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review - Zaha Hadid: The Complete Works Thames & Hudson, 2004. £75

Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas are the only figures of the 'critical architects' from the 1970s - a loose grouping with ties to the Architectural Association in London and Oppositions journal in New York - who have actually continued to develop. All were keen at the outset to test the boundaries of architectural representation, in order then to transform architectural production, but mostly it did not happen. Some, such as Tschumi and Eisenman, proved to be not that skilled when they came to build, while others, like Libeskind, have disappeared into the land of bombast.

There were plenty of common influences on would-be radicals such as Koolhaas and Hadid. In terms of cultural change, the main impetus was a growing awareness of what is now described as the 'space of flows'; in other words, the myriad global streams of money, information and people that shape contemporary capitalist society.

From the world of theory came writers such as Gilles Deleuze, one of the French post-structuralist philosophers fascinated by architecture, and with a penchant for concepts of movement and flux. These diverse inspirations fed an avant-garde interest in the emerging and non-delineated spaces in which there was an intensive circulation of finance and human bodies, such as shopping malls and airports.

However, there is a noticeable difference in the approaches of Koolhaas and Hadid to designing spaces of movement and fluidity, though both worked together in the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in the late-1970s, at a point when Elia Zenghelis was still central, and before Koolhaas set the practice off on its 'true' course.

Koolhaas became fixated by innovations in vertical movement in classic Modernist designs (Le Corbusier's ramp in the Villa Savoe, Tomas Bata's office-as-lift in the shoe factory in Zlin, and the like), as well as by the methods through which commercial architecture tried to break down the limitations of vertical circulation. Typical devices that gripped him were the use of escalators in malls to make upper shopping floors nearly as economically valuable as the ground floor, or the way that elevators in skyscrapers facilitated the multiple replication of urban land. In the projects of Koolhaas/OMA, this has resulted in repeated motifs of ramped circulation and the folding of floors as if they were a landscape terrain - a trait also shared by followers such as UN Studio, MVRDV and Foreign Office Architects.

Hadid, instead, has interpreted these ideas more in terms of linear flow and horizontal movement: her projects appear more like streams that flow and ripple around immovable elements of topography or function.

Even the multi-storey schemes are more like linear branches placed on top of each other in bundles, rather than spaces that are connected together in a vertical direction. This powerful sense of linearity is why her most successful designs, such as the Cardiff Bay Opera House, the MAXXI Museum of Art in Rome, the BMW production centre in Germany, or the proposal for a high-speed railway station for Naples, effortlessly communicate the visual and phenomenal energy that is now her trademark.

This monograph on Hadid aims to mark the current cusp in her career, given that her practice is well established and winning a wide range of building commissions around the globe. It is all too easy to be distracted by the 'object' status of the publication, designed as a red plastic box that houses, in tailor-made slots, four distinct and differently sized booklets. The front of the box has Hadid's name in low relief, rather like a Renaissance tomb, and indeed the whole thing smacks of an attempt to monumentalise what is in fact a remarkably vibrant and free body of work. 'Do not dare put me on a bookshelf with those other humdrum products' would seem to be the unspoken message, but it is not the smartest idea to get oneself locked into icon publishing.

The four booklets also vary in quality. The smallest of all, supposedly on the theoretical background to Hadid's work, offers very little.

We are given essays on Soviet Constructivism that fail to grasp that it was fundamentally a political movement, and so cannot be understood or analogised, as attempted here, in pictorial terms. Then there is too much about her striking early drawings and projects, which in retrospect seem rather flat and gestural, and best left unrealised.

Hadid's work only really flourished when it became entwined with the superb physical models and digital representations that we now know so well but which get no real mention here. Perhaps the designers should have gone with their instincts and made the theory booklet the size of a postage stamp, with three words on each page.

There is still an important theoretical work to be written on Hadid, but you won't find many clues to it here. Thankfully, the other booklets in the red box are much more rewarding. One contains design sketches from the early stages of her projects, another is a useful catalogue of all her built and unbuilt designs to date, and the largest is a bumper book that showcases a selection of the very best projects using gorgeous photographs and computer-generated images.

It is in these photographs and visualisations that the exuberant vitality of Hadid's designs shines through. Looking back, it probably helped not to have built the apparently ground-breaking project for the Peak Club in Hong Kong. Hadid did not have the techniques to achieve such a complex project at that time, and to have been linked so closely to colonial elitism in its dying stages might have fouled her chances elsewhere.

But if that was a lucky escape, her removal from the job for the Cardiff Bay Opera House remains to this day a scandal, for it is undoubtedly the greatest loss to British architecture over the last generation. Her resilience, as captured in this book, is why she has continued on the rise to international stature. Hadid is now very much in her prime, and let's hope that this translates into many more buildings that we can all experience and enjoy.

Murray Fraser is a professor at the University of Westminster

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