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Ms. Hadid


Dame Zaha Hadid is to become the first sole female recipient of the Royal Gold Medal for architecture, as colleagues claimed she has missed out on becoming a national treasure because she does not play “the comfy British game of platitudinous waffle”.

Is this the bird whose buildings don’t quite work, can’t be built because of cost, don’t convert as they’re supposed to?

Agreed, I know near nothing of the world of architecture but there seem to be two stories here as far as I’ve heard. Brave courageous, above all female, architect pushing the boundaries of the discipline. And the counter story, someone whose stuff looks great on paper but doesn’t really, given the bounds of current materials and budgets, really work.

Then again, given the British arts establishment, prizes would be given for that second, wouldn’t they?

Where was that library that cooked everyone while rotting the books? Cambridge? Prize winner, wasn’t it?

25 thoughts on “Ms. Hadid”

  1. If her name was Fortescue-Phipps and her sex male she would be an obscure waster known in the world of architecture as someone to avoid giving your business to.

    If her name was Beerworthy (ditto sex as above) she would be a national laughing stock who would eventually get a place in the Book of Heroic Failures etc alongside Eddie the Eagle.

    Ethnic and female? Of course she will be awarded prizes .An obnoxious weirdo who seems to be wearing a bomber jacket and some sort of black robes and whose designs show similar high-end taste? An ugly wedge next to old world charm ? A giant bicycle helmet plonked down in the middle of Tokyo ? A genius to be sure.

  2. someone whose stuff looks great on paper

    Hardly. You don’t remember the monstrous carbuncle she designed for the Cardiff opera house then?

    Fortunately, the bid to build the design failed to get lottery cash and a different project built something instead. The resulting building still looks like a skip covered with a tarpaulin, but it’s far better than it could have been.


    Starchitect is a portmanteau used to describe architects whose celebrity and critical acclaim have transformed them into idols of the architecture world and may even have given them some degree of fame amongst the general public. Celebrity status is generally associated with avant-gardist novelty.

    The problem with the buildings of Starchitects is that they are very much designed around form rather than function. To look glam to the outside world, to have the arts editors cooing over them. And their prize organisations are the same. RIBA cooed all over the Olympics Acquatics Centre, but you don’t have to be a genius to see the extra maintenance costs that building is going to have over a simple cuboid building.

    (there’s a parallel in the ad world. the prizes frequently go to ads that didn’t increase sales of products)

  4. I lived in a building once that had won an architechtural prize. Was hardly a right-angle in it (great, where do I put my desk? Oh, in that dark corner unless I can tolerate gaps and misalignment), bespoke fully-fitted stainless steel kitchen with the hotplates set into the steel with no provision for expansion (so the entire surface bowed out when hot) and bespoke controls designed to catch fat and stop working.

  5. TIm

    You are correct – It was the Seeley Historical Library (Many an hour whiled away there as an undergraduate) in Cambridge: Described thus:

    “The main problem with the building is that it leaks, it’s too bright, too hot in summer and too cold in winter.”

  6. JuliaM,

    “Accordimng to Twitter, she’s just flounced out of a Radio 4 interview because they dared to ask questions…”

    Having listened to it, I’d have walked too. It was an amateurish interview, like most of Sarah Montague’s. Peddling the line about deaths on the World Cup site from the BBC’s house newspaper after someone took a leap from 1200 migrant deaths in Qatar to 1200 migrant deaths on the World Cup site. Then got questioned about Tokyo, but not enough time to answer it, at which point she clearly figured it was a waste of time.

  7. And in her defence… this is what she (and other starchitects) do. They make expensive, flashy buildings that work for a short time for effect. The source of the problem is the people that hire them (mostly politicians and their minions) to do it.

  8. She reminds me of that man who invented gamesmanship and managed to convince everyone he was a great chess master despite never winning any matches.

    The professions are largely run by idiots. We could do with a Maoist-style purge sending them down to the countryside to clean pigstys.

  9. They love her here in Vienna. Her bloody wonky stilty boxes are everywhere.

    Bit of a black mark last year, though when her brand new Wirtschafts Universitaet building started to fall part after just 12 months of use. They blamed the builders.

  10. The Seeley Historical Library is having a new roof put on it this year because of all the leaks in the original one (from 2003).

  11. To be fair- the problem for architects is that the head a collaborative process (at least nowadays- Foster et al in the 80’s started this), and in a building so much stuff needs to work perfectly in order to deliver a quality build.

    The (st)architect produces the concept and the surveyors and structural engineers and BMS folk then try to make it work, whilst the architect’s practice’s juniors do the detail work.

    If it doesn’t all tie in, unsolvable problems get passed onto the contractor in charge of the build and we end up with 12 year old roofs being replaced and so on.

    If the starchitect is capable, they’ll accept feedback from all other parties and amend the design to retain the concept and it’ll go on to work well. If they don’t (because they are overcommitted to projects, or just a bit of a diva)it’ll end up being shit.

    Mind you, architects are a bit crap- they made the guy who did the Tricorn Centre their king. And that building, regardless of what you think of the aesthetics, just didn’t work.

  12. Years ago, I shook her hand, was spoken to by her (because it is a bit like being spoken to by Brenda, you don’t answer) and even handed her a cheque for an enormous sum spent by politicians and ex-politicians for the local masterplan in a reclaimed area-to-be of Bilbao.

    I wouldn’t like to have to work with her. She is to architecture what María Callas was to opera. If I had been sensitive, I would have been very upset at the way she dealt with me and others who were not part of the beautiful people around at the time.

    Her minions were all cool, cool, cool and my impression was that they were all learning the spiel, but being young, inexperienced and poorly paid were anxious to put in a couple of years for the CV before buggering off somewhere else.

    To do something that stands a chance of coming in on time within budget and capable of being liked by the general public is, I suspect, way beneath her and her talent.

  13. I wouldn’t like to have to work with her. She is to architecture what María Callas was to opera.

    Ooh no. Callas might have been a diva, but she was absolutely brilliant, and probably unique. This Hadid woman sounds more like Whitney Houston: thinks she’s a diva, is hyped to hell, but actually isn’t that good.

  14. The Seeley Historical Library has a companion in incompetence: the acoustics in the recent Law Building were so bad that everybody entering had to be asked to shoosh because otherwise people in the library and lecture theatres were disturbed. Not the fault of the starchitect, of course: some acoustic consultant was at fault. Of course: blame an underling. Do starchitects ever accept responsibility for anything other than having their arses licked?

  15. Back in my University days, I did some time in the civil engineering department. Those that had worked in practice before coming back to academia didn’t have many good words to say about architects.

    “Normally can’t do basic structural calculations”…”No understanding of physics” were about the nicest things said.

  16. Spanish architects are apparently highy valued (compared to UK counterparts) precisely because they can do the structural stuff. Their courses include much of what a civil engineer has to do.

    As I understand it a project in the UK is usually signed off by architect and engineer, here the architect signs and that is enough. He or she is responsible for the whole caboodle.

  17. This is not a sex/gender thing. We also have the engineer turned starchitect Calatrava.

    Built a pedestrian bridge in Bilbao. Used glass blocks for the wlak way. A number of broken hips later (skating rink anyone?) he declined responsibility and first stuck some horrible rubbery compound over it and now we have rubber matting.

    He proceeded to take the town hall to court to protect his intellectual property as they had brought another walkway to the bridge (other developments had proceeded and changed the people flow) and joined it up without him and his massive fee structure.

    Bloody judge found in his favour. So now you know. Order a bridge from an engineer and you can do what you want with it. Order one from a starchitect and it’s his not yours.

  18. @abacab

    My father critiques third year architecture student’s graduation projects at a well known university.

    He agrees with you: basic lack of knowledge of structural physics, plus an impractical approach to services.

    It’s a definite flaw in what we do during education.

  19. Wasn’t there an architect a few years back that on the night he was being given an award for his auditorium with no pillars the roof caved in on the building. The award wasn’t presented in the building, which might have made for an interesting ceremony.
    Apparently while he had consider the effect of pooling water on the roof he hadn’t quite got it right.

  20. By contrast, Carlo Rossi, the Italian architect who designed the arch which leads on to St Petersburg’s winter square, was so confident in his calculations that he stood on top of it as they removed the supports.

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