Zaha and the Future

The sudden death of Zaha Hadid prompted tributes and appraisals around the world for this groundbreaking architect based in EC1. Here architectural writer, commentator and The Post’s columnist Peter Murray considers her legacy.

Zaha Hadid Architects is a Clerkenwell practice. Its main office is in Bowling Green Lane and its satellite office, exhibition space and model display is in Goswell Road. In spite of Zaha’s untimely death it will continue to produce the remarkable architecture for which it is globally renowned – not only because there are a stack of projects in the pipeline (it has been going through a winning streak in competitions recently), but because it is a practice where the senior team has been working with Zaha for many years.

In spite of the modern obsession with the individual, architecture is a team game. In a moving speech at the reception in the Goswell Road showroom after Zaha’s funeral, Patrik Schumacher, her joint partner, said how his only experience of working in an office was with Zaha. They worked together for nearly 30 years. His contribution to the practice’s computer-based, sculptural forms has been fundamental to the way the firm has developed; he has been key to the growth of the business as well as the training of staff, most of whom have studied at the Design Research Laboratory at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in Bedford Square, of which he is co-director.

A year or so ago, the firm hired Mouzhan Majidi, the former managing director of Foster and Partners, to help run the business. Patrik’s ambition has long been to be as big a practice as Fosters. Zaha was a key supporter of the 2004 Clerkenwell Architecture Biennale (now the London Festival of Architecture).

Clerkenwell was the sensible place to start, since there are more architects per square metre here than anywhere in the world. The numbers are probably a lot higher today as London grows as a global hub for design and construction skills, with its reputation for creativity due in no small part to Zaha’s presence here. She stayed in spite of her feeling that she should have received more commissions in London. It is not uncommon for British architects to feel that they are held in greater esteem abroad than in their own land – Sir David Chipperfield has often criticised the way that he, and his architecture, is treated by clients and planners in his home town.

Zaha loved Miami, it was a second home and rewarded her with the 1000 Museum tower, which is currently under construction, and the citizens mobbed her at parties. But she stuck with London. The practice purchased the Design Museum building down at Butler’s Wharf, and will take it over to house the ZHA archive and support forward-looking design when the Museum moves to Kensington. There are rumours of big projects to come in the capital, so perhaps things will change. 

It will be a bit calmer in the ZHA office in the future – Zaha made her presence felt; Patrik’s challenge will be to maintain that essential element of energy and excitement in the practice and its work. It’s tricky to get right, but not impossible. There are many firms that continue on after the death or retirement of a founding partner although few of them have the distinctiveness of the work, the scale of profile as well as the shock of such a sudden and premature departure.

The reputation and body of work that has been generated by ZHA in little over a decade is remarkable, but even in that short space of time it has evolved substantially from the boxier cantilevered concrete of the MAXXI in Rome and the Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, to the dramatic flowing forms of the Galaxy Soho in Beijing and the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku.

Zaha was obsessed with a future world, and ZHA’s architecture will surely continue to evolve around the DNA of an approach that has changed the way architecture is built, and the way we observe it, in a way that has been matched by few others.

Peter Murray is Chairman of NLA: London’s Centre for the Built Environment