The Zaha Hadid gallery contains a metropolis in miniature, a streetplan of fantastical scale models preserved under perspex. Hadid’s PR walks me down the aisles and points out the landmarks. Over here is the imposing MAXXI museum in Rome and over there the BMW plant in Leipzig, where translucent conveyor belts ferry the cars between the factory floors. Away in the corner, the gallery floorspace is occupied by what appears to be a white, frozen avalanche of futurist geometry. This, I am told, is the design for a building in Saudi Arabia.
I stare at the avalanche with mounting alarm. I’m looking for the windows, I’m looking for the door. Try as I might, I can’t see it as a building. “No, of course,” the PR says. “It’s a concept.”
Increasingly, it seems, Zaha Hadid’s concepts are becoming constructions. At the age of 62, she has blossomed into one of the world’s most celebrated and sought-after architects, with a staff of 350, a Pritzker prize on the shelf and around 40 buildings already dotting the globe. Her practice is putting the finishing touches to Japan’s national stadium, the principal venue for the 2020 Olympics. Her undulating Serpentine Sackler gallery, nestled in the heart of Hyde Park, opens for business this week. For fans of her work, Hadid is a bloody-minded genius, the woman who broke the mould, upturned the applecart and found fluid solutions to rectangular problems. For her detractors, however, she’s something else again: a showboating “starchitect” who trades in hubristic, convoluted fantasies. Many of her concepts, it’s claimed, would have been better off as drafts.