the object-looking drawings of Proun represent nothing more than facilitating the transformation of materiality to an object El Lissitzky wrote, “The forms with which the Proun assaults space are material, not aesthetic.”1 Obviously, there are aesthetics involved in Proun. And yet, what El Lissitzky’s statement meant was that aesthetics is not primarily driven by subjective desire and that Proun should be cleansed of any contextual or historical references. The amalgamation of abstraction and dynamic composition is also evident in Zaha’s graduation project prepared for the Architectural Association, London, 1977. Emulating aspects of suprematist composition, the final drawing of what was to be a hotel, designed for Hungerford Bridge, recalls the image of a spaceship floating at the edge of the earth, here the banks of the River Thames.

Interestingly enough, the tectonics of this hotel were cut and dressed in reference to the brutalist forms of a 1950s a it complex located on the South Bank. The implied vision of an architectural object has captivated the architect’s best work today. What concern us here the most are the solid stone-looking form of Proun and its sober theatrical aesthetics. These characteristics will inform Hadid’s work until a point in time, the 1990s to follow Patrick Schumacher,2 when the architect submitted her design process to the logic of digital programming, parametric design. Even though her most recent projects still try to keep hold of the suprematist visuality, the association does not go far: absent in Hadid’s work is the task Kasimir Malevich assigned to Proun, that is, the creation of a new political culture.3

Throughout Architecture and Spectacle: A Critique, I have highlighted the historicity of the failure of the project of the historical avant-garde, and the need to make a distinction between theatricality and theatricalization. It is now important to say that the difference between these two states of playfulness is the result of two parallel developments which, at a point in time that can be associated with the 1968 student uprisings in Europe, crossed over each other marking the conditions of postmodernism in general, and the rise of neo-avant-garde architecture in particular. For reasons that do not fit with the objectives of this project, what should be stressed here briefly is the double nature of this transformation. On the one hand, mention should be made of the experience of a different level of abstraction permeating the production and consumption cycles of postwar capitalism. Although it is beyond the purview of this study to elaborate on the complex relationship between “exchange-value” and “use-value” of the commodity production system, the literature on this subject underlines the role “abstraction” plays in Marx’s interpretation of a commodity form in capitalism.4 On the other hand, it is the emergence of image as the medium of symbolic rapport nesting in the idea of “culture industry” as discussed by Theodor Adorno. Obviously image has been internal to the work of art for many centuries. What makes the contemporary turn to image different is that through abstraction the image is removed from its context and is charged with a second layer of signification, as discussed by Roland Barthes.5 If one implication of the contemporary appropriation of image is suggested in the ways that American postwar abstract expressionism “stole” the agency of modern art,6 30 years later, the neo-avant-garde architects had difficulty disguising their historical delay in turning architecture into fragmented and abstract forms,7 a collection of which was exhibited in the show “Deconstructivist Architecture,” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), 1988.8

Beyond the literal resemblance of “deconstructivism” to “constructivism,” the architecture delivered by the prefix “de” in the above mentioned show was expected to institutionalize the marriage between image and formal abstraction. This was sought as a necessary passage for the consolidation of both the modernist idea of progress and the aesthetic of theatricalization, if only to push the envelope of visuality beyond the historicism codified in Robert Venturi’s notion of “both/ and.” In MoMA’s exhibition catalogue, Mark Wigley wrote: “The nightmare of deconstructivist architecture inhabits the unconscious of pure form, a slippery architecture that slides uncontrollably from the familiar into the unfamiliar, toward an uncanny realization of its own alien nature.”9 No wonder then that, upon entering the exhibition, the eyes of the crowd were first drawn to selected projects from the repertoire of Russian constructivism. If this was to show one aspect of the dialectics of “familiar” and “unfamiliar,” another, unmentioned, had to do with the state of contemporary architectural crisis. If the internalization of the aesthetic of spectacle permeating late capitalism allowed the architecture of the pre-digital years to still look “familiar/’another strategy of familiarization emerged through the organic informing most digitally produced forms since the turn of this century. Also in reference to the return of the organic in digital architecture, but also in consideration of the show’s abuse of constructivism, we should recall the fact that at the dawn of the historical avant-garde, the tendency for “form-production,” Gestaltung, was meant to overcome, among other things, the rift between mechanism and organism.10

It is significant that most of the architects discussed in this volume were prominent contributors to the 1988 MoMA exhibition. In retrospect, one can claim that Hadid’s project, the Peak, was far more advanced than that of her comrades who had to struggle to show how their work differed from the formal and aesthetics of what was then labeled high modernism. Considering the fact that at the time of the exhibition digitalization was not yet available as a unifying technique, singular to Hadid’s displayed project were her drawing skills, particularly her use of conceptual painting as a step towards the realization of playful architecture. Still, her early pictorial work made use of many aspects of both traditional and modern drawing techniques including layering, distorted perspectival views, and transparencies by which she would later manipulate “the ground plane by the means of cutting and wrapping.”11 These radical re-examinations of the pictorial world set the stage for the architecture of theatricality that should be distinguished from the visual effects of theatricalization permeating Frank Gehry’s work.

What makes Hadid’s architecture different involves an understanding of the notion of field that is integral to her perception of object. Even for the design of a single building, the initial conceptual drawings usually start with abstract architectonic elements such as line (wall), surface (floor and/or roof) and enclosure, the dynamic composition of which opens up a field, landscape proper. What also concerns us in this differentiation are the ways in which Hadid cultivates restless images, turning them into theatrical objects most of which are formed in concrete and with an eye on what can be called sculptured tectonics. The materiality delivered in her work is a reminder of tropes central to brutalism. Similar to this architecture of the post-war era, her tectonic cuts emulate the present turn to monolithic architecture, shortcutting the near past traditions of contemporary architecture, postmodernism proper. However, there are other layers of historical tropes in Hadid’s architecture that demand equal attention.

Of these, on the one hand, we should consider strategies common among artists working within traditions of Islamic culture where representational arts have limited freedom. To compensate for these restrictions, these artists tend to recode the symbolic dimension of the artwork in excess. Of these strategies that have huge tectonic significance mention should be made of the colorful tiles used so excessively on the surface cladding of mosques that the entire edifice is turned into an artwork in its own right. On closer inspection of these surfaces, which are perhaps conceived in analogy to carpet and fabric, one also notices Quranic verses inscribed on the tiles. The aforementioned excess concerns both the layered cladding of tiles and the tattoo quality of letters. Both in Arabic countries and in Iran, calligraphy was, and still is, practiced as an art with the potential to turn the spectator’s attention away from the meaning of the words to the playfulness of each letter and the work itself as ornament par excellence: a state of visual theatricality, if you wish, that takes on new life in Hadid’s exposure to the images produced by Russian constructivist artists and architects.

On the other hand, Hadid’s architecture should be historicized in the purview of another tectonic tradition. We are reminded of trompes, the most advanced theory of stonecutting used in part to defy the forces of gravity.12 To facilitate additions to an existing building, trompes was appropriated as a structure in its own right. It was built out of drawings called traits where the geometric matrix of lines defines the stereotomic nature of the surface. The implied “shape” then would dictate the cuts to be made in various pieces of stone to be used in a trompes. Robin Evans’ investigation highlights the perceptual contrast between the lightness of the geometry and the heaviness of stones depicted in traits (drawing). In addition to discussing the tectonic merit of this or that style of pre-modern architecture, the significance of the art of stereotomy is associated with drawings containing two kinds of lines, one light and the other heavy; “the imaginary lines of geometrical construction and the lines indicating contours of the thing drawn.”13

Through premodern theories of architecture it was believed that a structure should both look and stand stable. This rule was flouted by the idea of trompes, the most advanced theory of stonecutting developed in seventeenth-century France.14 Again, Evans insists that stereotomy offered a means to differentiate the tectonics at work in classical buildings from those in Gothic. In most cathedrals, for example, the ribs were built first and the surface between them was filled later. A few architects, according to Evans, used stereotomy to refer to forms that were considered “ungothic and also unclassical,” and not even Baroque. In the choir vault of Gloucester cathedral (1367), for example, the ribs look as if they are attached to a huge cambered sheet covering the entire choir. Gone in this cathedral is the emphatic distinction that could be made between the column and the wall, where decorum hinged on the tectonic rapport between structure and ornament.15 Implied in this development is a notion of surface that is marked by the geometrical language detectible in Philibert de I’Orme’s stone interlacing.16

These observations allow us to highlight Hadid’s long-term pre-occupation with drawings, most of which deliver a pleasant image of lightness, dynamism, and the architectonics of trompes, made of concrete, but an ornament nevertheless. Furthermore, concepts such as fold and nonlinearity, as well as the popularization of digital software press for complex geometries, the architectonic of which, next to the tectonic, color the architecture of the closing decade of the last century.17 However, the present shift to polished sculpted organic forms marks a departure from Hadid’s concern for materiality and detailing detectable in most of her early work.

Tectonic fields

Hadid’s architecture is successful when her semi-constructivist dynamic visual field is interwoven with topography. Two projects will be discussed briefly before taking up other projects that are significant for a critical discussion of the architect’s turn to monolithic tectonics. With her winning competition entry project for the Peak Hong Kong (1982), Hadid entered the circle of the neo-avant-garde architects. The most intriguing aspect of this unbuilt project is — and is archaic to architecture — the tectonic figuration of the earthwork and the framework. Four frames, drawn perhaps in analogy to the high-rise buildings of Hong Kong, are composed in such a way as to deny the conventional frame structures where, to follow gravity forces, floors are stacked on top of each other like the layers of a cake. Of further interest are the ways the project’s disjunctive composition is anchored to the earth and to the volumes buried underground. Added to this is the landscape of roads and highways. They thicken one’s perception of this “dub” to be experienced as landscape architecture par excellence. Thus difficult to highlight is the boundary between the land-form from the built-form.

The common thread running through the most vigorous projects submitted to the earlier mentioned 1988 MoMA exhibition was the strategy of attachment. To turn away the viewer’s attention from fragmentation and distortion of otherwise familiar forms, these projects were conceived, in one or another form of prosthesis. Of these mention should be made of the object’s attachment to an existing building, Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Rooftop; additions and/or proximity to an existing building, Peter Eisenman’s, Frank Gehry’s, and Daniel Libeskind’s entries respectively. The ghost of something else haunted Koolhaas’ design entry in which the proposed tower could not stand without a base, the Manhattan block. Exceptions to this general tendency were Bernard Tschumi’s entry and Hadid’s reformulation of the tectonics of terrace making to the point where her project stood as a field of interactive terraces connected to each other through diagonal elevators and ramps. The most telling image of her design was a conceptual rendering that depicted the exploded landscape of the Peak. The sci-fi dimension of this pictorial drawing is convincing considering the collision shown between the tectonic of land-form and that of built-form. This aspect of Hadid’s work is powerful whenever it meets either with an expansive field of programmatic requirements, and/or with a given infrastructure.

Of the first set of these examples, mention should be made of her allegorical plan for Manhattan that was conceived in criticism of Le Corbusier’s vision for the city, and the West Hollywood Civic Centre (1987) where the building floats and intersects with the landscape. More successful but on a smaller scale is the Leone/Landesgarten Schau, Weil am Rhein, Germany (1996-1999), an exhibition hall designed for an international gardening show. Of interest are the analogies the architect draws from landscape, especially her redefinition of formalist and abstract notions of “line” as a landscape contour. Starting with six parallel lines, the project’s three main volumes expand the existing southern path turning it into a roof terrace that steps down gently at the other end. Whereas the so-called extended landscape path is a reminder of the ramp in Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Centre, the overall configuration of the project draws mostly from Mies’ experimentation with the element of wall, the Barcelona Pavilion for example. In contrast to the latter’s over-dominant position of the roof, in Hadid’s case, and perhaps after Tadao Ando, the wall is presented as a definitive tectonic element. In her project the line separating the volume from the landscape is blurred. Again hard to define is the difference between the tectonics of landform and the tectonic proper. Thus we have her sharp departure from the Carpenter Centre where the ramp, cutting through the two major volumes of the complex, becomes roof for a raised layer of the adjacent landscape.

Still, similar to the architecture of brutalism, Hadid’s tectonic figuration does not solely invest in the formal consequences of the frame-structural system. Avoiding the axiom of the duality of skin and bone, for example, tropes such as theatricality and ornament attain sculptural dimension in her work. These tropes do not evolve out of a poetic thinking of the schism existing between the constructed form (the core-form), and the cladding (the art-form) either. This is one reason why the current turn to surface does not concern her work, at least in reference to projects discussed here. Even in her latest projects, where the materiality and detailing of the kind used in the Garten Schau are absent, the polished surfaces of these projects should be considered part of the traditions of material embellishment that go back to stereotomy. Another tectonic dimension of Hadid’s work concerns tactile sensibilities flourishing the design’s interior spaces. Putting aside the notion of poché, by which an architect differentiates the form seen from outside from the clad space inside, Hadid does her best to charge the interior ambience with the theatricalization that permeates the work itself. Thus, the interior space is approached as another field where movement is experienced through spaces most of which are embellished by materials such as exposed and painted concrete, wood, and metal, as well as by the play of natural and artificial lights.

The project where most of what has been said thus far is put to work is the Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany, (1990-1994).Two double intersecting concrete volumes, and a wing-looking roof (canopy?) define the exit door of the fire station, now used for exhibition and other public events. The design’s conceptual drawing comprises a series of parallel and intersecting walls in between and through which the building’s interior space juts forward, as if a fire has forced the body of the building to reach out for open air! Recalling Louis I. Kahn’s aphorism, Hadid’s building wants to be a frozen motion, “suspending the tension of alertness, ready to explode into action at any moment.”18 The exit door canopy, the most theatrical element of the project, is cut in analogy to a broken wing that wants to take off. The image is held in place by 12 pipe-columns, a few of which are vertical the others inclined. The tectonic figuration of these columns is a reminder of both Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea, where wooden columns are bundled together with rope, and the fluted columns of the early Gothic cathedrals. In addition to the perception of lightness, another detailing strategy concerns the metal screen grilles and the shape of the window cuts. These, and the cuts implemented in the massing of the Vitra make tectonic statements that concern movement and theatricality. Their playfulness, however, should be differentiated from early twentieth-century expressionistic architecture, Eric Mendelsohn’s drawings and buildings, for example. The difference has to do with aspects of contemporary space/time experience that, in addition to the culture of image, involve infrastructures such as highways, fire, and high-speed train stations, building types not yet commercialized when the Proun was introduced.

This much is also evident from the Car Park and Terminus located in Strasbourg, France, where a concrete roof covering both the bus and tram station is cut and folded to transform the notion of the last stop to a departure point. The roof’s partial cut defies the classical notion of frontality and firmitas, orienting the edifice towards the city. At the same time, the portion of the roof that is turned into a wall and then tucked to the ground directs one’s attention to the car park located on the opposite side. Similar to other aspects of the design, the car park itself is an abstract statement about movement evident in the way cars are parked, and tectonic movement experienced as one leaves the car for the train station. Joseph Giovanni says about the project: as a gateway “choreographing and dignifying a mundane change of transportation modes, from car to tram and back, the design transformed the anomie of the edge of the city by articulating a parking lot and transport shed into a disciplined play of line, form, and structure.”19 The strategy for transgressing the borderline separating the element of wall from the roof and landscape does two additional things: it conjugates the experience and feeling of heaviness with that of lightness, anchoring the flying roof to the earth. Thus the “wing” which seems to be trying to lift the Vitra Fire Station off the ground, is here tied to the earth just to resist the building’s desire to move forward, toward to the city, tectonic configurations without which the floating roof, held up with trembling steel columns, would have suggested nothing more than a shelter. The implied difference is essential for differentiating the tectonic of theatricality from the aesthetics of theatricalization. Hadid is at her best when the design amalgamates purpose with the tectonics that is centered on the architecture’s engagement with landscape.

Equally noteworthy is Hadid’s design for the High-Speed Train Station, Naples, Italy (2003-) where, similar to the Garten Schau, the building sews the incision rail tracks made in the landscape. A band of glass wall, which then turns into the roof, holds together the station’s split concrete volume. Hovering above the tracks, the longitudinal form of the building works like a bridge with downward access to the platforms and upward access to the commercial and public spaces located above the tracks. If the traditional design of the train station camouflaged the mechanical apparatus of arrival and departure behind a façade that was more often than not clad in the classical language of architecture, the dichotomy between the cultural (the civic?) and technological in Hadid’s design is turned into a landmark, a gateway. The motion and emotion signified by the word gateway energizes the swirling body of the complex. Similar to the Heideggerian reading of a bridge’s task (keeping the banks apart), Hadid’s design highlights the cut introduced in landscape in reference to the cut underpinning the form of the building. The design neither reiterates the futurist enthusiasm for the roar of the machine, nor the nineteenth-century nostalgia for the picturesque. It, rather, recalls El Lissitzky’s Proun 1A Bridge drawing (1919), which highlights the contrast between a three-dimensional deck connected to its massive base, and a two-dimensional flat surface ending at the opposite bank. In Hadid’s project, the volume is stretched and elongated enough (at least when looking at the competition entry image that, similar to that of El Lissitzky’s Proun, is drawn in an angle) to look like a stream, the spring of which remains subject to one’s speculation as is the case with the origin of most passengers arriving at the train station.

Stone-like tectonics

The saying that “what goes up must come down” is part of our existential experience of the force of gravity. It also guides us in putting things together. The tectonic strives to address these so-called commonsense expressions of gravity through the conscious, and occasionally unconscious attempt of an architect making architecture distinct from utensil and sculpture. The tectonic does not concern the prejudice that “construction” comes first. It also does not mean that architecture should seem to be standing firm. Even though image is part of tectonic figuration, what is essential to tectonics is this: every constructive element of a building is already sought and developed through the long history of architecture as tectonic. In the culture of building, there are no floating walls, columns cut in midway, and roofs and floors positioned vertically, though these visual anomalies can be imagined and drawn. Of these coded tectonics we should recall the way a building responds to the ground. Starting with the generic potentialities of the Dom-ino system, the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany, pushes the Semperian notion of the earthwork and the frame to a dramatic state. In many ways, Hadid’s design is well orchestrated with the architectonic language of Alvar Aalto’s Kulturhaus and Hans Scharoun’s design for the city’s theater, both located not far from the Phaeno Center. The building’s semi-triangular floor plan provides an empty space for the hands-on examination and exploration of physical laws and scientific tricks. Both in its external form and interior spaces the building looks like a spaceship landed in Wolfsburg. And yet similar to the tram station in Strasburg, the Phaeno Center too seeks to revitalize the city’s edge, which is marked by the train station. The placement of the building’s ten pillions and the surface-cuts of this otherwise alien-looking object provide a public platform on the one side, stretching the building’s body along the railroad tracks on the opposite side. The plan’s third triangular side hangs over a ramp, which operates as both an emergency exit and a public path leading to a bridge crossing the rail tracks. The undulating wall facing the city, nevertheless, provides a backdrop for the public landscape in front, in association with the undulating façade of Aalto’s building.

Standing above a buried volume, the Phaeno’s ten hefty cone-shaped support piers hold up a concrete slab, the base for the building’s walls, connecting the two-way spanning waffle slab structure of the roof and the floor. The underground volume, the car park, effectively acts as a raft, floating the whole structure above less than adequate subsoil for traditional pad and footing. Recalling Kahn’s notion of an “empty column,” the conical piers are conceived as part of the spatial organization of the volume. Informed by the major urban axis of the site, a number of these cones provides access to the elongated main volume of the building. Another is used for the lecture hall. Others house shops and exhibition spaces accessible directly from the main concourse level.

Still, the pillars are detailed to appear as if rising from the sculpted ground plane, the earth-form. Their dynamic figuration, however, distinctively differs from the pilotis of the Marseille apartment block. Unlike the latter, the Phaeno’s large volume is supported and structured by hollow cones, the skin of which seems shaped as if pushing the skin of the floor downward. The pilotis in Le Corbusier’s building instead resemble arms holding up the mass. In Hadid’s buildings, they follow a modest generic version of the dendriform columns of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Factory (1939). The theatricality of the entire volume, including the pleats and cuts of the concrete enclosure mark a distinct departure from the ethos of the new brutalism.20 As in many other contemporary cases, Hadid has done her best here to animate and smooth the surface of concrete, presenting an alternative aesthetics against the dull and porous tactile qualities of most early industrial structures.21 Contrary to the original examples of the architecture of brutalism, in the Phaeno Center, every cut and surface embellishment is used to exaggerate the animated body of the building. Along the southern face, for example, the technique of cut is used to express a glazed opening on the diagonal, accelerating the dynamic movement of the poised form. Even the massive interior truss system of the roof folds and bends here and there as if in dance with the floor whose undulating surface blurs the boundary separating the wall from the floor.

Call it “social construction of technology,”22 the tectonic of theatricality attributed to the work under consideration here allows the heavy feeling of the concrete mass to appear as an agent of light architecture. The metamorphosis brings forth various dichotomies central to the transformational processes and versatility of building materials available today. In Hadid’s hands, the heaviness of materiality (concrete) evaporates into an image that is in focus with the spectacle permeating the present culture, turning architecture into an ornament in itself. This aspect of contemporary architecture, elaborated on elsewhere,23 is reiterated here to connect the subject with the art of stereotomy, mentioned earlier. Having roots in stonecutting, military engineering, mathematical geometry, and architectural composition, stereotomy cast a different light on the tectonics of column and wall, for example. It also provided a means to make a stylistic distinction between Gothic and classicism. This brief digression is made for two reasons. Firstly, instead of associating contemporary aesthetics with the Baroque, and this after Gilles Deleuze’s text on “fold,” the present tendency for theatricalization should be historicized in reference to those aspects of the discipline that are not driven by the style phenomenon, and/or considered part of the aesthetics attributed to a particular Zeitgeist. I say “and/or” because most tendencies in architecture today tend to associate contemporary aesthetics either with the perceptual horizon opened by the digital techniques, or with that of the Baroque to disguise their own historicist intentions.24 Secondly, my own turn to stereotomy aims to show the historicity of image in architecture beyond the tectonics, and the move from mechanical to digital reproductivity. The latter transformation is, however, important and should be addressed, as has been attempted throughout this volume, particularly in reference to the discussed difference between the tectonic of theatricality and the aesthetic of theatricalization. Furthermore, my discussion of theatricality is dialectical, and I trust that I have clearly demonstrated the following adequately: that the tectonic of theatricality is part of the present turn to the digital mode of reproductivity, which paradoxically offers a useful strategic concept for critiquing architecture’s drift into the field of image-making.

To historicize Hadid’s work on a different level, we need to return to the Phaeno Center, where the idea of cut is implemented for an art-form (image?) that stands on the borderline of spectacle and theatricality of the kind we attributed to Koolhaas’ Casa da Múscia. Specific to the tectonic fabrication of these two projects is the attempt to avoid two problems that “arose as soon as the illusion of imitating stone structures was abandoned; the first had to do with the exterior expression of the interior structure, and the second dealt directly with surface of the building.”25 During the 1950s, and by the proliferation of brutalism, in addition to its structural potentialities, what occupied architects the most was the aesthetic (appearance) of brute concrete. Consider Marcel Breuer’s design for the Begrisch Hall (1967-1970) the theatricality of which precedes the above two contemporary buildings. In the Begrisch Hall, the aesthetic is sought through stereotomic surfaces.26 Similar to most monolithic forms, the exterior economy of Breuer’s design is achieved “at the cost of formal and material excess and calibrated for intended effects.”27 The main volume of the Phaeno Center, for example, is evidently the result of cuts and pleats implicated in an otherwise rectangular prism, the Corbusian piloti system. The tectonic of theatricality (stereotomic surfaces) that informs Hadid’s design, nevertheless, departs from both modern and classical traditions for which structure “was less a preoccupation of the collapse of buildings than a precaution against the collapse of the faith in the rectangle as an embodiment of rational order.”28 This is one reason why we should differentiate the Phaeno Center from one of Hadid’s recent projects, the Cagliari Museum in Italy. The latter is Baroque and atectonic; its epidermal smoothness justifies the surface on its own terms.

Surface and its embellishment are important to the architect’s perception of a building, during both the process of conceptualization and its gradual transformation into an edifice. We owe to Le Corbusier the contemporary formulation of surface as an autonomous aesthetic issue independent of the materiality of construction. This is evident from the white abstract façades of the French architect’s early villas compared to the materiality of the Greek temples he most admired. Among other things, the implied difference speaks for the plan/façade relationship. To emulate the modern aesthetic of abstraction, Le Corbusier’s early work had to distance itself from the dictates of construction and its related spatial organization. The surface of the Cagliari Museum, instead, follows neither the aesthetics of purism nor those attributed to brutalist architecture. In this particular project of Hadid, the surface is conceived as a thin film attached to the body of the building, like a wetsuit, if not a coating of white chocolate! The best one could make of the computer-generated image of this project is to associate it with the polished, soft, smooth-looking forms of Greek sculptures. This is not the case with the Phaeno Center, and certainly not with Hadid’s two institutional buildings, the one in Cincinnati and the other in Rome. In both these two projects, sectional investigation, rather than the plan-to-façade relation, allowed the architect to detail the edifice, and design its volumetric organization for particular effect.

Through section drawing the architect examines the internal circulation and the building’s volumetric organization. Sectional investigation also reveals what lies between the interior and exterior cladding, allowing the architect to design relevant details in anticipation of construction. Mohsen Mostafavi includes Hadid’s Contemporary Art Center (CAC), Cincinnati, among other works where “the section is used as both a concept and a drawing tool for choreographing the building’s internal and even external vertical trajectories.”29 What draws one’s attention to this project is the building’s theatrical and crisscrossing interior stair, the steel handrail of which is painted in black, a polychromic choice repeated in the Maxxi Museum, Rome. Two vertical cubical volumes mark the interior of the CAC: one for service spaces, and the other for a small elevator used primarily by the staff whose offices are located on the third floor. To dramatize the presence of these two volumes and the three hefty concrete columns, the rear interior concrete wall is formed like a cyclorama, a large curtain or wall (often concave) positioned at the back of the stage-set area. Ascending the main stairway, one discovers other concepts that in return inform both the internal and external volumes of the building. Reaching the fourth floor we notice the sky and daylight pouring into the space, a glimpse of which is obtained when stepping onto the stair. In addition to a suspended volume that projects into the same floor, and because of the location of the main stair, one sees the diagonal alignment of the interior composition as determined with the fact that the building occupies a corner lot of downtown Cincinnati. “I wanted to bring the outside in, with the idea of an urban carpet,” Hadid wrote.30 At the time of its realization, the CAC was almost an exception to the architect’s résumé in the sense that its design scope was to a certain extent dictated by the tight spatial organization of Cincinnati’s urban setting.

There are other ways to explain the rapport Hadid establishes between the building’s interior space and its external volume. As a backdrop for the interior space, the cyclorama wall is extended to the exterior as seen from Walnut Street. The remaining volumetric composition of the building’s free façade, on the other hand, either emphasizes the presence of the cyclorama wall, or stresses the corner position of the building. While from outside one can hardly make a strong case for the placement of the various surfaces of the building’s massing, the composition comes together reasonably well after the interior space is explored. One notes, for example, the correspondences between the third-floor window opening and the horizontal dark-colored box above and the interior spaces they cover (represent?). Running parallel to Sixth Street, the same dark-colored rectangular box becomes a square posed against Walnut Street. The position of this volume, in reference to the concrete cyclorama wall, resonates with the placement of the main entrance. Approaching the building, one moves parallel to Sixth Street, entering the complex at a right angle to the cyclorama wall. The latter sets the stage for movement and the spatial comprehension of the project, as is the case with the wall in the Car Park and Terminus in Strasbourg.

As well as these departures from the classical canon of frontality, where one enters the building at a right angle to the main façade, mention should also be made of the lightness of the building’s appearance and the weight felt in the interior. That the implied contrast might be consequential to the Dom-ino frame effect is one thing. Another point to be made is how an architect re-thinks the heaviness and lightness in tectonics. Comparing the Villa Savoye with the Ronchamp Chapel, one can speculate for the presence of two architects; one expresses lightness, the other heaviness. In addition to these explanations, the perceptual difference between heaviness and lightness suggests a state of interiority an architect chooses to bask in at a conceptual level. Consider this: every feature of the interior space of the Contemporary Art Center does its best to remind the spectator of the presence of an architect who against all odds wants to deliver her will-to-design. While this is manifested in every architect’s design, what is involved in the CAC is the way in which the architect chooses to control the so-called will-to- design at the expense of comfort and use, and/or the sky and landscape. A case in point is the building’s staircase leading to the lower level where the performance space, clad in dark wood, is located. The stair is narrow and runs at an angle. In contrast to the main stairway, this one is distractive, a reminder of the design’s formalistic nature.

Similar to her other projects the CAC clearly shows Hadid’s use of stairs and ramps for the effects of architectural promenade. Whereas Le Corbusier wanted the spectator to have the opportunity to explore the interior space from different heights and angles, he rarely used ramps and stairs as elements of visual spectacle without dismissing the need for the elegant and impressive presence of these architectonic elements. Moreover, his was against the background of two important moments in the use and abuse of stairway in architectural history: one is reminded of Charles Garnier’s grand escalier in the Paris Opera House (1861-1875) with its mixture of use and spectacle. Garnier’s staircase is monumental, spacious, and comfortable. It is as much an object of interior display as is the building’s exterior classical garment. Rising upward through three sweeping runs, the Opera’s staircase reunites the four categories of opera fans, and “offers a processional denouncement to the public experience of arriving at the Opera.”31 Walter Benjamin wrote that Garnier’s design focused as much on the performance hall as on the wide oval staircase on which ladies display their fashionable clothes and gentlemen meet for a casual smoke. This social life was what the opera was about.32 The second moment concerns the stairs depicted in Gianni Battista Piranesi’s prison etchings. Here catwalks, gangways, and stairs are dramatized in the anticipation of ruination of place, hinted at in part by the absence of the roof and the daylight pouring from the sky. Piranesi’s exaggeration and fragmentation of the materiality of stone is consequential for the loss of space, and was in reaction to the lavishness permeating Baroque churches. Oddly enough, a stairway with a skylight at the top has become a generic element for contemporary commercial buildings. It is to this latter abuse that one should welcome Hadid’s attempt to combine use, spectacle, and light in the design of the main stairway of the Contemporary Art Center.

One cannot fully grasp the importance of interior space for contemporary architecture without exploring Hadid’s winning competition project, the Maxxi National Museum of 21st Century Arts, Rome (2010). Located on an ex-industrial site, just north of the city center, the building’s tubular concrete volumes crisscross each other, first to accommodate the site’s topography, and second to create flowing spaces that end at the main entrance. As a spectacle of movement, the element of stair forcefully returns in this building. Not only do the visitors’ rambling and inspection of the artwork move smoothly, but so do the two main stairs that occupy the interior space. They are choreographed to move up and down, and crisscross each other occasionally. The pleasure of watching their movement is irresistible! The ease with which the staircases turn up and down expands the display areas, most of which are calm, well lit, and spacious. Hadid’s perception of space and movement in this project departs from historical precedents such as Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Hans Scharoun’s Library in Berlin, to mention two significant architectural works. Much like the former, the volume of the Maxxi is infused with its internal spatial organization. And yet unlike both buildings, the final result in the Maxxi neither configures a coherent and unified geometry, nor is formless. This much is evident from the three posed volumes of the Maxxi, which like a three-headed knot each pointing to one aspect of the topography of the site: one looks towards the main street, the second towards the courtyard of the complex, and the third towards the rear side of the building. Their position also forms a hypothetical triangle indicating the end and direction of the building’s knotted interior space.

It is to Hadid’s credit that the L-shaped footprint of the site is taken full advantage of, as are the possibilities of exploring a “linear structure by bundling, twisting, and building mass in some areas and reducing it in others — creating an urban cultural center where a dense texture of interior and exterior spaces has been intertwined and superimposed over one another.”33 In the Maxxi, sectional investigation is edited to transgress both the classical and modern orthodoxies. Whereas in the architecture of early modern times (except in Loos’ work), each floor replicates the geometry and structural organization of the ground floor, and where in Le Corbusier the tabula rasa of the open plan is sustained in its vertical repetition, Hadid uses the sectional cuts to transfer and elevate the wide ground-floor plan of the complex into a number of bar-shaped volumes. Only in this way could the architect have reiterated the visual dynamics of constructivism albeit in a culture where surface is abused to perpetuate the spectacle of late capitalism. And yet, unlike constructivist architecture, the dialectics of theory and practice force the architect to reiterate aspects of what we have called the culture of building. The reader has already noted Hadid’s rethinking of the open plan, the stairs, and the element of skylight for particular aesthetic and formal ends. To these we should add Kahn’s idea of “served and service spaces,” noted in the pilotis of the Phaeno Center. To have the light pour from the sky, an idea that in the Maxxi attains both functional and aesthetic dimension, the ceiling has to be freed of mechanical accessories routinely stacked beneath it; thus the placement of most mechanical amenities in the thick, poured in situ concrete walls of the galleries. The architect’s design statement suggests that, following the confluence of lines, the walls were considered the primary force of the site wherein their constant intersection and separation created indoor and outdoor spaces. The walls also play a major role in the organization of galleries, bridging and connecting various spaces to each other as needed.

To further emphasize the strategy of breaking down a large volume into a number of tubular volumes, we need to check the Maxxi’s skylight up close. Instead of detailing the rooflights with techniques providing a large double-glazed skylight, the space between primary beams, which spans across the galleries at 12.6-meter centers, is given over to an array of 2.2-meter-deep steel trusses clad in what is called glass fiber reinforced concrete (GRC).34 This highly technical detailing does two things. It posits the aesthetic of line against that of the surface, achieved by the intensification of linear expressiveness whilst breaking down the building’s mass into smaller cubical volumes. In doing so the skylight turns into “wish-images” where its aestheticization of line recollects the image of skylight passages of the early last century where contemporary techniques of glass roof glazing were not available. In Felix Mara’s words, “Its configuring of linear spaces, reinforced by graphic pattern of its parallel rooflights, is as old as the gallery building type, and it’s important to remember that this is a museum of not only art, but also architecture. Perhaps its only flaw is that perfection in its external massing is sacrificed to the exigencies of internal planning.”35 One can extend his observation to Wright’s Guggenheim: both buildings radically defy contextualism and bring forth aspects of the context that otherwise would have remained unnoticed. Similarly, the internal flow of these two otherwise diverse buildings challenge the expected smooth association of the exhibited work with the modernist drive for spatial void. The architecture of void and silence is detectable not only in the Mies of his American period, but also in Kasimir Malevich’s suprematist paintings, and in Proun, the dynamic aspiration of which Hadid had studied closely.

The suggested allegorical interpretation of the Maxxi’s skylight (the infusion of the image of old into the new) can be applied to another Hadid project, the Glasgow Riverside Museum of Transport, Glasgow, Scotland (2011). With its S-shaped form, the volume of this building connects the city to the river. The building works like a column-less passage mediating between the two flows of civilization (urbanism) and nature (the river). The architect’s design statement reads: “The landscape, made up of stone slabs in a shadow path around the building and an informal open courtyard space, is designed to direct activities surrounding the building.”36 Similar to the old passages, the roof of this museum draws one’s attention to its two ends where the profile of each one is cut and embellished according to the roof’s pleats. Whereas on the city side, the profile of the pleats recalls the trusses used in the nineteenth-century industrial sheds, on the waterside, it is dramatized in its vertical projections connoting a Gothic, gloomy setting especially if approached from the sea and at night. From a bird’s-eye view, however, the roof looks like a rectangular cloth squeezed about the middle. As is the case with clothing, where the cut is decided based on the structure of the fabric, the roof’s pleats, asymmetrical in their profile, speak for the present state of the art of engineering, manipulating and presenting the concrete roof as the most dominant element of this project, speaking aesthetically. The elementary nature of the project, which combines the roof with sidewalls, evokes the Miesian idea of “almost nothing.” Hadid’s project also recalls the German architect’s design, the Concrete Office Building published in the first issue of G, the European avant-garde magazine of the previous century. Both projects are inspired by the Benjaminian idea of wish-images in that they transform the image of an industrial structure into a cosmopolitan edifice. These observations attain historical significance when the discussion is extended to the BMW Plant Central Building, Leipzig, Germany (2005). Of particular interest is the generic factory type, the design of which is rarely, in recent times, commissioned to an architect of Hadid’s stature.

In modernity and through the work of Peter Behrens, Walter Gropius, and many other architects, the factory was considered as both a symbolic expression of modernization and a civic work in its own right. Behrens famously applied an image of a Greek temple to the front façade of the AEG Factory in Berlin (1905), leaving the side elevation and the interior space to the dictates of the structural engineering of the time, and the functional and spatial organization of the production processes. The same dichotomy informs Albert Kahn’s distinction between architectural art and what he called “business.” Whereas the former would draw from the traditions of representation, the latter would accommodate the logic of industry. Similar to Behrens, Kahn treated the front entry part of his factories beyond its “functional concern.”37 In their joint effort, Gropius and Adolf Meyer, on the other hand, felt comfortable with the industrial look of the Model Factory (1914). Their main design effort, instead, focused on the administration section of the complex, charging it with aesthetics associable with the modernism of the time. I am thinking of the transparency and movement informing the corner stair, noted by most historians. In the Fagus Factory, built around 1913, the same two architects attempted to move the aesthetic aspects of the design of a factory beyond what Behrens had already established. Unlike the AEG, the side elevation of the Fagus building, and even the transparency of its corner design demonstrate the early modern architects’ struggle with offsetting the vertical dictum of the structural in favor of the aesthetic of horizontality formulated by Heinrich Wölfflin. None of these issues and attributes is relevant to contemporary architects’ design for industrial buildings. In addition to Hadid’s previously mentioned project, one is also reminded of the UN Studio’s Mercedes-Benz Museum, and Coop Himmelb(l)au’s BMW Welt where the idea of civic has given way to an architecture of spectacle displaying cars as objects of desire.38 This observation demands turning our attention once again to the notion of wish-images.

Both the production volume of the Model Factory, particularly the image included in Nikolaus Pevsner’s Pioneers of Modern Movement (1936), and the entry volume of the BMW project emulates the architectonic of wish-images associable with the visual sensibilities of different historical moments. In the former building, one witnesses the juxtaposition (montage?) of the image of an industrial shed with the aesthetic of modernity, particularly the translucent g lazing of the front façade. Having disbanded the modernist image of factory, Hadid’s project attempts to express industrialization in the age of digital reproductivity. In David Cunningham’s words, the formal abstractions employed in the Leipzig BMW plant “intensify the spatial experience of the modern program.” It is a work of architecture that “self-consciously” articulates the experiences of modernity.39 This is evident from the building’s elongated and suspended volume where the cut for glazing emphasizes the separation between the elements of roof and the floor slab. Both in its tactility and window lines the glazing delivers an aura that is difficult to explain. Difficult because of its aesthetics — and this in consideration of its surface articulations and the materiality of the two above-mentioned elements, and the position of the concrete pilotis — none of which induces an ambience pertinent to modernity, nor the aura of surface spectacle permeating our digital age. Nevertheless, similar to most contemporary architecture, this one too endorses the return of the organic: I am reminded of the volume’s animal like physiognomy when viewed from a particular angle. I am also referring to the ways in which the complex extends its arms to connect to the three existing buildings. In retrospect, Hadid’s design gives the impression that the addition is oriented and animated by forces emanating from the central building.

The suggested connectivity delivers the aesthetic of theatricality, which in Hadid’s most successful projects avoids organizing the complex into a single large volume. Crisscrossing each other, the internal elongated bar-shaped volume speaks for the organizational strategy of the BMW complex. The profile of the building’s section is the telling story of this aspect of the design, and the interior space where the visitors view the half-made cars moving along tracks towards the production units located in the exiting building. The configuration follows “the cascading floor plates large enough to allow for flexible occupation patterns, thus opening more visual communication than with a single flat floor plate.”40 The section’s profile and the architectonic elements included in this space are designed to accommodate the visitors, workers, and the assembly line. Together they create an ambience for experiencing weight and lightness, and the force of swirling linear elements that eventually are retracted in the dynamics of the bar-shaped volumes of the complex. The ambience is also suggestive that in a post-Fordist production system, both the workers and consumers contemplate the product, i.e., the car as an alienated object of desire. The actual façade envelope, on the other hand, is pulled over to cover the top floor and projected out diagonally. The theatrical curvilinear forms at the top of the main entrance to the central building are further emphasized through the angled concrete columns, all leaning in the same direction. They pump movement into the previously noted projecting and animal-like volume.

The analysis of buildings presented here is of critical importance for a comprehensive understanding of the present state of architecture. On the one hand, it proceeds with the theoretical speculation that the idea of modernity experienced in late capitalism is transformative. On the other, the criticism intends to perpetuate a different understanding of the disciplinary tradition(s) of architecture. The trajectory of these two postulates underline the importance of the idea of parallax for a critical practice that is centered on the tectonic of theatricality. The latter could be considered the third state of architectural object next to the other two, which present themselves as either “purely functional” (modernism), or “purely aesthetic” (postmodernism).41 In this sense the tectonic is universal in that its primary concern is focused neither on function nor on the aesthetic but on construction. Neither is it purely engineering. The tectonic of theatricality recodes the thematic of construction in the purview of available techniques and aesthetics in the consideration of two developments: firstly, that in late capitalism and thanks to the digitalization of architecture, the art of building has stepped into the realm of commodities, the world of image building; secondly that, whereas the general reception of the early modern architecture was limited, as was the case with abstract painting, the present public esteem for playful architectural forms should be considered part of what Slavoj Žižek calls “traumatic distortion.”

Aside from the issue of the return of the organic, a few recent projects of Hadid herald a change in style. Patrik Schumacher, a director of Zaha Hadid Architects, claims that the expressionism permeating the most recent projects of Hadid must be considered the style that not only emulates parametric design, but also “forms a much more pertinent image and vehicle of contemporary life forces and patterns of social communication than the big Foster dome.” Foster, according to Schumacher, is an architect who uses these techniques today, as do most architects.42 Schumacher’s observation relies heavily on the belief that in the prevailing corporate organization all contradictions are dissolved, and that scientific paradigms are in a better position to provide “a comprehensive unified theory” of architecture. This is a situation when “the thing itself can serve as its own mask — the most effective way to obfuscate social antagonisms being to openly display them.”43 That this style happens to be delivered by Hadid has little to do with the notion of artistic signature. Nor does it tally with an art historian’s exhaustive research on the particular nature of contemporary architectural style. The style Schumacher has in mind evolves rather out of a research methodology that dumps “negative heuristics,” for “positive heuristics,” lending the aesthetics (style?) to parametric design.

Schumacher’s theorization of architecture says little about the historicity of the style debate. His is a late note on the style debate without evoking the “late style.” The latter, according to Adorno, loathes the Zeitgeist and lays down the seeds of something different.44 The style to come, to follow Adorno, should step out of its time in the first place. Giorgio Agamben writes:

those who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time, are those who neither perfectly coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands. They are thus in this sense irrelevant (in attuale). But precisely because of these conditions and precisely through this disconnection and this anachronism, they are more capable than others of perceiving and grasping their own time.45

Even Le Corbusier’s work was not in complete harmony with the early modernism, even though historians such as Giedion presented it as such. The French architect’s early work was indeed in sharp contrast with the existing landscape most of which was shaped by historicist styles. Even before historicism, there was never a uniform style attributed to each epoch. Even though most of the work of Hadid and most neo-avant-garde work is in harmony (both technically and image wise) with the spectacle of late capitalism, still the diversity of contemporary architecture cannot be neglected and it is as rich as when the international style of architecture was heralded.

Schumacher has uttered the last word, at least for now, in the sequence of theoretical annunciations of “ends” be it the author, history, or critical praxis. The turn to scientific system paradigms that attracted architects like Christopher Alexander during the 1960s has now gained a new momentum partly due to the exhaustion of theoretical ideas and concepts fashionably borrowed from the prevailing philosophical discourses of the time. With his propagandist rhetoric, Schumacher keeps us in the dark concerning the nature of the aesthetic of expressionism he wants to sell as the style proper to late capitalism. Should there be a subject (the architect?) involved in deciding what the final form of a project should look like? Or should the final form be left to techniques programmed to produce the kind of soft-forms that conform to the present aesthetic of spectacle where everything solid melts into air, to recall Marx’s famous pronouncement. Whatever the answer to this and other questions already raised concerning Schumacher, Hadid’s recent projects certainly indicate a perspectival shift in the tectonic discourse.

The critical analysis of Hadid’s work presented here, nevertheless, intends to “rescue” those elements of the culture of building that in the present image-laden culture are anamorphically distorted.46 There is a degree of anonymity in the tectonics that is not opaque and inaccessible. As parallax object, the tectonic communicates neither as a familiar sign of historical origin, nor as an image extraneous to the thematic of the culture of building, let alone the system theories Schumacher lists in the above-mentioned essay. The tectonic has the capacity to reach for a perception of surface-cladding that neither calculates the limits of loadbearing forces (to recall Banham), nor tallies with the skin-dressing of the organic forms of the kind produced by parametric design. In spite of this, Hadid’s work is significant in its mutation between sculptured tectonics and theatricalization, the aesthetic of which denies materiality for a tectonic figuration that has disciplinary connotations. As for theatricalization, a case in point is the competition entry for the Beijing Central Business District (2010) where the main urban concept does not go beyond planting clone-like towers of various heights. Beside their uncanny look, the agglomerated towers do not challenge the Utopian evident in Le Corbusier’s and Hilberseimer’s urbanism. For now, both on a local and urban scale, parametric design presents nothing but the old capital-driven commodity form dressed-up differently. Gone in lending architecture to digitalization is Hadid’s early idiosyncratic work where imagination, drawing, and landscape were not approached systematically. Her most recent projects also suggest that the critical content and effectiveness of constructivism on contemporary architecture is exhausted. At least for now!


1 El Lissitzky. “Prouns” in Sophie Lissitzky-Kuppers. El Lissitzky: Life, Letters, Texts (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1992), 347.
2 Patrik Schumacher, Digital Hadid: Landscape in Motion (Basil: Birkhauser, 2004), 6.
3 On this subject see Kasimir Malevich, The Non-Objective World, trans. Howard Dearstyne (Chicago, IL: Paul Theobald and Company, 1959), 39.
4 For a comprehensive discussion of this subject see Gail Day, Dialectical Passions in Postwar Art Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), in particular chapter 4.
5 Roland Bathes, Mythologies (New York: Noonday Press, 1972), in particular the final chapter.
6 See Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1985).
7 Here I am thinking of K. Michael Hays in Architecture’s Desire: Reading the Late Avant-garde (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010).
8 Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, Deconstructivist Architecture (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1988).
9 Ibid, 20.
10 Detlef Mertins and Michael W. Jennings, G: An Avant-Garde Journal of Art, Architecture, Design, and Film (Los Angeles, CA: The Getty Center, 2010), 5.
11 Patrik Schumacher, Digital Hadid, 2004, 10.
12 Robin Evans, The Projective Cast (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995), 180.
13 Ibid, 206.
14 Ibid, 180.
15 Ibid, 220-39.
16 Bernard Cache, “Gottfried Semper: Stereotomy, Biology, and Geometry,” Perspecta 33, Mining Autonomy, (2002): 86.
17 H.F. Mallgrave and Christina Contandriopoulos, eds., Architectural Theory Volume II (Maiden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 535-6.
18 Zaha Hadid, Complete Buildings and Projects (London: Thames & Hudson, 1998), 64.
19 Joseph Giovanni, Writing on the Occasion of Zaha Hadid’s Reception of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2004.
20 I have elaborated on this subject in “Theatrical Tectonics: The Mediating Agent for a Contesting Practice,” Footprint 5 (spring 2009): 77-95. See also October 136 (spring 2011), a special issue focused on new brutalism.
21 Jean-Louis Cohen and G. Martin, eds., Liquid Stone (Basel: Birkhauser, 2006), 7.
22 Ibid, 12.
23 On this subject see the final chapter in Gevork Hartoonian, Ontology of Construction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
24 See Antoine Picon, Digital Culture in Architecture: An Introduction to Design Professions (Basel: Birkhauser, 2010), especially the chapter titled “From Tectonic to Ornament.”
25 Cohen and Martin, Liquid Stone, 27.
26 See Isabelle Hayman, Marcel Breuer, Architect (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001), 155.
27 Rodolfo Machado and Rodolphe el-Khorury, Monolithic Architecture (Munich: Prestel- Verlag, 1995), 13.
28 Evans, The Projective Cast, 212.
29 Mohsen Mostafavi, “Architecture’s Inside,” Harvard Design Magazine 29 (fall/winter 2008-2009): 20.
30 Quoted in Hugh Pearman, “An American Beauty,” The Sunday Times, June 15, 2003.
31 Christopher Curtis Mead, Charles Garnier’s Paris Opera: Architectural Empathy and the Renaissance Classicism (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1991), 119.
32 Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project. Here I am paraphrasing Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2011 ), 272.
33 From the architect’s design statement.
34 Information provided by Zaha Hadid Architects, London.
35 Felix Mara, Architect’s Journal, London (September 2010): 63.
36 See Hadid, Complete Buildings and Projects (London: Thames & Hudson, 2009).
37 David Leatherbarrow and Mohsen Mostafavi, Surface Architecture (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002), 2.
38 See also Michael Cadwell’s analysis of Coop Himmelb(l)au’s BMW Welt in Log 21 (winter 2011): 47-52.
39 David Cunningham and Jon Goodbun, “Marx, Architecture and Modernity,” The Journal of Architecture 11, 2 (2001): 178.
40 Zaha Hadid, The Complete Zaha Hadid, 2009, 128.
41 I am benefiting from Žižek, “Architectural Parallax,” in Living in the End Times, 274.
42 Patrik Schumacher, “Parametricism and the Autopoiesis of Architecture,” Log 21 (2011): 62-79. See also Ingeborg M. Rocker’s response to P. Schumacher’s essay in the same issue of Log, 2011. For an early elaboration of his ideas see P. Schumacher, “Let the Style Wars Begin,” The Architects’ Journal, May 6 (2010). The author’s ideas are extensively discussed in The Autopoiesis of Architecture, vol. 1 (London: John Wiley & Sons, 2010). For the review of Schumacher’s book see The Architects’ Journal, February 17 (2011): 2-6.
43 Žižek, Living in the End Times, 253. For a critique of Schumacher see Douglas Spencer, “Architectural Deleuzism: Neoliberal Space, Control and the ‘Univer-city;” Radical Philosophy 168 (July/August 2011): 9-21.
44 I am benefiting from Edward Said in On Late Style (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006), “Introduction” specifically.
45 Giorgio Agamben, Nudities (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), 11.
46 I am benefiting from the concept of parallax developed by Kojin Karatani, Transcritique: On Kant and Marx (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003).

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