I have had many bad things to say about the architect Zaha Hadid, but she did not deserve to die this young. Her architecture inspired her colleagues around the world, and she was a model for rising female architects. Zaha Hadid was a product, not a cause, of the flaws of her industry. Architecture seems to be immune to the criticism that would be leveled against it in any other field. We cannot blame that on Zaha Hadid.
It is hard for women and blacks to make it, but worse, the dominant architectural styles have made the world a worse place to live. Modern architecture has acted around the world as a sort of historical defoliant. Acting through a Western elite at first, now through architects everywhere trained in Western practices, the industry has helped to recolonize nations that struggled for their independence, wreaking havoc on their indigenous cultures. Modern architecture is a contributing force to global warming. Its ameliorative steps have been largely bogus. Traditional architecture that evolved over centuries with techniques to regulate the effects of climate before the Thermostat Age, which remain viable and available today, are suppressed. This has not only hurt the ability of the field to address climate issues but limits the field’s ability to provide beauty and uplift to people around the world. The inability of publics in nation after nation to fight the entrenched architectural interests no doubt saps people’s confidence in the validity of their political establishments, undermining efforts to lift up the public’s role in creating a more livable environment locally, nationally and globally, with deplorable blowback against efforts to expand democracy.
Flaws of such magnitude would never mount up in most industries because existing checks and balances – professional organizations, schools, the media, etc. – would push most industries back to basics. Reform in architecture, snuffed out in the 1980s (PoMo), has never risen again. The AIA is totally dedicated to modernism. There is only one major architecture school with a traditional curriculum in the world. All this despite the fact that most people prefer traditional to modern architecture. No mainstream architecture critic is willing or able to challenge the establishment. In no other industry would a major firm design the equivalent of a stadium that looks like a vagina in a country whose women are not allowed to show their faces in public. It would not be roundly criticized: It just would not happen. Not so in the case of architecture. Modern architecture is a cult.
Dame Zaha’s sad and premature death offers the field of architecture an opportunity to look deep into itself. Mark my words, it will not happen.
Zaha Hadid, RIP.