Dwelling on… what is one reason that the work of Zaha Hadid is iconic and what makes great architecture.
A Star is Lost
Shock waves rolled through the architecture world with the news that Zaha Hadid had died on March 31. Likewise were the shock waves, that became sustaining forces of her influence sent through design communities, schools, and practices with each image of her new works. I remember seeing the first Zaha Hadid feature in one of the Architecture periodicals, and marveling at the organic design, streaming across the landscape. Her work, at least, gave a generation of mavericks in architecture an example to push their geometric limits toward. At the most, it granted everyone that explored their design boundaries the blazed trail, the permission, the real world role model in current practice to build their wildest visions and imaginative, undulating, organic, and pioneering forms into buildings.
There are plenty of obituaries, tributes, and quotes out there about Zaha Hadid, the architect, the ‘Queen of the curve’ as this Guardian post called her. In this post, I want to try and tap one reason her work was SO iconic and great. It relates back to Chris Risher, Jr., my thesis professor at Mississippi State University S/ARC, now CAAD. He had a theory called THE RUBBER BAND THEORY, not to be confused with the one in the popular John Gray book on relationships, or the other one by Art Gensler, on “challenge clients without pushing them so far that their trust was compromised.”
Rubber Bands and Architecture
Chris Risher’s Rubber Band Theory was directly related to architecture and ones experience of architecture, thorough all the senses. He used the rubber band as an analogy to the dynamic of human attention/memory in experiencing architecture and gave examples for good architecture, and mediocre architecture and expanded the analogy with bad architecture and great architecture.
Good and Mediocre
Professor Risher stated that good architecture stretches the rubber band, the attention of one experiencing the building. Mediocre architecture barely stretches the rubber band, or challenges the attention at all. Either one may leave a memory, or have a slight pull or appeal of returning to experience it again.
Bad architecture, Risher said, will either not stretch the rubber band, or engage someone’s attention in the least, or stretch it to the point of breaking with some architectural gimmick that once experienced in one pass through the design will be fully consumed by the single experience, thus having no further attention to demand, valuable memory to draw, or remaining desire to go back and engage any further.
GREAT architecture, on the other hand, will stretch the rubber band to the point of breaking, but is great because it will not break it. Think of the attention paid in experiencing a great architectural design, like Zaha Hadid’s. The attention, like the rubber band, is challenged by the work’s unique forms, original designs, and extraordinary spaces. The space is SO different than anything one has ever experienced, that the attention (rubber band) is thoroughly challenged but it does not become fatigued, or tried by a gimmick or cliché. The memory of the experience will give long after one leaves it behind, and will draw them back to experience it again, giving new surprises in its complexity and rich environment.
I have not had the pleasure of seeing a Zaha Hadid design, but knowing how these great works of architecture show in photos, how they have been written about, and how you may see different characteristics of her designs with every angle the photographer can choose, shows that they have that characteristic of really stretching the rubber band, but never breaking it.
Until next time, live nicely!