New York

Zaha Hadid

Max Protetch

There are many architects who draw deftly and beautifully, seducing us with promises of what could be, but there are few who draw as passionately or as exuberantly as Zaha Hadid. Her drawings are like gusts of wind—some quite fresh and all of them full of turbulence and possibility. Hadid uses architectural drawing not as building instructions but as an experimental forum and theoretical instrument. With this exhibition she confirms and enriches a tradition of conjecture seen in the work of Rem Koolhaus, John Hejduk, and others who have expanded the options for 20th-century architecture through their intricate and sometimes precious pursuits.

The exhibition, which included 87 drawings from the past seven years, provided an overview that revealed her work to be in constant, restless transformation. Although the drawings seem to gather momentum and to sharpen in focus over the years, they proceed without any predictable order. Ideas and graphic invention gain supremacy episodically and almost randomly. But there are some continuous sequences and an overall consistency of approach, with the architecture always schematically developed, rather than fully formed, appearing either to erupt from the site or to slide into place swiftly. For The Peak, Hong Kong Competition, 1982–83, Hadid drew a site-plan axonometric projection, a dramatic study of the interdependent condition of building and site. Large geological plates in the mountainous topography appear to lift and rotate to accommodate Hadid’s ambitious proposal, complicating our collective cultural notions of organic and synthetic form. Another panoramic drawing of a site plan, Trafalgar Square: Grand Buildings Project Competition, 1985, is a horizontal diptych of brilliant colors and multiple points of view. In contrast to The Peak’s staccato quality, the drawing for the Trafalgar Square project consists of a series of enormous swells—graceful but suggesting subsurface agitation. It is a grand, contemporary vision of urban space.

Hadid’s vision is expressed in the large drawings as distorted, hyperbolized events; but in the more intimate multiple studies, where she rotates and examines each proposal in obsessive scrutiny, we begin to see how she thinks. It is a pinhole encounter with architecture. Here, Hadid frequently uses the worm’s-eye view, a particularly revealing and slightly subversive angle of perception. It discloses how buildings meet landscape, what the guts of a building are, and it also implies a heroic potential for the most modest idea.

These drawings display both virtuosity and an accomplished understanding of the relationship of color, line, and point of view as notation to advance theory. And yet there is one persistent gap: Hadid’s level of invention is not entirely equaled by her architectural ideas, which often seem derivative and overly schematic. On the whole, the questions that these drawings raise about the condition of architecture and the relationship of thinking, drawing, and dwelling are more compelling than the designs of the projects represented. However, I think that this will not be the case for long. Hadid’s drawings, while still based on conjecture, show an instinctive ability to create buildings of vision.

Patricia C. Phillips