Dame Zaha, rest in peace

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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.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to Dame Zaha, rest in peace

  1. Pingback: Walking in Zaha’s shoes | Architecture Here and There

  2. There’s no doubt that Hadid was gifted and talented, and it’s such a shock that she died so young. But without a solid traditional foundation to build from, genius is transformed into gimmick and waffle.

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  3. David, I have bookmarked this apt metaphor for future argument: “Modern architecture has acted around the world as a sort of historical defoliant … wreaking havoc on their indigenous cultures.” Thank you. Russell

    Like

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