Serpentine Sackler Gallery Extension and Zaha Hadid

My Introduction to Zaha Hadid

One of the first really exciting moments in my Architectural eduction was when I went to the Architecture Winter School of 1990 in Edinburgh around the New Year where lots of Architecture students from all over the UK had gathered to do workshops and hear lectures from the great and the good. I had only been an Architecture student for a couple of months and it was a formative experience.

Passing of the Flame

Two Lectures really stand out for me in my memory, one was by Zaha Hadid then an Architect who still hadn’t built anything and the other by a director of Venturi, Scott Brown then the practice which was the sharp point of Architectural Post-modernism at the time when that style was at it’s zenith and already starting to fade from the mainstream.

The Venturis had almost finished the National Gallery Sainsbury extension in London, one of their biggest commissions and Zaha Hadid had yet to start her first big commission the Vitra Fire Station which grabbed the Architectural worlds attention. Was this the moment of the passing of the flame, it was for me at least?

I remember the atmosphere was electric for both lectures. We certainly felt Zaha was the future her vision was amazing and although in the beginning associated with de-construction didn’t really fit within any category. The other was by the Post Modernists, all the students and lecturers there were quite opposed to it, stressing as it did decoration and a kind of symbolic cultural appropriation.

Looking back now I wonder if these two approaches weren’t a lot closer than we all felt that night. One reads buildings as symbols given form (decorated shed or duck) and the other forms that you had to work hard to give symbolic meaning to, and nothing ever quite stuck  (see Patrick Schumaker’s Parametricism a theoretical mess).

Anyway Haha went on the break many a glass ceiling as a 90’s Starchitect and the post modern debate was sidelined in mainstream Architecture for the most part thereafter. 

Zaha Hadid’s buildings for me range from the truly terrible to utterly fantastic. I really think that given the right brief and client she produced sublime buildings and the last one that I saw, the smallest one I have visited is just beautiful.

I visited The Sackler gallery a few summers ago and it reminded me of all the good things about Hadid’s Architecture. Hadid was a trustee of the Serpentine she was both a logical choice. The original building is a gunpowder store now restored and renovated to house exhibitions with the addition of an extension as a cafe and reception area. The original building in it’s distinctive light yellow London brick is an ideal contrast for the swooping white and glass forms of the Hadid building, contrast and movement in design was always Hadid’s forte.

Light is pulled in from Orchid leaf type columns through the undulating roof space.The roof of the extension to the original building is a woven fabric PTFE-coated glass-fibre membrane outer layer with inner layer of silicone-coated glass cloth. This allows the roof to swoop around seemingly limitlessly, the form a complete contrast with the original building and utterly compelling. Whereas most would have made an understated contrasting modernist box but similar restrained geometry Hadid went further still.

I would like to think there would be at least room for a handful of Architects who were much more the Artist before the Artisan in every generation, Hadid was one of those.

April 12, 2020