Zaha’s calligraphic sweeps

 

LIWA dunes bu Dhabi
LIWA dunes Abu Dhabi

Having met Zaha Hadid only a number of times personally, I will not reflect on these otherwise memorable encounters, but rather on her work as an emotive architect. Exactly the emotive factor links her designs with mine and not surprisingly also with the Powerlines paintings of Ilona. In 2001 I wrote my inaugural speech for the TU Delft and titled it Towards An Emotive Architecture. I founded the Hyperbody research group at the TU Delft, fully dedicated to the exploration of complex geometry, interactive architecture and real time design games. Over the past 16 years we educated hundreds of young designers in Hyperbody, quite a few of them found their way to Zaha’s office. Likewise our office in Rotterdam functioned as one of the gateways to Zaha’s design studio.

Zaha Hadid | Performing Arts Center | Abu Dhabi 2007
Zaha Hadid | Performing Arts Center | Abu Dhabi 2007

In 2004/2005 Zaha selected our competition design for the U2 Tower in Dublin [2003] and the Web of North Holland [2002] to be respresented in the collectioner’s book 10x10_2 [10 architects selected by 10 architects]. I like to think that Zaha and her team were charmed by the emotive nature of our design, by the muscular sweeping shape. Anyway, what I do like about Zaha’s designs is the strong emotional physicality of her sweeping gestures, mostly horizontally stretched, just as far as the arm can reach on the drawing table. Gestures like calligraphy, fully embodied in the middle part of the graph, their tipping points stretching to become a single fine line. Appearing and disappearing. She was clearly more confident with horizontally stretched gestures than with vertically directed sweeps. Her skyscraper designs never radiated the same power as the horizontally stretched designs,  merging the building with the landscape. Almost as a rule the curved contour lines of the buildings extended themselves into the landscape, from the very beginning of her career in design for the Hong Kong Peak and the Vitra Fire Station, until her last published designs such as the Performing Arts Center for Abu Dhabi and the Tokyo Olympic Stadium.

And very consistently Zaha’s sweeps are elegant, strong, lighthearted and beautiful. I would not hesitate to label these as a form of sweeping calligraphy, therewith embodying her Arabic background. Zaha must have loved the giant sand dunes south of the LIWA desert. I was so fortunate to have an Arab client from Abu Dhabi who was born in the LIWA Oasis, eventually naming our tower design in the Capital Center district in Abu Dhabi the LIWA tower, it must reminded him of the gentle curves and the colour of his native desert. Zaha obviously had the desert in her eyes, translated into such gently sweeping gestures.