Over 100 architecture students and faculty crowded into Hastings Hall at the Yale School of Architecture Monday evening, many of them standing, to see Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid give a multimedia presentation of her work.
Hadid began by jokingly defending her reputation for being “nasty” in setting high standards for her students. She then discussed the significance of being the first woman ever to win the Pritzker Prize, the most esteemed award in architecture.
“I have never made a big deal about the gender issue,” she said. “But I think it’s important for young women to know that you can break through the glass ceiling and that many of us women are working hard in the profession and are doing very well.”
Hadid showed slides and animations of many of the projects her studio has designed during her career, ranging from a concept for the New York City 2012 Olympic Village to some pieces of freeform furniture inspired by ice flows and completed projects like a giant ski jump in Salzburg.
She described how many of the projects were inspired by natural phenomena, like an opera house in Guangzhou designed to evoke the image of two pebbles “nesting” in a stream.
Though generally focused on aesthetic appeal, the designs also reflect the maxim of form following function. The completed Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, for example, features a ground floor with transparent glass walls intended to establish the gallery as an extension of public space within the city.
Robert Stern ARC ’65, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, praised Hadid’s innovative mastery of technology and materials.
“For 50 years, architects have been searching for what I would call the plastic form, and she has done it I think better than anyone else ever,” Stern said. “She fulfills the dream of modernism.”
Many students said they were impressed with the presentation and were glad that some of Hadid’s projects, many of which have previously been merely conceptual, are now being constructed.
“I appreciated actually seeing the concrete, the metal,” Ruth Gyuse ARC ’05 said. “Especially now that we’re relying on computers so much in the field, it’s nice to see some actual buildings.”
Gyuse said she was also impressed with Hadid’s achievement as an Iraqi-born woman in a field traditionally dominated by men.
“It’s pretty exciting her being the first woman winning the Pritzker Prize,” she said. “She has an interesting aura because she’s a very strong woman who’s known for being tough. Also considering her background, she’s just a great example of transcending many different borders.”
Other audience members said they were absorbed during the entire presentation, which lasted over an hour.
“It definitely kept my attention throughout,” Charles Gosrisirikul ARC ’05 said. “I found it interesting in that we were able to see her ideas from concept up to when it becomes built. Graphically, it’s very appealing, but there’s also substance to it, which isn’t always the case.”
Hadid is currently at Yale for the third time as Eero Saarinen Visiting Professor of Architectural Design.
“I enjoy teaching here,” Hadid said. “The campus makes it very easy and enjoyable to work here.”
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