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Oxford client's tribute to Zaha recalls her text messages

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The director of Oxford’s Middle East Centre, accepting Zaha Hadid’s AJ100 Contribution to the Profession award, fondly recounted his text message exchange with the late architect

Eugene Rogan, who is director of The Middle East Centre at Oxford University’s St Antony’s College, was speaking to guests at the annual awards on Wednesday night.

He recalled his friendship with Hadid and her family which dated back nearly 20 years.

Rogan described working with Hadid on the planning for the Investcorp Building at St Antony’s College, which opened in 2015.

Reading out messages to and from Hadid – ‘the text was something she wielded with great precision and speed’ – he pressed her for a decision on the colour and material of the cladding.

Rogan said he texted that dark bronze was ‘most likely to secure permission’ with the planners, before reading out Hadid’s abrupt response to her client: ‘No bronze. Need samples urgent.’

Rogan added that in his reply to Hadid he suggested that samples ‘take too long’ and ‘there will be time to get the materials right after we get permission’.

Still, Hadid’s response was unyeilding: ‘Don’t want it, sorry.’

In a final bid to get an answer, Rogan told Hadid that white – the colour of the models – would not be accepted. ‘What are our options?’ he asked.

However Hadid’s one-word reply – greeted with gales of laughter by the audience – was: ‘White’.

Hadid did seem to make some small compromise as she later texted: ‘Black looks like a black whale and too many references to black buildings.’ She would, Rogan recounted, ‘approve glass in dark colour or metal in any colour’ but not ‘dark fake material’.

Rogan said: ‘It really mattered. The materiality, the look, the detail was absolutely everything to her, and for that I think we have only got Zaha’s sense of perfection to thank for the final result we got.’

Hadid died aged 65 in March. As well as winning the AJ100 Contribution to the Profession, Hadid’s practice also won Fastest Growing Practice of the Year at the AJ100 awards.

The SMS text message conversation (as reported by Eugene Rogan) 

Rogan: ‘Hi Zaha, sorry to miss you. Met with Ken [Bostock] and Patrik [Schumacher]. We need a decision on colour before we submit to planners. Both Ken and Patrik agree we can achieve good result with very dark bronze, and planners make clear that they think a dark finish most likely to secure permission. As client we are very happy with dark bronze. Can you approve? Best, Eugene.’

Hadid: ‘No bronze. Need samples urgent.’

Rogan: ‘Samples take too long. There will be time to get the materials right after we get permission. We must agree material and colour before it goes to the council, and shiny dark bronze most likely to get permission. Best, Eugene.’

Hadid: ‘Don’t want it, sorry.’

Rogan: ‘Okay but the planners won’t go for white. What are our options? E.’

Hadid: ‘White.’


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