Zaha Hadid: creator of ambitious wonders – and a fair share of blunders

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Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid

In her best buildings the laws of physics appear suspended, while other designs struggle when forced to meet reality

Unparalleled queen of the curve and conjuror of sinuous, billowing forms, the maverick architect Zaha Hadid has died aged 65.

Over her 30-year career, the Iraqi-born, London-based designer developed a style more recognisable, and more imitated, than any of her contemporaries, transforming what began as world of dreamy abstract paintings into a global brand for daring art galleries and experimental opera houses that now dot the globe from Baku to Guangzhou.

In her best buildings, the laws of physics appear momentarily suspended. Walls melt into floors, ceilings ripple and bulge, facades dissolve into perforated skins and flowing veils, transporting the visitor to another dimension. They can feel like sublime landscapes, sculpted by an irresistible geological force. Swimming beneath the whale-like roof of her London aquatics centre , or walking under the coffered concrete underbelly of the Phaeno science centre in Wolfsburg , can be a thrilling experience, leaving you in thrall to the feats of structural gymnastics on show.

On other occasions, the ambitious schemes dreamed up on planet Zaha struggle when they crash down to earth and are forced to meet reality. Her first built work of note, a small fire station the Vitra furniture campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany, famously sent its users round the bend, its wayward walls and aggressive angles driving the firemen to distraction.

Nor have the sloping surfaces of the Maxxi museum in Rome given its curators the easiest time of hanging work. Her recent building for St Anthony’s college in Oxford, , meanwhile, smashes into its historic neighbour with the same thuggish inelegance as her Serpentine Sackler Gallery does in London. For all her wonders, it is fair to say there were an equal number of blunders. […]

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