For years architect Zaha Hadid’s creations were considered too outlandish and avant-garde to ever become glass and concrete reality.
But now, as the closest thing to a celebrity architect and with five projects in the UAE and countless others around the world, it seems she can do no wrong.
Despite a profile many celebrities would die for, and with an unrivalled portfolio of work, she hungers for more opportunities to help transform the desert. In fact the 57-year-old mathematics graduate, who runs Zaha Hadid Architects in London, has not discounted opening an office in Dubai, a city gripped by an unprecedented building boom.
Iraqi-born Hadid has revolutionised her profession over the past 30 years and is now focusing on, among other things, the emergence of Dubai as a place where things happen.
“I think Dubai is a fantastic place to come and build,” she says. “People ask me, ‘why Dubai?’ But for Europeans and many others it is a great place to live. I was in Dubai last December and the weather was just right, whereas in London it was freezing. And the location is perfect for a trip to Cairo or anywhere else. Sometimes people cannot afford the time or money to travel the world but with the world being built in Dubai you won’t have to.”
Work began on The Opus office block – which she designed for Omniyat Properties – at Business Bay during last month’s Dubai Cityscape exhibition. Her other Dubai projects are an opera house to be built on a man-made island in the Creek and the Signature Towers – known as the dancing towers.
In Abu Dhabi her Sheikh Zayed Bridge is under construction and the soon-to-be-built performing arts centre will be “striking and iconic”. Hadid calls them destinations rather than just buildings. This is certainly true of her architectural masterpieces in North America and Europe, such as the Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati and the Bergisel Ski Jump in Innsbruck, Austria. Although not for the faint-hearted, Hadid’s buildings are designed with people in mind.
When she creates her spaces she considers the vistas they will afford and the strolls they will make possible. Each of her Dubai projects will have a huge atrium and landscaped walkways, that will make both the interiors and exteriors aesthetically pleasing. And, with her use of sweeping architectural curves and lines, the results are certain to be nothing less than extraordinary.
The design for Dubai Opera House looks more like the base of a tree than a typical arts centre. And the Opus will resemble a giant building block with the inside scooped out. “The Opus is not a single structure but a series of towers connected from the ground and sometimes above,” Hadid says.
The same theme is evident in the plans for Signature Towers, also to be built in Business Bay. Its three towers appear to be separate but are cleverly connected by a series of lift shafts. “I don’t know whether this has been done before but it shows there are different ways of doing things. You will have different views from above than you will from below.”
Hadid’s team of architects do not have a base in the Middle East yet, but a Dubai office – maybe in one of her own masterpieces – is not out of the question. “I have no plans yet but I seem to be visiting this part of the world more each year so it could happen,” she says.
The UAE, and Dubai in particular, has caught the attention of many of the world’s major architects and property developers in the past two years, and businesses, continue to relocate to the Emirates. Current projects include Emaar’s Downtown Burj Dubai, Nakheel’s Palm trilogy and Tatweer’s mammoth Dubailand.
Another major initiative is Sama Dubai’s the Lagoons, a complex, which will include Hadid’s Dubai Opera House.
But does she fear a city can have too many iconic buildings or too many landmarks and just become a jumble of concrete and glass?
“No, not really. If they are all outstanding buildings then it will work in its own way. If they are all ghastly then it won’t.
“Dubai has already shown that it can build some outstanding buildings and they do not seem out of place.”
Born October 31, 1950, in Baghdad, Iraq, Zaha Hadid received a degree in mathematics from the American University of Beirut before moving to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. In 1980 she established her own practice in London and during the following decade taught at the Architectural Association, while also teaching at universities around the world. In 2004 Hadid became the first female recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.