Visual Arts

From the Miami Herald archives: Architect Aaha Hadid: From child’s play to renown - with a creative eye on the ‘Wow’ in Miami

Pritzker Prize-winning Architect Zaha Hadid's installation in the Moore Building in the design district.
Pritzker Prize-winning Architect Zaha Hadid's installation in the Moore Building in the design district. Miami

This story originally was published in the Miami Herald on Dec. 12, 2005.

Zaha Hadid has been designing buildings - bombastic structures that held gravity hostage, reinterpreted space, captivated the world - almost as long as she can remember, her first project being the tiny blocks of furniture rearranged in her bedroom nearly 50 years ago. Such child's play would evolve into something bigger both in dreams and in drama. After spending years as a "paper architect" - her genius closeted, her most ambitious, theatrical and acclaimed projects confined to paper - Hadid erected her first major building in 1993. It was the first of several urban experiments in faraway places like Germany and England and France and Austria and the American Midwest.

Now more marveled at than misunderstood, Hadid last year became the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest honor in an industry peopled mostly by men.

She is at the helm of a number of impressive projects all over the world, mostly in Europe, but she would like to get her hands on Miami, a place she sees as a young urban city hungry for a public architectural statement.

"I love Miami!" Hadid said at the unveiling of Elastika, her Art Basel, site-specific installation in the Moore Building in Miami's Design District. "It has amazing spaces. It just needs the 'wow' factor. I really want to do something here."

Though Art Basel is over, its shine is lasting, exposing A-list artists such as Hadid to South Florida, opening the door for future projects. Had Hadid's work not been in Miami and been so warmly received, the city may not have made her wish list. Hadid's wish to put her imprint on Miami's skyline is likely to be fulfilled even though there are no projects yet on the table.

Hadid is a blur of urban black, and at her Art Basel project she seemed especially oblivious to the watchers wading through the Moore atrium early one afternoon. They point and whisper because somebody famous and brilliant and coy has entered the place.

Still, Hadid is so much more focused on what she created overhead in the Moore Building - a spectacular and somewhat mysterious oblique white stretch that spans the space like chewing gum. Hadid designed the work, like her other creations that trounce on the most basic architectural norms, to pose spatial questions.


Hers is a work embodied by boundless lines and undulating curves and an absolute refusal to walk straight lines or turn right angles. Its power, its strand of surprises, is often in what it is not.

Ambra Medda, the organizer of design.05, which showed the posh furniture collections of galleries around the world and honored Hadid, said she was the perfect choice, the perfect symbol of art, space and design.

"We were looking for someone to define the space in a dynamic way, " Medda said. "She took a building that is eclectic and projected it into the future."

The design was born in Hadid's home base in London, constructed in Austria, installed in Miami. She explains the creation: "I wanted to do something that plays with the idea of vertical spacing and bridging spaces, " said Hadid, the daughter of an affluent Iraqi family.

This is the language, somewhat abstract, of a woman who has manipulated space for nearly a quarter-century.

Just five years after graduating from architecture school in London, Hadid debuted by winning an international design competition in Hong Kong. For an exclusive club and apartments in the belly of a mountain that reigned over the city, Hadid offered a series of drawings and paintings. It was called the The Peak.

The renderings, Hadid's brilliant idea of how people live and play above a glittering metropolis, made her a celebrity architect - even though The Peak was never realized. She would later design other spaces and win other competitions that never made it beyond pen and paper, most notably the 1994 Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales.

Hadid sees those unbuilt projects as more a matter of timing than rejection.

"It took the world time to catch up with fantastic visions, " she said. "Now they are more familiar."

Which is to say that the world finally opened up to her and other visionaries' outlook - folks like Frank Gehry (Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain now designing a rehearsal and performance hall in Miami Beach for the New World Symphony), and Daniel Libeskinds (upcoming World Trade Center site).


Suddenly, or perhaps not so suddenly, Hadid's mark was all over the place: the Vitra Fire Station in Germany; a tram station and car park in Strasbourg; the Bergisel Ski Jump tower in Innsbruck, Austria; and the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, which The New York Times described as the most important American building erected since the Cold War.

The BMW Central Plant Building in Leipzig, among her most whimsical and visually brilliant gems, features conveyor belts that carry brand-new cars across the plant - and through open offices and reception areas.

The Cincinnati project came along at a time when cities across the country were commissioning celebrity architects for public spaces. The works of Hadid, Gehry and Santiago Calatrava beautifully changed skylines, broadened the notion of civic design, and spurred their own brand of cultural tourism, for people as interested in the outside as the inside.

"A city is better off with a designed public works, " Hadid said. "It gives people a forum to discuss space and how we live in it and how we relate to it. You are free to discuss your environment."

Hadid is deeply committed to the study of space, not just in etching and renderings, but in real life. Good design, she believes, is a necessary thread in the city's cultural fabric.

"Fundamentally, this is about shelter and well-being; a place should feel good, live or work well in a space, " she said.

Currently, her projects include a train station in Napoli-Afragola, Italy; a museum in Glasgow, Scotland; the Guangzhou Opera House in China; and perhaps most remarkably, an Aquatic Center for the 2012 London Olympics crowned with a roof shaped like a stormy wave.

"Everybody experiences spaces in a different way, " she said. "Ultimately, I am trying to create places that make you think about space in a different way."