Passion Points: Arts/Culture
Many labels are used to describe the buildings of architect and Baghdad native Zaha Hadid: deconstructivist, neo-Modern, Baroque Modern (so said because of their more majestic take on traditional modernist structures). One thing generally agreed upon, though, is the immense talent and vision of this Architectural Association graduate, who, in 2004, became the first female recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Hadid’s work has taken her to cities all over the globe from London, where she studied and later worked with her mentor and fellow Pritzker recipient Rem Koolhaas, and Rome to Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi, where she is designing a new Performing Arts Center. In the rather unlikely city of Cincinnati, she completed the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, a futuristic, concrete, glass and steel structure described by the New York Times as “the most important new building in America since the Cold War.” Our correspondent Elena Bowes recently spoke with Hadid, who is currently a professor at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, about the buildings and places she most admires.
What are two buildings you never tire of visiting?
It’s hard to choose just two, but from Islamic architecture, the eighth-century Umayyad Mosque (at the end of Souq al-Hamidiyya in the Old City) in Damascus has beautiful friezes; it was originally all in gold mosaic, so when people entered the space, they really thought it was heaven. In Spain, the Mezquita de Cordoba (Calles Torrijos and Cardenal Herrero s/n; 34 (0)-95-747-0512; www.mezquitadecordoba.org) is superb. It’s very dark, and then there’s a white marble Baroque church dropped inside it. It’s like a modern hybrid project.
Where have you found your greatest inspiration for work?
I find my inspiration in life, landscapes, people, patterns of behavior.
Whose style do you most admire?
Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto are two of my favorite designers. I also always had enormous admiration for the late Isabella Blow for her uncompromising sense of style.
Do you have any packing routines?
Yes. Traveling so much, it really helps to know where everything should be. I always pack a coat. Prada has wonderful ones and I recently got some crinkled jackets in Germany.
What is your most treasured possession from abroad?
Gifts from friends. While they are not particularly valuable, they are some of my most treasured possessions. One of the most important things in life is the friendships you have.
Do you collect anything on your travels?
I could have collected art, but I’ve had no time (it wasn’t a conscious decision not to). And whenever I wanted to buy something, it was already beyond my means. I’ll have to wait for a long time now.
What is in your secret address book—favorite restaurants, museums, shops, hotels?
Some of my favorite meals are those with friends in London restaurants Hakkasan (8 Hanway Place; 44 (0)-20-7927-7000), Amaya (Halkin Arcade, Motcomb St.; 44 (0)-20-7823-1166; www.amaya.biz), Yauatcha (15-17 Broadwick St.; 44 (0)-20-7494-8888) and the Wolseley (160 Piccadilly; 44 (0)-20-7499-6996).
In Istanbul I go to Pandeli Lokantasi (Misir Çarisi 1, Eminönü; (90) 212-522-5534) above the Egyptian Spice Bazaar; Venge, a kebeb house; and Muzedechanga, a restaurant within the gardens of the Sakip Sabanci Museum overlooking the Bosphorous.
I like the museums in London: the British Museum (Great Russell Street; 44 (0)20-7323-8000; www.britishmuseum.org) and the V&A —both incredible monuments—and the Hayward and Serpentine (Kensington Gardens; 44-(0)20-7402-6075; www.serpentinegallery.org) galleries.
In Berlin, the Altes Museum and Pergamon on Museumsinsel are extraordinary spaces as is Mies’ Neue Nationalgalerie. I like smaller spaces equally, like Niemeyer’s Museu de Arte Contemporânea (Mirante de Boa Viagem s/n, Niterói; 55 (21)-2620-2400; www.macniteroi.com.br) in Niterói in Brazil.
Are there places that you travel to that you find particularly inspiring or renewing?
In Istanbul you feel all the time the mixture between East and West, and all of it floats on a beautiful landscape. The whole thing is like a fantastic Mediterranean collage. I like these hybrid cities along great rivers; they remind me of the Baghdad of my youth. I always feel there is a great deal to learn from the organic expansion of these great urban areas with their rhythm and energy. In cities, you need places where things can shrink and expand, but I think you need to set something out to allow for this natural kind of growth to occur.
Where do you dream to travel next?
I’d really like to return to Russia and the ex-Soviet states of central Asia. Moscow is one of the most spectacular cities in the world: The scale is double or triple the size of any other. If you go up to the Lenin Hills, you can see that those seven Stalinist skyscrapers were based on towers in the Kremlin, but on a much larger scale. Nowadays they are tearing things down. They just don’t get it. In Red Square, the cobblestones are uneven, and they are saying they want to flatten them. It’s outrageous.
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