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Zaha Hadid: The Artist Within


A major exhibition at ArtisTree provides a window on the late Zaha Hadid’s creative process. Serpentine Galleries’ Yana Peel tells Chloe Street about a show that celebrates the architect as an artist.

Picture an architect’s preparatory sketches for an important building and you probably wouldn’t see swirls and dots, or a colourful abstract painting splattered with geometric shards. But that’s what you’ll find among the notebooks and imaginings of Zaha Hadid, the famously non-conformist British architect who died suddenly in March last year.

It’s not surprising, though, given the nature of her striking legacy—such landmarks as the Guangzhou Opera House, conceived to resemble water-smoothed pebbles in a stream, the stringray-like London Aquatic Centre she designed for the 2012 Olympics, and the bold, angular Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. The Iraqi-born architect’s designs are beautiful, confident and often outlandish in their extremity of form.

A selection of the Pritzker Prize winner’s paintings and drawings, recently seen by large throngs of visitors at the Serpentine Galleries in London, go on display at ArtisTree this month, the Taikoo Place gallery’s last show before a change of premises. ZAHA HADID: There Should Be No End to Experimentation is a collaboration between Serpentine, whose Sackler Gallery boasts a tent-like extension designed by Hadid, and Swire Properties, which runs ArtisTree.

Hadid, who was made a Dame for her service to architecture in 2012, has an enduring connection with Hong Kong. She left an indelible mark on the skyline with the Jockey Club’s Innovation Tower in Hung Hom. And early in her career, her elaborate design for a leisure club on The Peak won an international design competition in 1983, though it was never built.

“She was uncompromising in her vision,” says Serpentine CEO Yana Peel of her close personal friend (they sat together for years on the Serpentine board). “People know Hadid as a visionary architect, but this exhibition celebrates the idea of Hadid as an artist.”

Like Hadid, Peel has a strong and enduring link with Hong Kong; the former Goldman Sachs banker lived here for seven years, leaving only last year to take up the Serpentine job.

During that time she became immersed in the arts scene. “I was involved with Art Basel before it was even Art Basel, so for me it’s really exciting to see the city continue to position itself as a global art hub,” says Peel, who maintains advisory positions on the boards of Intelligence Squared Asia, which she co-founded, and Para Site.

“I think Hong Kong needs more of these partnerships,” she says, referring to the Serpentine-Swire Properties venture. “It needs more spaces like ArtisTree, Spring Workshop and Asia Art Archive, more collaborative efforts among the city’s institutions. I believe commerce and art are important partners in a thriving city.” The entrepreneur and philanthropist has long been on a mission to promote such symbiosis. In 2003 she co-founded the Outset Contemporary Art Fund, which links patrons, key figures and institutions in the art world to raise funds for emerging artists.

The Hadid exhibition includes four virtual reality installations, developed by the Serpentine with the Google Cultural Institute. They connect directly with individual paintings, offering a dynamic and immersive insight into Hadid’s architectural vision and creative process. “I know she would have been pleased about the VR aspect,” says Peel. “Never stop experimenting is something she would often say.”

Much like the buildings she created, Hadid’s sketches are vivid, full of life and entirely free from the constraints of conformity. The exhibition demonstrates that painting was a design tool for Hadid, the abstract means by which she could envision the characteristic lightness and weightlessness of her buildings. As Hadid—the first woman to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects—once famously said, “There are 360 degrees, why stick to just one?”

ZAHA HADID: There Should Be No End To Experimentation is at ArtisTree from 17 March until 6 April, 2017.

Photo caption (from left to right):
1. IMMERSIVE CANVAS One of Zaha Hadid’s virtual reality installations, developed by the Serpentine Galleries with the Google Cultural Institute
2. Yana Peel, who was a close friend of Zaha Hadid. Photo credit: Kate Berry (Yana Peel) / Hugo Glendinning (Gallery Space) / Luve Hayes
3. Hadid’s rarely seen sketches are vivid, full of life, and entirely free from the constraints of conformity
4. Two of the four virtual reality installations developed to offer a dynamic insight into the workings of the late architect’s paintings.
5. Zaha Hadid. Photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe

Original article written by Chloe Street for Hong Kong Tatler.

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