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  • Writer's pictureKen Haskin

Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry--two architects I love, and love to hate.

This past March the architecture world lost Zaha Hadid. Her passing left me sad. Anyone passing at a young age (65) is tragic and Zaha was very talented. She was a giant and was building all over the world--a Starchitect. Zaha, and Frank Gerhy--another Starchitect , are two architects I love and also love to hate. What's up with the title of this blog? Let me go on, please. Two of these architect's projects were both built together at the Vitra campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany from '89-'93. The Vitra Fire House (Hadid) and Vitra Modern Furniture Museum( Gehry). The title of this blog entry says two architects I love and hate so lets start with the love.

Zaha Hadid Vitra Fire House, 1993

Gehry's Vitra Museum, 1989

Let me praise both of these architects for widening the vocabulary of architecture. They were also the first to really take advantage of the new computer software that allowed them to build their flamboyant forms. Though I do not think either of them can switch on a computer they found great clients, could afford the soft / hardware, and found the talent to make their work happen. In a business this complex finding clients to let one build fun stuff, and ways to make buildings like these happen, are talents in themselves.

More Love, and what is not to love? Look at the forms and tell me that they are not just plain fun. Hadid's Fire House soars and takes on some of the qualities of Russian Constructivist art and architecture from the early 20th century. Gehry's museum is playful like a stack of children's toys falling down. Both convey motion, dynamism without traditional structure and, I will repeat it, a sense of fun and joy.

Zaha Hadid Design Painting

Ghery Massing Study--children's play blocks

I clearly love these designs so what the heck is my problem? Do I really hate, here comes the hate part, these two talented people? This profession of mine is steeped in a tradition of structure, function, and an aesthetic component. Vitruvius, an architectural writer of some note, called these three elements firmness, commodity, and delight. In the last century architects like Louis I. Kahn were whorshipped as heroes and the great bringers of purity in all three areas. Kahn's Kimbell art museum in Fort Worth, Texas- 1972 (below) starts and ends with structure and function. In pre computer days structure and function were slaved to grids and arcs so the delight or aesthetic was a result of this clarity. The extreme emphasis of those two pieces of the triad lead to a unique and "pure" aesthetic. With the limits of engineers stretched to calculate loads for even simple designs the forms followed structure and function, to paraphrase Mies Van Der Rohe. That was beauty in architecure in the 20th C.

The Kimbell, Fort Worth Texas, 1972  Louis I. Kahn

Form follows function does not sound like a whole bunch of fun, and certainly does not seem to apply to Hadid and Gehry's work. In schools of architecture back in the day structure, logic, graphic skills, and overall concept were taken apart and analyzed by professors each time a student presented a project. In graduate school I saw professors bring to tears anyone presenting designs like the ones in this blog. (See two of mine below from Columbia 1992--no I did not cry) So how, in such a serious profession, with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in each project, can anyone have fun? I mean just arbitrary, playing in the sandbox, grab a ball and go have fun, fun? Is the hate part of this article really going to be about hating the fact that these two have too much fun?

Hadid painted her forms. Her creations started with the aesthetic whim of delight, and as I mentioned Gehry sometimes just plays with blocks. Sydney Pollock's final film was a documentary on Gehry's process and he is shown cutting out paper with scissors and scotch taping the designs together. More delight? Where do structure and function come into their work? After the fun-- thanks to the computer systems that allow such vital messy designs to come into being. Architects have new freedom thanks to technology. Delight can now come first and yes, I think the hate part is jealousy. I am jealous because these two architects just have too much fun. Darn it, I am gonna have some fun! I have the software, and the theory so all I need now are great clients who will let me play. I am laying down my disdain for Zaha and Frank's work after further review. Scratch out the hate part in the title, please. Which way to a client that will let me play in the sand box too? There are no great architects, only great clients the let architects, (and their computers) do great work. Got Architecture?

One of my designs, the EEC headquarters in Berlin from Columbia U, 1992

Another of mine from 1992

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