Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid says China's silk and ancient gardens are among her passions. Photos provided to China Daily
Trip to the Great Wall inspired landmark building in Beijing. Su Zhou and Lin Jing report.
Architect Zaha Hadid has left her mark on many countries, including China. A Chinese saying tells us that traveling is as important as reading the classics. This is especially true for Hadid, the Iraqi-British architect who was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize. Her 47,000-square-meter Galaxy Soho building, inspired by a trip to the Great Wall, was completed in October and is now a landmark in Beijing.
"I always thought that the Great Wall was like a motorway until I went to it and realized that it is a great hill. It is not continuous," Hadid said. "So the idea of Galaxy Soho's shape and lines come from that."
"I have been inspired through travel, not only in China, but also in Europe and Latin America. I am not only inspired by the landscape but also by history," she said.
Just 20 years ago, Beijing was a city with few landmark buildings, although those it did have were stunning and in many cases world-renowned. Today, modern icons such as the National Stadium and the CCTV Tower have joined the city's ancient architectural highlights.
Hadid plans to add more of her work to China's landscape, inspired by the country's culture and her global wanderings.
China's ancient gardens and silk are among her passions. Travel has also played a part in this, her love of silk being born out of a trip to Suzhou, Jiangsu province.
In the coming years, Hadid designs will appear not just in the main Chinese metropolises but also in smaller places such as Chengdu in Sichuan province, Changsha in Hunan province and Nanjing in Jiangsu province. These cities are investing heavily in public buildings, including libraries, museums and opera houses.
In Chengdu, Hadid is designing an art center, which will include a museum, exhibition center, teaching area and conference room, as well as bars, shops and restaurants.
Her soaring aerodynamic design for the building and its yin yang shape are intended to evoke traditional Chinese symbols, her company said.
"It is mainly cultural buildings that I believe these second- or third-tier cities are competing with each other for. These cities are big, compared to those in the West in terms of size and population, and they are highly ambitious to develop," she said.
Hadid believes cultural projects will be beneficial both for the development of art in China and the cities.
"That is what happened in Germany and France: museums, opera houses and concert halls are not just in Berlin or Paris. We can find interesting buildings in different cities. Cultural programs should not be restricted to certain areas," she said.
That spirit of ubiquity is evident in Hadid's projects in Europe, the United States, Asia and elsewhere.
While she is influenced by Chinese culture, she does not set out to make her designs look specifically Chinese in order to attract clients.
"I am not regional. There is no need to emphasize Chinese elements. I mean, I won't build something like a dragon; it should be combined with architecture and work functionally," Hadid said.
Xu Weiguo, a professor of architecture at Tsinghua University, said that function - rather than image - should be the essence of architecture.
"Buildings isolate people from nature, so one of their most important functions is to connect people with nature. Architects should focus on function instead of image or cultural meaning," Xu said.
"Many architects have something in their minds before they start, so the functions of their buildings somehow need to follow that framework," Xu added.
Xu said that Hadid's style is a natural result of considering function and other elements, so it is better in terms of being a living and working environment.
Zhou Yufang, associate professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, said second- and third-tier cities need talent from overseas.
"The fast urbanization of these smaller cities needs unique architecture to support it, and good architects can interpret sites well by reconfiguring the urban space," Zhou said.
No shortage of critics
While opportunities abound for architects in China, there is no shortage of criticism of modern buildings either.
Time magazine described the CCTV Tower in Beijing, which was designed by Rem Koolhaas, as a "unique tetrahedronal structure" that is "the most radically re-imagined tall building in the world". But in China it has been widely criticized, with many saying it looks like a pair of pants.
The Gate of the Orient building in Suzhou was dubbed CCTV Tower's brother, because it is also said to look like a pair of pants.
For Hadid, the CCTV Tower "is a reconfiguration of a tower. It has a high building and low building and they are all well connected. It also has a nice skin. I don't understand why people don't like it."
Rapid development inevitably leads to comparisons between historical and modern buildings. For Hadid, it is important to preserve the old, but also to create something new. She cited Venice as an example.
"Venice is a very beautiful city. Nobody wants to build new buildings there. Everything is well preserved. But Venice is dead. There is no life. The population is not growing. It is unimaginable to demolish buildings in Venice, but it also means the city has stagnated," she said.
"It is not about old buildings and new buildings. We have to think what the next generation requires, where they want to spend their time, what they want to do in that place."
Hadid said she appreciates the ambition of Chinese developers. She has known Zhang Xin, the CEO of Soho China, for nearly nine years and admires her desire to break the old molds of Chinese architecture.
"During periods of fast development, cities change and become similar. A hundred years ago China did not have skyscrapers but now many cities have them. Cities lose some of their original identity. This is what is called progress," she said.
"People will not argue about losing their original identity if they think you are building a good new one; they only do so when they find you are building a bad one," Hadid said.
Contact the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Galaxy Soho building, one of Hadid's architectural projects in China.
(China Daily 01/01/2013 page5)