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Zaha Hadid's globalized view of urban landscapes

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From Cardiff to Germany, Hong Kong, Rome and London, Zaha Hadid's work has a remarkable consistency in terms of architectural response to site and programme, and graphic image - at least at the level of presentation of her LSE lecture - which never seems to offer an insight into local cultural conditions. She accuses the British of being 'always worried about me dumping something 'not too far from here'', a statement in which the notion of an abstract product arriving out of cultural space is curiously implicit.

In the same way, perhaps, she seems intent on playing down any significance which might be attached to her own distinctive cultural background, in Iraq, commenting simply that she 'never as an Arab woman, thought I would not have a career'.But perhaps Hadid's work and outlook simply exemplify the globalized, jet-setting culture of the turn of the century, when any particular image may carry equivalent meaning in eastern or western, urban or rural societies.

One clearly powerful cultural influence on Hadid has been that of the AA - a globalized, jet-setting community if ever there was one - where she studied, and 'mutinied' in her first year, in a campaign to 'do some architecture' instead of making inflatable extensions for buses.Whatever the frustrations of being at the AA at that time, the experience inspired her to discover the 'explosion as a way of organising a plan through fragmentation'.

Interestingly enough, Hadid's view of architecture is politically charged, despite its apparent abstraction; she is scathing of those who fail to see that 'any space has a political form', and of the 'ambitions of the historical city lovers to rebuild the city as it was', without any idea of event and programme, living and working, or what might occur behind those lovingly recreated facades. She accuses them of moving away from the whole idea of urbanism to a much more suburban concept of city life.Her own, clearly-stated ideal is that of the 'city as an open system to make it accessible to many different people'. This vision involves an interpretation of city geometries, topography and ground conditions to create loose spaces which provide civic arenas for public life, even within the context of private or semi-public buildings. In this process, 'normative methods of drawing', that is plans and sections, are not adequate; instead the X-ray drawing, incorporating many layers at once, facilitates the discovery of new spaces as the plan is extruded into a volume.

In particular, Hadid is interested in an idea of 'seamlessness', created through horizontal transparencies through the city fabric, the cross- fertilisation of adjacent spaces, and the construction of programmes which effectively suck urban life into buildings.Her 'layered urbanism' is an inspiring and politically provocative concept, if only it offered more sense of engagement with the local cultural context as well as topography and geometry.

Zaha Hadid's lecture, Urban Landscapes, was the first in the Public Architecture series organised by the LSE Cities Programme and the Royal Academy, taking place in the LSE's Old Theatre. E-mail architecture@lse.ac.uk

vital statistics

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