Futuristic, massive, and wonderfully curvaceous, Beijing’s Galaxy SOHO complex cuts a striking figure on the city’s skyline.
Designed by superstar architect Zaha Hadid, the buildings (which house offices, shops, and entertainment venues) contain nearly 3.6 million square feet of space in a composition of five continuous flowing volumes, each fused or linked by stretched bridges. Then go inside and see the great interior courts designed in a reflection of traditional Chinese architecture where courtyards create an internal world of continuous open spaces. A magnifique building that must be on your list when visiting Sofitel Wanda Beijing.
I feel really torn between the significance of Zaha’s legacy and the frustration I feel looking back at her work. On one hand, I can’t deny the ambitious force of her career and affective (but some what sensationalist) story of an exiled Iraqi girl who grew up to be one of the most influential, global figures in her field. I’m more inclined to feel moved by Zaha’s legacy being Arab myself, and being taught all my life that Arab excellence needs to be validated by Western institutions. Zaha is a blueprint for how to excel as an Arab artist without having your work defined by Arabness, a very rare feat.
In spite of this, I can’t bear to see critics showering her with praise. The Times’s obituary is weirdly fluffy and uncritical for a figure with a laundry list of criticism. It calls critics who decry the treatment of foreign laborers building her Qatar 2022 stadium ‘unfair’…huh? Does anyone really believe that a celebrity architect who had executive control of her work had no say in the working conditions in which her work manifested?
I think most telling in this obit are the three terms associated with her work - “mobility, speed, freedom”. They’re ideological buzzwords that every liberal institution loves using to describe the opening of markets, the development of megaprojects, the increased flow of capital, etc. That’s what makes Zaha’s work so alluring to people who don’t even care about architecture, in the same vein Koons and Hirst are alluring to the ‘contemporary art is crap’ crowd. You can’t unlink her cult status to the ways in which her work is marked by the spectacle of global capitalism. She’s a Baudrillardian prophecy.
imo, I think it it’d be best to lay to rest her projects with her. However ironic it is that her aesthetic bears the word ‘future’ in its name, the future doesn’t need any more of the spectacular excess that now defines her career. It’s time to develop a taste, paricularly in the ‘hubs’ of the global south, for something more simple, more sustainable, more in tuned with the life surrounding it and the space it occupies.