Remembering Zaha Hadid

Architecture | Apr 2016 | BY Philip Michael Wolfson

The world’s loss is the universe’s gain as I truly feel that Zaha has set a new constellation in motion.  Even though no one could shine brightly enough to dim her brilliance, everyone shone more brightly because of her.  The energy in every idea and sketch that came from Zaha’s hand had the power of an atomic blast, and each one of her smallest sketches contains the insight of an entire universe of ideas. That was her brilliance; every idea encapsulated so much potential. A sketch could form the basis of a building, a master plan, or a line of jewelry. That’s what inspired everyone in her office, and around her.  That’s what makes her an icon.

Elastika_photo by Steven Brooke

Zaha Hadid Architect’s Elastika installation in the Moore Building. Photo by Steven Brooke

As a student of Zaha’s for my 4th year at the AA (1980/81), and then joining her studio in 1982, I remember our first projects were The Peak and La Villete Competitions. Quite an exciting start. Along with Alistair Standing, another recent graduate of the AA, we were the Zaha studio. Running her studio for the next approximately 10 years, and coming in & out of the office for a further 10 years, I was fortunate enough to get to know this amazing person very well, indeed!

Street

A rendering of Zaha Hadid Architects’ 1000 Museum condominium on Biscayne Boulevard

Zaha’s Miami introduction came about around the year 2000, when she was going back & forth to Cincinnati for prelim CAC work. As I’d introduced Zaha to my cousin Micky Wolfson, and they got along very well, we thought it would be relaxing for her to stopover and enjoy the beach. That’s when the Delano and the Raleigh became her favorite pools in the world, to sit by the water and sun.  Everyone that knew her then, and that was a much more limited group, would come and sit with her out by the pool. Zaha in her bathing costume, and everyone else dressed, usually, in architectural black, suffering, but enjoying it all immensely!

Rooftop Pool

A rendering of the rooftop pool at the 1000 Museum condominium

One memorable occasion occurred when Zaha’s suite at the Raleigh was flooded. Of course, it was the Esther Williams Suite. Appropriate, as water was always a source of relaxation for Zaha. From her trips to friends in Istanbul, by the ocean, to her bathtub at her tiny Mews house in London which is where the office first began.

Recently, Zaha gave a talk to the Oxford Union and the question came up regarding how she dealt with ‘writer’s block’ as an architect: (32:25)

There’s a twinkle in her eye as she absorbs this question, and gives an inspiring answer. I immediately thought that the twinkle was Zaha remembering how she dealt with her ‘writer’s block’ in the early days when the studio was that infinitesimally small rented mews house in South Kensington. There, when Zaha had to deal with writer’s block, the bathtub became her place of refuge and inspiration. We’d all be working late into the night, usually on a competition, and there would be some issue in the design that she would be uncomfortable with. At that time, Zaha would, in order to re-load, disappear into the bathroom. Almost always, the ideas would then flow, and the competitions would be won!

Miami Collins Park Garage_2

A rendering of Zaha Hadid Architects’ parking garage on Collins Avenue

Water was always an important inspiration for Zaha—from bathtub, to the Peak Competition, to the Esther Williams Suite at the Raleigh Hotel to the London Olympics Aquatic Centre.

Lets keep in our hearts and minds, only the picture of a loving friend, brilliant thinker and inspiring person.

With all my fondest thoughts and love to you Zaha.

Michael

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