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First, let me be clear: I come in peace. Yes, in the past I have bemoaned Zaha Hadid’s tendencies toward the extravagant, the formalistic, the amorphous. The debate over whether she should continue using the same parametric techniques for every type of building, regardless of historical or cultural context, will continue. Yet the fact remains: ZHA continues to win major, prestigious commissions, and since the architect's primary goal is to satisfy the brief stipulated by his or her clients, Hadid’s continued acquisition of numerous public projects provides compelling evidence of her success in this key area.
However, stories spreading across the internet in the past week have not served Dame Hadid well. And no, not because of the remarks about her latest stadium design bearing similarities to the more intimate parts of the female anatomy. But rather, because of her reaction to those remarks…
To re-cap: In an interview with Time, Zaha expressed her displeasure with critics like The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, who have mocked her Al Wakrah Stadium—designed with AECOM for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar—and likened her to the “Georgia O’Keeffe of things you can walk inside.”
“It’s really embarrassing that they come up with nonsense like this,” Hadid told Time. “What are they saying? Everything with a hole in it is a vagina? That’s ridiculous.”
Well, here's the first thing: It’s not just the hole that has led to these comparisons, otherwise almost every stadium in the world would have the same comparison levied against it. Instead, it’s the organic, undulating roof canopy that has piqued the more lascivious side of people’s imaginations. (And let’s be honest: Jon Stewart is not renowned for his subtlety …)
But here's the second thing: Why the indignation? Having your building compared to a part of the human body is no more an insult than it is a compliment; it is simply an observation—one that, by the looks of the forums, a whole hoard of people have had. Furthermore, being compared to O’Keeffe, the "Mother of American Modernism," is hardly derogatory! If that’s the best Stewart can come up with, then Zaha should feel nigh on invincible in the face of late-night American satire.
The curved, open roof of the stadium is, in fact, meant to evoke the sail of the dhow, a traditional fishing boat common in Qatar. Dame Hadid went on to bemoan the sexist nature of the row: “Honestly, if a guy had done this project,” she declared, critics would not be making such lewd comparisons.
Which brings us to the third thing: Has Zaha not read the dozens of articles in the past few decades that have compared her male counterparts' monuments, towers, and skyscraper designs to certain anatomical appendages? If she is upset about this, just think how distraught Norman Foster must be about his beloved Gherkin being used in a recent Lloyds Pharmacy advert for erectile dysfunction…
It’s worth noting that it is not just men like Jon Stewart who have made such remarks about the stadium; Callie Beusman, of feminist website Jezebel, went as far as to celebrate the more womanly aspects of the proposal. “Every city's skyline looks like a row of shadowy phalli glinting in the urban smog," she wrote. "I think it's about time we pay some architectural respect to the yoni."
Therein lies the answer for Dame Hadid: rather than getting uppity in response to Stewart’s commentary, she should laugh it off like the rest of us—and delight in the fact that she is making feminine waves in an industry still dominated by men. It’s unlikely of course; as Archdaily forum user orkado commented:
“Whew! That’s a relief. I held my breath when clicking this link that I might find that architects had somehow found a sense of humor. Thankfully it appears that everything is business as usual. Back to wearing black.”
Agree? Disagree? State your case here.
The Angry Architect