“I know I can build the impossible.”
Zaha Hadid, you are one of the most famous architects in the world and designed the Aquatic Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Are you pleased with it?
“Yes, I saw the races there more than once: the whole atmosphere attracted me very much, I also think it is a really good piece of work. And we will understand it even better by the end of the Olympics.”
What are you spending your time on now?
“I have many projects. I just finished a skyscraper in Marseille: now I am working on a museum in Michigan, a large shopping centre and offices in Beijing, a maritime terminal in Salerno. And two opera houses in China, a theatre in Morocco and a proposed design for a museum in Korea. In short, lots of irons in the fire.”
How do you keep on top of so many projects all around the world?
“I work very hard, and I have lots of co-workers who set out from London to keep on top of all the different jobs. I do the same myself as well, because everything must be closely monitored.”
Where do you find is the best place to work?
“There aren’t that many differences. In China, for example, you go faster: this makes things more difficult. Then there are clients with more or less experience: some want everything in too much of a rush, but the truth is that you cannot rush.”
Which are your best customers?
“I cannot say who is better or worse. Anyone who I have worked with knows how it goes, but some can be intrusive. On the other hand, I also work with those who have a need to learn all about everything and that has its own complications.”
Do you prefer to work quickly or slowly?
“I like to have a reasonable amount of time to design and build. The design has its own rhythms, especially in the case of theatres and museums: it takes extreme care and attention to each detail. These projects have a different logic than office buildings or shopping malls.”
Which do you like to build best?
“It doesn’t make much difference to me. Of course, I have mostly worked on museums and public buildings: I also find it interesting to work in commercial spaces. It’s a different way of getting closer to people.”
How come the great architects of today are working a lot on museums?
“People want public spaces, just as once upon a time they wanted town squares: these are community spaces. What’s new is that people are better informed, both about art and about architecture. You cannot just create a residential city: there is a real need for meeting places, which is what museums are. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to travel: it is important that we can create local cultural activities at a high level.”
What do you think of the MAXXI? And of the controversy that welcomed it?
“I am particularly fond of that museum: I think it’s very nice. I do not know enough about how the discourse on its controversy went, but I know that it is always full. It means you now have a really contemporary building in a very old city: it is important to look at it as a living space, which brings new energy.”
Were you intimidated to be building a museum in Rome?
“For people who use new techniques it is exciting to build in a multi-layered environment, in the midst of so much beauty that combines the past with the present.”
For major projects, are you concerned about the political situations in different countries?
“Yes, because I do not have complete control of the situation. And these days it is difficult to pick out the right place to work.”
What would you really like to create? And where?
“In Europe, because of the dialogue between the old and the new. Also, I would like to make a skyscraper in New York and to have more work in London. And to crystallise my Italian projects: I have been working somewhat off the beaten track in Reggio Calabria and in Sardinia. And I would like to be dealing with the overlooked pieces of a city: stairways, seating. Urban furniture, in short.”
And your own house?
“I have no time to do it. But if I did, I’d do it in London, something very simple.”
Does your architecture have a following?
“Many people. With some I am friends, many others I am not close to. But it’s hard to do really good work: it’s the same as for artists, there are only a few greats.”
Do you think of yourself as an artist?
“From a young age I came to know that those who are fully engaged can do anything. I wanted to become an architect, so I had to concentrate only on architecture. To succeed you need to be very focused.”
Do you love your job?
“It is a very difficult job and exceptionally time consuming. It is not for those who want an easy life: you do not have control over everything, and you have to continually deal with many different aspects. You have to be constantly on the lookout.”
How do you feel at the end of a project?
“There’s always something that crops up that you had not thought about before. I also see all the mistakes. Or rather, first of all I see the errors, then as I take it all in I start to love what I did. But I think if you do not make mistakes (I am talking about details, minor imperfections) you cannot learn. My architecture does not only depend on me, but on a team of at least forty people who have all kinds of expertise. It’s rather like being the director of a symphony orchestra. You have to learn to delegate. If you want to do it alone, you can only take forward one small project at a time.”
Do you need to be a diplomat?
“Unfortunately, I am not so good at that. [laughs] Often you need to convince other people to do the impossible. This is my profession.”
5th August 2012