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The Serpentine Sackler gallery.
The Serpentine Sackler gallery. Photograph: Karen Robinson

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.


Xan Brooks
The Guardian


Serpentine Gallery pavilion, Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, London, UK Photograph: Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei

In a short hallway, somewhere inside the labyrinthine Basel HQ of Herzog & de Meuron, stands a small Chinese wooden table, shaped so that two of its legs rest on the floor and two on the wall. It’s an artwork by Ai Weiwei, a friend of the Swiss architects and a regular collaborator. Above it hangs a giant light fitting, designed for their most famous collaboration: Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium. This “shrine to Weiwei”, as the architects put it, says plenty about their practice: few architects have cultivated such close ties to artists and the art world in general, or benefited from them so handsomely.

In room after room of their vast studio, members of their 350-strong team labour on new art galleries and cultural buildings. Here’s one for Miami: an open concrete structure with an oversailing roof. Over there is a huge art gallery in Kolkata; elsewhere, there are buildings in New York, Hong Kong and São Paolo. Meanwhile, on an island in Hamburg, their stunning Elbphilharmonie concert hall has just had its topping-out ceremony.

And this summer the architects will be revisiting London, home of their Tate Modern. In July, we’ll see the first signs of their long-delayed extension to the gallery: a conversion of the old power station’s subterranean oil tanks. But before that, they’ll unveil the 12th in the Serpentine Gallery’s series of temporary summer pavilions, another collaboration with Ai.

ust as Basel is an art hub, so too is it home to pharmaceutical giants, who have regularly employed their local super-duo. In fact, the whole city is strewn with the architects’ early works, from industrial buildings to high-rise office towers to the local football stadium (plus, of course, galleries and museums). Not that you’d instantly recognise their work: what’s facilitated Herzog and De Meuron’s ascent has been their capacity to re-think architecture anew. Their nearby Central Signal Box, from 1999, wrapped a bog-standard piece of railway infrastructure in twisting bands of copper to create a sculptural landmark.


Steve Rose

Peter Zumthor’s 2011 Serpentine Gallery pavilion

You would be wise not to call Peter Zumthor a monk. He may be white-bearded and dark-clad and his office, in a secluded spot outside the Swiss town of Chur, may take the form of a cloister around a garden. His studio gathered there of young acolytes may have a superficial resemblance to a cult. He may be someone who talks with reverence about his craft and who inspires extreme reverence in other architects. He may carry with him a hushed aura, in his own speech, in the way others talk of him and in his buildings. He may sometimes rise at 4am to pursue his work. He may, in his oeuvre, have a certain number of chapels, memorials and other contemplative spaces, and he may like to talk of such things as the “mystery” of materials. But at the suggestion he might be otherwordly, he becomes vehement.

“There are these prejudices that have always been accompanying my whole career, which is first they said, ‘Yes he does these beautiful buildings, but they are up in the mountains and they are only possible in the mountains…’ Then they say, ‘You only build in wood’ or they’re saying you’re the monk or you’re arrogant.” He is, he insists, down to earth: “I design for the use of a building and the place and for the people who use it… the reputation for arrogance comes because when work is offered to me I look whether I can find a genuine interest in quality. If I only find an interest in using my name for economic reasons, or if I can see that this is a project that only deals with image and facade, of course I say no.”


Rowan Moore