‘I have always believed in progress and in creativity’s role in progress,’ says architect as she picks up RIBA’s Gold Medal
Zaha Hadid has said too many of London’s new developments are too conservative, in a lecture to mark her award of RIBA’s 2016 Royal Gold Medal.
Delivering the Royal Gold Medal Lecture on Tuesday night, Hadid spoke of her worry regarding a move towards traditional design among London’s developments. Hadid was given the RIBA Gold Medal at a separate reception last night (Wednesday).
Hadid said: “I have always believed in progress and in creativity’s role in progress. That’s why I remain critical of any traditionalism. I worry about the dominance of neo-rationalism in London’s current transformation.”
Hadid, who has become the first woman to be awarded the prestigious RIBA Gold Medal in her own right, also spoke of how her work has been misinterpreted.
Hadid said: “I am very happy and honoured to receive this prize, for work that has not been mainstream and remains widely misunderstood.
“Architecture is not a medium of personal expression for me. To interpret it as striving for individual expression is to misunderstand it. This misunderstanding is often linked to the dismissal of my work as self-indulgent or wilful.”
The Gold Medal is approved personally by the Queen and given in recognition of a lifetime’s work. The medal can be given to a person or a group of people who have had a significant influence.
RIBA president and chair of the selection committee Jane Duncan said: “Zaha Hadid is a formidable and globally-influential force in architecture. Highly experimental, rigorous and exacting, her work from buildings to furniture, footwear and cars, is quite rightly revered and desired by brands and people all around the world.
“I am delighted Zaha has been awarded the Royal Gold Medal in 2016 and can’t wait to see what she and her practice will do next.”
First awarded in 1848 to Charles Robert Cockerell, previous winners of the Gold Medal include Irish architects Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey last year, Joseph Rykwert (2014), David Chipperfield in (2011) and Herzog & de Meuron in (2007) and Renzo Piano (1989).
Zaha Hadid’s Royal Gold Medal lecture
I am very happy and honoured to receive this prize, for work that has not been mainstream and remains widely misunderstood.
Therefore, I want to use this occasion to talk about how my career developed and about what my work is meant to achieve.
My career can best be made sense of in terms of addressing an important historical process: the process of the intensification and re-urbanisation of social life in the city.
I would also like to share my thoughts about what I consider to be the best way forward for the discipline and the built environment and how my work can be understood in relation to this overarching question.
I believe we live in an era of renewed urban concentration with new 21st century challenges and opportunities that make this urban renaissance very different from older urbanisation processes, especially very different from the process of 20th’s century sub-urbanisation.
The key difference is the new interaction density and complexity of urban life. Buildings and programmes need to break open and embrace each other, even interpenetrate. This requires the spatial complexity and openness.
This is the meaning of my first compositional strategies: explosion and fragmentation. The Russian avant-garde offered me a reservoir of yet untested compositional innovations, full of complexity and dynamism.
The Suprematist compositions of Malevich and El Lissitzky experimented with the interpenetration of forms rather than maintaining their neat separation. This is much more in tune with our current interest in the mixing of functions and the search for synergies.
I added to this the ideas of distortion and gradient transformation, for the sake of site adaptation and versatility. Further, I explored the use of free form curvature to articulate the dynamism and fluidity of contemporary life.
I realized that curvature helps to maintain visual legibility in the face of the increasingly complex programmes required by our clients and facilitates the navigation through complex projects.
All this serves urban densification, and urbanity, via invasion by new complex projects, projects that should be well embedded into their sites and serve as connective tissue rather than separate fortresses.
Due to these intentions and strategies, my work turned out to be very different from most other work. It became conspicuous, memorable and soon readily identifiable as bearing my signature.
But architecture is not a medium of personal expression for me. To interpret it as striving for individual expression is to misunderstand it. This misunderstanding is often linked to the dismissal of my work as self-indulgent or wilful.
However, for me there was never any doubt that architecture must contribute to society’s progress and ultimately to our individual and collective wellbeing.
It performs and facilitates everyday life. This is very different from art’s role of contemplation, expression or provocation.
I have always believed in progress and in creativity’s role in progress. That’s why I remain critical of any traditionalism. I worry about the dominance of Neo-rationalism in London’s current transformation.
Why should 21st Century London be modelled on Schinkel’s Berlin?
Sites are now often irregular, with many different adjacencies that need to be taken into account, in a complex play of contextual alignment and affiliation. Urban programmes now need spaces to flow freely.
The landscape analogy became very important to me as a strategy to increase ground permeability and surface continuity while avoiding the empty vastness of modernist clear grounds.
The landscape analogy suggested the use of ground relief as a soft ordering device that is more fluid and open than the dissection of space by walls. It delivers continuous variation instead of the harsh cuts of zoning.
The public domain was always a key interest to me.
I was intrigued by the modernist de-fortification of sites and the lifting of buildings to let the public space flow, but this time with an intense programmatic activation.
My interest in long-span structures and cantilevers follows from this idea of anti-fortification. Structural sophistication and boldness is also required to carve out interconnected communicative voids where space extends in layers above, below and all around.
Most of my projects – public and private – aspire to this life-enhancing increase in connectivity.
This story first appeared on Building Design