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GRAPHIC SPACES - Aspects of the Work of Zaha Hadid
One of the most significant and momentous features of architectural avant-garde of the last 20 years is the proliferation of representational media and design processes.
In the early eighties Zaha Hadid burst onto the architectural scene with a series of spectacular designs embodied by even more spectacular drawings and paintings. The idiosyncrasies of these drawings made it difficult to read them as straightforward architectural descriptions.
This initial openness of interpretation might have led some commentators to suspect "mere graphics" here.
Patrik Schumacher 2002
Published In: IDEA - International Graphic Art, No.293, Tokyo
But this predicament to start (and ultimately stay) with two-dimensional drawings has been architectureıs predicament ever since its inception as a discipline distinguished from construction. As Robin Evans pointed out so bluntly: architects do not build, they draw.
Therefore the translation from drawing to building might be problematic at least under conditions of innovation.
Architecture as a design discipline that is distinguished from the physical act of building constitutes itself on the basis of drawing. The discipline of architecture emerges and separates from the craft of construction through the systematic differentiation of the drawing as tool and domain of expertise outside (and in advance) of the material process of construction.
The first effect of drawing (in ancient Greek architecture) seems to be an increased capacity of standardization, precision and regularized reproduction on a fairly high level of complexity and across a rather wide territory. Roman architecture could benefit from this but also shows hints towards the exploitation of the capacity of invention that the medium of drawing affords. Without drawing the typological proliferation of Roman architecture is inconceivable. Since the Renaissance (via Manerism and Baroque) this speculative moment of the drawing has been gathering momentum. But only 1920s modernism really discovers the full power and potential of the drawing as a highly economic trial-error mechanism and an effortless plane of invention.
In this respect modern architecture depends upon the revolution within the visual arts that finally shook off the burden of representation. Modern architecture was able to build upon the legacy of modern abstract art as the conquest of a previously unimaginable realm of constructive freedom. Hitherto art was understood as mimesis and the reiteration of given sujets, i.e. re-presentation rather than creation. Architecture was the re-presentation of a fixed set of minutely determined typologies and complete tectonic systems. Against this backdrop abstraction meant the possibility and challenge of free creation. The canvas became the field of an original construction. A monumental break-through with enormous consequences for the whole of modern civilisation. Through figures such as Malevitsch and vanguard groups such as the DeStijl movement this exhilarating historical moment was captured and exploited for the world of experimental architecture
My thesis here is that the withdrawal into the two-dimensional surface, i.e. the refusal to interpret everything immediately as a spatial representation, is a condition for the full exploitation of the medium of drawing as a medium on invention. Only on this basis, as explicitly graphic manoevers, do the design manoevers gain enough fluidity and freedom to play. They have to be set loose, shake off the burden to always already mean something determinate. Obviously, this stage of play and proliferation has to be followed by a tenacious work of selection and interpretation. At some stage architectural work leads to building. But not in every "project". Some architectural projects remain "paper projects" which are "translated" later, by other projects. The discipline of architecture has learned to allow for this. Whole reputations are made on this basis.
One of Hadid's audacious moves was to translate the dynamism and fluidity of her calligraphic hand directly into equally fluid tectonic systems or so it seemed. Another incredible move was the move from isometric and perspective projection to literal distortions of space and from the exploded axonometry to the literal explosion of space into fragments, from the superimposition of various fisheye perspectives to the literal bending and melt down of space etc. All these moves initially appear rampantly illogical, akin to the operations of the surrealists.
The level of experimentation reached a point where the distinction between form and content within these drawings and paintings, was no longer fixed. The question which features of the graphic manipulation pertain to the mode of representation rather than to the object of representation was left unanswered. Was the architecture itself twisting, bending, fragmenting and interpenetrating or were theses features just aspects of the multi-view-point fish-eye perspectives? The answer is that over an extended process and a long chain of projects the graphic features slowly transfigured into realizable spatial features. The initial openness in this respect might have led some commentators to suspect mere graphics" here. Within Zaha Hadidıs studio this uncertainty was productively engaged through a slow process of interpretation via further drawings, projects and finally buildings.
These strange moves which seemed so alien and "crazy" - once taken seriously within the context of developing an architectural project - turn out to be powerful compositional options when faced with the task of articulating complex programmes. The dynamic streams of movements within a complex structure can now be made legible as the most fluid regions within the structure; overall trapezoidal distortions offer one more way to respond to non-orthogonal sites; perspective distortions allow the orientation of elements to various functional focal points etc. What once was an outrageous violation of logic has become part of a strategically deployed repertoire of nuanced spatial organisation and articulation.
Painterly techniques like colour modulations, gradients of dark to light or pointillist techniques of dissolving objects into their background assume significance in terms of the articulation of new design concepts like morphing or new spatial concepts like smooth thresholds, "field-space" and the "space of becoming"(Eisenman). Jeff Kipnis also deserves recognition here as someone who has emphasized such possibilities of "graphic space".
The initially "mindless" sketching of graphic textures in endless iterations operates like an "abstract machine" proliferating difference to select from. Once a strange texture or figure is selected and confronted with a programmatic agenda a peculiar form-content dialectic is engendered. An active figure-reading mind will find the desired conditions but equally new desires and functions are inspired by the encounter with the strange configuration. The radically irrational and arbitrary detour ends up hitting a target.
This "miracle" can be explained by recognising that all functionality is relative, that all well articulated organisms have once been monstrous aberrations and still are such - relative to other "higher" and more "beautiful" organisations. Before we dismiss arbitrary formalisms we need to realise that all our time-tested typologies themselves adhere dogmatically to the arbitrary formalism of orthogonality and platonic simplicity derived from the constraints of measuring, making and stabilising of structures handed down to us from a rather primitive stage of our civilisation. To remain locked in within these figures at this time and age would be more than arbitrary. The only way out is radical proliferation and testing of other options. All points of departure are equally arbitrary until tested against presumed criteria. There is no absolute optimality. Every measure starts with a finite array of arbitrary options to compare, select from. Adaptation is a slow process that starts with and works away from absolute arbitrariness. The logic of evolutionary innovation starts with mutation: mutation, selection and reproduction. Hadid has been a vital engine of mutation with respect to the culture of architecture. Her medium has been 2D. The consequences start to aquire the third dimension.
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