Among the most prolific architects of the 20th century, Zaha Hadid contributed some of the grandest architectural feats of her time. The London Aquatics Centre, Messner Mountain Museum, Mandarin Oriental, Leeza SOHO and Al Janoub Stadium, to name a few. The architect died in 2016 but was busy until her death, and several of her projects remain ongoing.
Crowned the “queen of the curve,” Hadid’s gift was an eye for the narrative of flow and the language of lines. She had a penchant for uniting the two, using creative lines to create flow in design landscapes. The result was often a cohesive statement, and one can watch Hadid’s ideas mature over her career alongside her practice.
These are relatively known points. Zaha Hadid as an architect is a well-studied figure. What some don’t know about Zaha is that she experimented with furniture and product design as well, and to great success. Hadid-as-interior-designer is a less examined entity. The ever too common plague of categorizing creatives has struck again with Zaha’s career.
Architects and critics worldwide recognize Hadid as a key contributor to the growing knowledge base of architecture. She was the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious prize an architect can receive. The ideas in her sketchbooks were some of the most ambitious in the field, and she grew her studio from four to four hundred through willpower and vision.
But having her ideas actually executed, as it is for any architect, was Hadid’s true goal. And execution, in her eyes, involved both interior and exterior designs. The strength of the fabric of her concepts demanded the two synergize. Hadid was comfortable pivoting between practices, and her versatility meant success in furniture and architecture were not unrelated.
Hadid’s understanding of multi-medium communication meant she could engage large-scale architecture fans and smaller-scale furniture appreciators simultaneously in a coherent practice. This was partially because she saw the blueprints for a skyscraper and the curvature of a coffee table relying on an identical premise. They were both fundamentally questions of design. This belief placed Hadid at an intersection that few architects or designers occupied: master architect and artisan craftsperson.
In 1989 she received her first interior design commission for the Monsoon Restaurant/Bar in Sapporo, Japan. The idea was to create a space that could be reconfigured for different events. To that end, the lounge couches had removable trays and backrests to create a space that could feel and function differently at a moment's notice. The colour palette referenced fire and ice, with red and blue tones used throughout the interior. Characteristically long shapes are present in the furniture as well, fitting into the surrounding space almost as an extension of the walls with added functionality.
This first project was vital for her career, allowing Hadid to experiment with how an interior should look and function, and test her theory on synergy in the environment of a building. It was a success on both fronts.
Another notable furniture design project was Hadid’s Z-Scape, a project done in conjunction with Italian design store Sawaya & Moroni, consisting of a couch, sofa, and bench. The form of all three derived inspiration from the earth, glacial formations, and erosion to sculpt intricate pieces of lounge furniture.
Z-Scape was bold. Hadid’s ideas superseded the formalities of furniture design without losing sight of the details. The care in configuring the upper portions to be ergonomic yet still flow with the theme embodies this balancing act.
Made exclusively in earth tones, these pieces were likely modeled using parametricism, which is a design technique that uses software and algorithms to generate forms that would be hard to develop on paper, let alone in your mind. Zaha and her partner Patrik Schumacher were pioneers of the technique and brought it to the forefront of the architecture world.
The work of furniture designers, due to volume and a tendency to fall through the cracks, is hard to keep up with. Hadid is no exception here. But another prime example of her dedication to fusing interior and exterior into the same seminar was her aptly titled “Seamless Collection.”
The use of ahead-of-its-time computer design technologies was apparent in this project, completed in 2006. Intense curvilinear geometry and recessed pockets next to extruded regions translate into a literally “seamless” design language. The collection consisted of a shelf, stool, lounge chair, cabinet and chaise all reminiscent of geological formations, or a topographical map.
Z-Scape (2000), Z-Play (2002), Ice Storm (2003), Elastica (2006) and then Z-Play 2 (2016) show extraordinary unity for being released over the course of a decade and a half. All of the pieces in her above-limited collections have a surface area that seems endless; similar to a long plane in nature, the falloff happens so subtly you almost don't sense it. The ergonomics are factored in but never dominate the initial form, leaving you with a sense of sculpture, not furniture. The different pieces can be intricately styled by themselves but look more complete when accompanied by one or more of her other designs.
Hadid’s work makes everything else in the room seem secondary. This in part due to how her passions of nature's forms have stayed so consistent through the years. Confidence in vision and design carries over into an inanimate object much more than people realize, and Hadid’s charismatic personality surely contributed as well.
The idea of flow was consistent across all her practices. Buildings flowed into product design into furniture. It is quite clear that her ability to occupy multiple roads in design, and then slowly drive to their intersection, allowed her to see multiple ways to influence the landscape in her work.
Hadid succeeded in blending interior and exterior seamlessly all while putting emphasis on the similarities of large-scale, and small-scale design projects alike. The finite thinking of some tends to direct an individual’s genius into one arena that they are perceived to function best in. The true realization of potential can only manifest itself once realized in multiple areas of knowledge. Hadid’s legacy is one of great achievements, and while we may remember her best as an architect, we would do best not to forget her furniture.