An overview of Zaha Hadid’s architectural form and abstract paintings

by decwells
An overview of Zaha Hadid’s architectural form and abstract paintings


© Artland Magazine

Zaha Hadid (31 October 1950 – 31 March 2016) was a visionary architect, businesswoman and teacher who left extraordinary works. She became the first individual woman to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Hadid sees architecture as an art that deals with human emotional experiences such as pleasure, happiness, etc. Her design inspiration comes from observing nature, people and the city. In one of her interviews, Hadid said: “People ask ‘why are there no straight lines, why no 90 degrees in your work?’ This is because life is not made in a grid.”

Drawing for “The Great Utopia” exhibition, 1992, Zaha Hadid

Hadid won 93 prizes until 2012; the most important one is the Pritzker Prize (2004). Hadid’s first global recognition was in 1982 with The Peak Leisure Club project in Hong Kong.

Drawing and painting had a primary place in Hadid’s practice. Hadid came closer to Russian Supremacist arts in the early 20th century when she studied Architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture after studying Mathematics at the American University of Beirut. Her early works were influenced by the suprematism of Malevich and the constructivism of Tatlin and Rodchenko. Hadid synthesized Suprematism with the sections, plans and isometrics of architectural drawings.

“The Great Utopia” exhibition, 1992, Zaha Hadid © David Heald

Hadid incorporated many constructivist elements into her architectural aesthetic. The main impact on Hadid’s art was Kazimir Malevich’s free linear dynamic construction style; she took geometric elements and the anti-gravitational space of Russian avant-garde. This led to a new trend called Deconstructivism, characterized by antigravity, non-geometry, complexity and fragmentation.

Hadid’s early works have been called dynamic construction because of her methods’ dynamic, fragmentary form and combination. Dynamic construction is the reference and creative development of the Russian avant-garde Suprematism and Constructivism in architecture.

Drawing for “The Great Utopia” exhibition, 1992, Zaha Hadid

Suprematism arts were constructed in time and space to portray a philosophical understanding of the world rather than simple aesthetic considerations. Constructivist practice broke free from the picture frame through the use of complementary methods.

New York-based architect Lebbeus Woods said of Hadid’s architectural practice: “Most architects make drawings. However, Hadid’s drawings of the 1980s differ in several ways. Most importantly, she had to create new systems of projection to formulate her complex thoughts about architectural forms and the relationships between them in spatial terms.”

Zaha Hadid’s towering ambition, Harper’s Bazaar © Alberto Heras

In 1988, the “Deconstructivism in Architecture” exhibition was held at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York, where seven architects participated; Coop Himmelblau, Peter Eisenmann, Thom Mayne, Daniel Libeskind, Bernard Tschumi, Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. Deconstructivism is broadly divided into separate Derridian and non-Derridian.

Non-Derridean architects use a more realistic approach where concepts or ideas are taken from different sources; Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry were inspired by Suprematism, Constructivism and nature respectively, developing the form into a sculpture and function following form.

Hadid participated in this exhibition with her architectural drawings. This exhibition was one of the critical steps for Hadid to introduce her architectural aesthetic to the world. Malevich, Tatlin and Rodchenko strongly influence these early paintings.

“Extension of the Dutch Parliament,” 1978, Zaha Hadid

Lebbeus Woods recounted his astonishment at Hadid’s painting techniques during a visit to her studio in 1984:

“I saw a watercolor that Zaha Hadid was working on taped to a drawing board. It was a delicate and intricate drawing related to her breakthrough project for The Peak. Being one to draw, I asked her what brushes she used… Without comment, she showed me an inexpensive paint finish ‘brush’ that can be bought at any corner hardware store – a wedge of gray foam on a stick. I still remember being shocked into silence. Years later, I understood her choice of tools as characteristic of her approach to architecture: a wringing of the extraordinary from the everyday.”

Generally, she used calligraphic methods to visualize her architectural ideas. The drawing was a design tool for Hadid, and abstraction was an investigative structure to visualize architecture and its relation to the world around us.

“Vision for Madrid,” Spain, 1992, Zaha Hadid

On the other hand, technology and innovation have always been central to the work of Zaha Hadid Architects. Hadid has used technology in her career, but has continued to make her signature designs. She didn’t want her designs to be limited to what computers could offer her. She said in an interview: “I don’t use the computer. I do sketches quickly, often more than 100 on the same formal research. The painting formed a critical part of my early career as the design tool that gave us the opportunity for intense experimentation. The painting was always a critique of what was currently available to us as designers – since 3D design software didn’t exist.”

Most of Hadid’s early works are theoretical, and she used the technique she developed at the time to construct these ideas in the future.

The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde, 1915-1932 © David Heald

In 1992, Zaha Hadid was commissioned to create a collection of paintings and drawings for “The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde, 1915-1932,” a Russian Constructivism exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. This collection includes Zaha Hadid’s 32 ink drawings and 47 acrylic paintings.

Hadid recreates Malevich’s “Tectonic” as a “bent” shape and uses color in a way reminiscent of Theo van Doesburg and members of De Stijl. Hadid was also the first architect to have the opportunity to design an exhibition in the Guggenheim Museum. She separated the Guggenheim into thematic interventions: Bent Tektonik, Black Room, Globe Room, Maze Room, Porcelain Beams, Skyline of Tektoniks, Suprematist Walls, Tatlin Tower and Zig Zag Wall.

Malevich’s Tectonics, 1976-1977, Zaha Hadid

Hadid reflected on the influence of artist Kazimir Malevich on her work in an article in the Summer 2014 issue of RA Magazine:

“One consequence of my interest in Malevich was my decision to use paint as a design tool. I found the traditional system of architectural drawings to be limiting and was looking for a new way of representation. Studying Malevich allowed me to develop abstraction as an investigative principle.”

At the same time, Hadid completed the “Vitra Fire Station” in Weil am Rhein, Germany, one of the important works from her early career. It is also the first time that Hadid has transformed her vivid and experimental two-dimensional images into three-dimensional architecture. The building is also notable for the way it shows and expands; it seems to expand and lengthen the space itself, both on paper and in the facade.

Vitra Fire Station, Zaha Hadid
Vitra Fire Station, Germany © Christian Richter

It’s not always easy for Hadid to get her ideas built, even though she’s become an architect we all know. Another project where we can see other lines inspired by Malevich: The Peak in Hong Kong (1983). The project idea won the competition but was never built. The works are composed of deconstructed volumes that have exploded into a series of razor-sharp components that project indefinitely outwards.

Hadid’s bold composition produced a building with a sense of tension and movement. Yet it also serves a practical purpose: its versatile exterior allows for multiple entrances and exits for firefighters and vehicles. This emphasis on fluid movement can be seen from the first painting to the finished fire station.

We can add a lot to this article about Zaha Hadid’s designs, drawings and inspiration for the world of architecture. We remember Hadid’s inspiring works on her birthday and on the 6th anniversary of her death.

Learn more about Zaha Hadid Architects’ 10 Notable Works of Zaha Hadid (ZHA)

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