Shanghai’s massive new Zaha Hadid Architects retrospective is awe-inspiring

The Modern Art Museum is displaying hundreds of models, renderings, photographs and audio-visual works of Hadid’s most iconic designs

Photographs: courtesy Modern Art Museum

Long a legendary name in the world of architecture, late architect Zaha Hadid and her design firm Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) have become household names in China due to the completion of some of ZHA's most ambitious projects here – perhaps most notably Beijing’s Daxing International Airport in 2019.

Photograph: courtesy Modern Art Museum (model of Beijing’s Daxing International Airport)

Revolutionary, gravity-defying and ground-breaking... These are adjectives associated with Hadid’s designs. In its first retrospective in China, Zaha Hadid Architects are shedding light onto the brilliance and depth of her ingenuity, unique architectural language and unflinching work ethic.

Photograph: Yu Zhiming

The firm have teamed up with the Modern Art Museum in Shanghai for a large-scale exhibition that shows hundreds of models, renderings, photographs and audio-visual works of Hadid’s most iconic designs from around the world.

Photograph: courtesy Modern Art Museum (model of Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan)

Starting on the second floor you’ll find a model replicating Hadid’s award-winning proposal for The Peak Leisure Club in Hong Kong in 1982. As the first design to win her international recognition, using rocks excavated from hills to build artificial cliffs that hover above a mountain is a bold idea even for today. The exhibition continues with models and photographs of buildings – some instantly recognisable while others a little obscure – that the firm have designed in different areas of the globe. You might be surprised to find out that aside from shopping complexes, luxury apartments and skyscrapers, ZHA designed a string of high-profile public projects such as bridges, subway stations and football stadiums.

Photograph: courtesy Modern Art Museum (model of the Al Wakrah Stadium for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar)

If the second floor is an overview of Hadid’s architectural designs, the more spacious third floor is a deep dive into her philosophy and the technologies that helped Hadid realise her vision, with robotics and AI at every turn. Computer simulations developed by ZHA Social Research Group show how hundreds of people inside a building interact, a fascinating insight into how the architects maximise social interaction for future office building designs.

For a more immersive experience, put on a VR headset and take a tour inside some of the luxury housing projects done by ZHA. There’s also a section dedicated to Zaha Hadid Design (ZHD), with Hadid’s other design ventures such as furniture, lighting, jewellery and fashion.

Photograph: Yu Zhiming (glasses by Zaha Hadid Design)

Overall, the exhibition does feel a bit like a big ad campaign for ZHA, a good one that'll give you an in-depth understanding of Hadid's lifelong work and research while offering a glimpse into current and future ZHA projects that are aligned with the awe-inspiring legacy Hadid left behind.


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