Zaha Hadid left us yesterday. She won’t be forgotten for a long time, as she was an architect who actually changed architecture. I remember how her mind-bending Hong Kong Peak competition drawings provided those of us studying in the 1980s with a much-needed inspirational jolt, precisely at a moment when architecture on the whole was at anything but its peak.
When she spoke at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture (I think it was 1986), where I was a student at that time, I distinctly remember how her unorthodox work created a stir. I also learned firsthand about her infamous temper: I had volunteered to operate the slide projectors that evening, and when a slide got jammed, she did not wait very long before directing an unflattering remark toward me in public.
Years later, in the early 1990s, Zaha visited the Berlage Institute in Amsterdam while I was doing a Master’s there. This time, I did not volunteer to operate the slide projector, but, as one of the editors of The Berlage Cahiers #3, I ended up having to transcribe and edit an interview between her and BiA dean Herman Hertzberger. It was not an easy task to transform their verbal conversation into an intelligible text. In conversation, Zaha had a tendency, seemingly out of sheer energy and excitement, to start several sentences at once only to pick up loose ends later to complete them, not necessarily in the same order. She had a highly fragmented way of speaking; one that was actually very consistent with the way she made architecture.
Years later again, this time hired by Mark Magazine to cover Expo 2008 in Zaragoza, I attended Zaha’s press conference in which she spoke about the Bridge-Pavilion over the Ebro river. In true diva fashion, she made her entry more than one hour past the scheduled time. When she presented her project, it became evident that at this point in her career, after much experience, she was speaking much more clearly and thoughtfully. Her multiple fragments had by this time transformed into more smoothly flowing ideas. Again, just like her architectural designs.
Zaha Hadid changed not only her way of working and speaking throughout her fascinating career, but also the ideas and beliefs of many people in her profession. She will be missed.