Zaha Hadid passed through town a few weeks ago, for meetings with her clients at SOHO China and a highly publicized “first lecture in Beijing” just after the opening festivities for her latest creation, the Guangzhou Opera House. LEAP correspondent Jian Cui got a chance to sit down with her after outmaneuvering the SOHO public-relations machine, happy to find her in a black Issey Miyake jacket, holding a Prada bag, and wearing a silver ring designed by her friend Anish Kapoor.
LEAP: Last year, UNESCO named you Artist for Peace. How do you view the relationship between architecture and politics?
Zaha Hadid: I don’t think I should participate directly in politics, because I feel that it’s a very complex matter and my involvement could potentially bring harm to people. That said, there are many people who work for the United Nations to serve people in need. As architects, we can contribute in other ways that may be less political. Of course, architecture is intimately tied to politics, though whether architecture should enter the political sphere depends on the circumstances of the situation.
LEAP: What does beauty mean to you?
ZH: It’s very abstract. Certain things can have a powerful influence on your impressions. Architecture informs my sense of space, and the way a city takes shape. I feel that people can think about connections between architecture and the natural world, as there’s a lot of beauty to be discovered in this relationship.
LEAP: You have designed a range of different buildings in China, for cultural institutions like the Guangzhou Opera House and for commercial developers like SOHO China. How does your approach differ in designing these unique spaces?
ZH: The dynamics, design, and structure are all quite different. It depends on the demands of clients and the climate of a given place.
LEAP: You have worked on projects in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. Are there any other spaces in China that you’d like to explore in the future?
ZH: Now we are working on a competition design for the new National Art Museum of China building [near the Olympic Stadium], which will bring our work in China to another level. It’s really exciting. I would also like to design large-scale, multifunction buildings as a way to more directly express my ideas about urban space. I have to say that I learned a lot from my trip to China in 1981. I gain a lot of inspiration from nature, and that visit was very important to me. China’s landscape always creates unique contexts in which to form interpretations.
LEAP: Apart from architecture, you are also involved in furniture, fashion, and jewelry design. Could you talk about how you view these different types of design?
ZH: I’ve always had broad interests, and have done a lot of shows and exhibitions. The boundaries between product design and architectural design have been blurred in recent years, while the development of particular manufacturing techniques has made it easier to produce these things. I am interested in doing projects on a number of scales, from the small scale of jewelry, shoes, handbags, and furniture to large-scale architectural structures. The similarities and differences between these scales are very interesting to me.
LEAP: Do you have a favorite film?
ZH: I watch a lot of films from the 1970s. I really like Hitchcock.
LEAP: You have said that being an architect is a very demanding profession. What do you do to relax?
ZH: Actually, I don’t relax much. Even if I want to relax, my work doesn’t really allow me to so. When I am working in London, I might go to a show or visit a friend to unwind. It’s partly my personality, and also the nature of my work. I’m used to working long hours in the office, and I don’t like to travel when I’m working on a project. Traveling is just too exhausting.