Concrete Thinking with Zaha Hadid

Concrete Thinking with Zaha Hadid

Jet-setting architect Zaha Hadid talks about airplane design, her ideal hotel room, and what's on her drawing board.

Had you been in Rome last summer, you'd have found it impossible to ignore Zaha Hadid: her face, publicizing a retrospective of her work at the National Center for Contemporary Arts, peered diva-like from every bus and billboard in town. Hadid may not be as famous in the United States, but she will be soon. When the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Artopens this May in Cincinnati, Hadid will become the first female architect to have designed a major American museum. Her futuristic glass-and-concrete building is a zig-zagging, six-story structure that links the city street with the galleries inside by using what Hadid calls an urban carpet.

Ever since she won the 1983 competition to design the Peak restaurant in Hong Kong, Hadid's geometric yet fluid style, influenced by Russian Deconstructivism and Arabic calligraphy, has captivated the design world. Her projects—from an angular concrete fire station in Weil am Rhein for the German furniture giant Vitra, to the Modernist, multi-level sets she created for the Pet Shop Boys—have proved Hadid's virtuosic skill. Her kinetic designs are motion writ in concrete and steel: energetic swells that take Goethe's description of architecture as frozen music to a new level.

Hadid is currently building major projects all over the globe. She recently completed a ski jump at Innsbruck and is working on a science center in Wolfsburg, Germany; a half-mile-long bridge in Abu Dhabi; a ferry terminal in Salerno, Italy; an entire "science city" in Singapore; a factory and office complex for BMW; and a new building for the National Center for Contemporary Arts in Rome. She also won the commission to do an outpost of the Guggenheim Museum in Tokyo. T+L caught up with Hadid in London, where she talked about her favorite spots and her secrets to traveling in style.

Frequent Flier The past year has been crazy. In September, I went to Venice for the Biennale, Innsbruck for the ski jump opening, and Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where I'm designing an extension for the Price Tower Art Center. I was in Phuket over Christmas, and then I came back to London—via Singapore—for a week before flying to Graz for the opening of Desire, an opera I did the sets for. Then I flew to New York for meetings.

I was in Rome twice, to talk about my exhibition and about the next stage of the contemporary arts center that I'm designing there, and to attend the Pritzker Architecture Prize dinner.

Boutiques Are Best I like staying at the Rafael in Rome—it's a very sweet hotel and very convenient. You can walk everywhere and then head right through the lobby and straight to the elevators. On short trips, it's easier to stay in a place like that, because you're in and out of your room in no time. In Berlin, I love the Grand Hyatt on the Potsdamer Platz, designed by Rafael Moneo. I'm sure there are nicer hotels, but it's very easy, it has a pool, the rooms are clean, and there are no curtains or froufrou. It also has excellent bathrooms.

When I was teaching in New York City in 1998, I pretty much lived at the Royalton. The lobby scene was fabulous. Sometimes I'd take all my Columbia students there to have cappuccinos with me. Those got to be expensive visits! But after 10 years of staying there I got sick of never finding a seat in the lobby.

Now I always stay at the Mercer. The rooms are bright, and I don't have to negotiate the lobby or fight my way through "creatures." And I can unpack and put my clothes out of sight. When you're in a hotel room you shouldn't be aware that you're traveling.

In Miami Beach, I stay at the Delano. Of all the Philippe Starck hotels, it's the most incredible. To render a hotel lobby like a street party and have people promenading back and forth to the beach is very clever.

Design Diva Most of the top hotels are too froufrou for me. I can't cope with so many cushions! I always smell dust in them. Sometimes hotels that pretend to be very good have small rooms where you're always injuring yourself, banging into things, because they haven't thought about where the light switch should be, or they put the toilet right behind the door. A hotel is unfamiliar ground, so if you don't know that the floor is slippery or that the bath mat doesn't stay put, you wind up skating on it!

The main thing is to feel comfortable, whether you're staying one night or two weeks. Hotels never have enough closets, or surfaces where I can put out everything I need to get my hands on—that way, it's easy to get dressed or find a phone number very quickly. For me, there are a few essentials: enough closet space; a bathroom where you can put your things without splattering water all over them; no dust; and a very good bed with good sheets—and no starch!

Last year, I designed a full-scale model of a hotel room for the Milan Furniture Fair. It wasn't exactly the ideal hotel room, but it had a continuous surface: a seat seamlessly becomes a washbasin, and a bathtub—like an abstract landscape.

Girlhood Glamour I traveled a lot when I was growing up in Iraq. My father used to obsess about hotels. We stayed at amazing places like the George V, the Plaza Athénée, and the Negresco. We went to Beirut in the winter and Europe in the summer. Beirut was always hysterical, with the same body culture as in Rio. It also had fantastic hotels, such as the St. Georges. Great service is a natural phenomenon with the Lebanese. We also stayed at the famous Al Bustan in the mountains, with delicious food and top-notch service.

Latin Loves Rio is my favorite city on earth. The landscape is so spectacular—the view from any window is superb. And the people have a great sense of fun. Buenos Aires is like a vast European city, full of complexity. Every quarter is different—it's the way Madrid or Paris could have been—and there's an incredible mix of Latin music and European culture.

Thai Pad Beach-pool-sun is my favorite kind of holiday. I need three days just to unwind. Then I realize that I really need to stay three weeks, but I don't have the time.

I recently stayed at Amanpuri in Phuket after making my presentation for the Science Hub master plan in Singapore. It's a lovely hotel, designed by Ed Tuttle, who's done many of the Aman resorts. Tuttle has thought of the perfect room. It's the reverse of the Starck hotel.

Fly in Style Unfortunately, the airlines haven't perfected the design of airplane seats. If you could swivel in them, they would work. You need to be able to change your position. On British Airways, the angle between your body and the footrest in the first-class seat is not a straight line, so it's really bad for your back. Virgin Atlantic has brilliant service; they give massages. They used to have enormous sofas by the bar in Upper Class. Even though they were ugly, it really made a difference. I could get up and stretch my legs.

Shop, Look, and Listen! I obviously like shopping—I'm a shoe fetishist—but only at certain times of the year. I prefer to shop in cities that I go to often and really know my way around. Otherwise, I don't have time. New York is always great, because there's variety: department stores; small, cottage-industry shops in NoLIta; uptown and downtown. I like Jeffrey—it has the best shoes anywhere. And the new Prada store, considering the hype. The salespeople are very nice. Shopping is a good way to get to know a city, because it's not really about shopping. It's about walking around with friends, looking at stores, watching people—seeing where they have lunch and what they're wearing. It's really more about life on the street than actually buying things.

SHOPS Liberty "I buy all my makeup here." 210-220 REGENT ST. 44-207/734-1234

Harvey Nichols 109-125 KNIGHTSBRIDGE 44-207/235-5000

Prada For shoes and bags. 15-16 OLD BOND ST. 44-207/647-5000

Issey Miyake "I travel almost exclusively in Miyake clothes—even though I have to iron them." 52 CONDUIT ST. 44-207/851-4620

Yohji Yamamoto Hadid favors Yamamoto's geometric designs, especially his jackets. 14-15 CONDUIT ST. 44-207/491-4129

Notting Hill Gate "I love browsing in all the funny little shops and second-hand stores along here."

Hakkasan "Very well designed [interiors are by Christian Liaigre], and the food is extremely tasty. I like going for dim sum on Sunday afternoon." DINNER FOR TWO $190 8 HANWAY PLACE 44-207/927-7000

Les Trois Garçons "One of my favorite restaurants. The décor is really over-the-top. One of the 'Garçons' was a student of mine—he also designed the interiors here." DINNER FOR TWO $125 1 CLUB ROW 44-207/613-1924

Noura Brasserie "The food at this Lebanese restaurant is so good—like kibbeh—and the service is flawless." DINNER FOR TWO $80 16 HOBART PLACE 44-207/235-9444

Wapping Food "A very cool space in a high-ceilinged former hydraulic power station." DINNER FOR TWO $80 WAPPING HYDRAULIC POWER STATION; WAPPING WALL 44-207/680-2080

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