Dover Street Market’s famous front window currently shows off Aqua, the baby of Zaha Hadid’s London Olympics Aquatics Centre.
With fashion and sport no longer mutually exclusive, DSM has been testing the Olympic waters with a slice of sporting inspiration and an installation from world famous architect and designer, Zaha Hadid. Having already turned her talents on London 2012, creating the largest capacity swimming centre in Olympic history, Zaha dipped a toe in the fashion pool, stealing away a wave from the roof of her own design to distil in the front window of the downtown designer store. A series of carefully curved monochrome panels hang from the ceiling, forming a frozen 3-D wave, mirroring the fluid geometry of the roof of Zaha’s London Aquatics Centre. The display will remain paned until the end of the Paralympics.
i-D online jumped at the chance to speak with Zaha about the project, her design philosophy and her favourite city skyline.
How did the collaboration with DSM come about and how far do your interests in fashion go? Our collaborations have given us an opportunity to express our ideas in a different scale and through different media. We see it as part of a continuous process of design investigation. It’s a two way process – we apply our architectural research to these designs – but we also learn a great deal about the process and new materials of other industries. Of course there is a lot of fluidity now between art, fashion and architecture—a lot more cross-pollination in the disciplines, but this isn’t about competition, it’s about collaboration and what these practices and processes can contribute to one another. I’m into fashion because it contains the mood of the day, of the moment—like music, literature, and art: whereas architecture is a very long process from the start of a project to its completion.
What influence has the Olympics had on your work? How important do you think it is for artists and designers to respond to world events through their work? Architecture does not really follow particular fashion or economic cycles – it follows the inherent logic of cycles of innovation generated by social and technological developments. Contemporary society is not standing still – and buildings must evolve with new patterns of life to meet the needs of its users. I think what is new in our generation is a greater level of social complexity and flexibility – which should be reflected in its architecture. Consequently, our work explores and adopts concepts, logic and methods that examine and organize the complexities of contemporary life patterns. The repetition and separation that defined buildings of the last century has been superseded by our designs for buildings that engage, integrate and adapt with their users.
Where specifically did your inspiration for the design of the Olympic pool come from? And what were the main challenges you had to face in creating it? It’s a great project that we are very proud of. The building is a testament to the skills and passion of everyone involved – all the engineers and contractors – who helped to bring this building to life. It’s hard to say how much a building can contribute to an athlete’s performance, but it is undeniably a unique facility for the London Olympics and Paralympics and we hope it will make the athletes relax and be able to perform to their best.
It was important to develop a strong design that celebrated all the aquatic sports at the Olympics, but the building must also leave an outstanding legacy as a public facility for everyone in London for many generations after the games. The wave-formed roof design is very appropriate for aquatic sports – combined with the large size and high quality of its construction – create an elegant and simple expression of celebration of water – which everyone seems to understand without much explanation.
Once London was awarded the Games, the organizers instructed that they be the most sustainable Olympics in history. Therefore, the central idea across all the new London 2012 Olympic venues was to design and construct venues for the long-term legacy after the Games. These new venues are then temporarily adapted for use during the Olympics. This is key to the sustainability of all Olympic development – and very important for London, as the city cannot afford to be left with many expensive, oversized and under-used venues.
With 17,500 seats, the London Aquatics Centre has the largest spectator capacity of any Olympic pool in history. After the main Olympic stadium, the centre is the second highest capacity venue during the London Games. The Aquatics Centre will then reduce to the smallest capacity venue after the Games (only 2,500 seats). Outside the Olympics, swimming events in the UK rarely attract more than a few thousand spectators – so there is no future requirement for such a large permanent seating capacity. By reducing the capacity from 17,500 to 2,500 seats, the volume of the building is also dramatically reduced – requiring much less energy to heat and maintain the Aquatics Centre in the future. Additional seating can be re-introduced if required in the future.
This is a complex project built in a very restricted triangular site. The site is bordered on 3 sides by busy railway lines that are essential for London’s transport infrastructure. On the one remaining side with no rail lines, the site is bordered by a river. The main challenge was to design and construct a huge 17,500 seat venue for the Olympics which can be reduced to only 2500 seats afterwards.
How does your design process differ from smaller scale windows like the DSM window, as compared to the epic, skyline projects you do? In terms of form, all the projects interest me equally, although there are obviously large differences. The perception of architecture is different because it is a more immersive experience. You could say that design collaborations are fragments of what could occur in architecture. The idea for a building or an object can come up just as quick, but there is a big difference in process. One of the most satisfying things about furniture and design is that the production process between idea and result is so much quicker. But all come from the same thing; all the projects are connected somehow.
What’s your favourite city, architecturally? And why? I fell in love with how complex Istanbul is – you never know what to expect around the next corner – there are so many rich layers to the city. I never tire of going there as it’s so full of unexpected treasures, you feel all the time the mixture between East and West and all of it floats on a beautiful landscape. The whole thing is like a fantastic Mediterranean collage. I like these hybrid cities along great rivers; remind me of the Baghdad of my youth. I always feel there is a great deal to learn from the organic expansion of these great cities with their rhythm and energy. In cities, you need places where things can shrink and expand, but I think you need to set something out to allow for this organic kind of growth to occur.
Do you have a design philosophy? In the very beginning, we established a reputation amongst clients of delivering solutions that reinvented the program, of having our own ideas and interpretations that weren’t tied to the form of an institution. Now, our work can be described as intuitive, radical, international, dynamic. The fundamental characteristics of the practice are well established. We are concerned with constructing buildings that evoke original experiences, a kind of excitement and newness that is comparable to the experience of going to a new country. Today we strive to maintain these original, independent working processes. Continual innovation is a term better applied to our recent work.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Trust your intuitions and instincts – even if people say they seem bizarre and strange.
Aqua will be displayed at Dover Street Market throughout the Paralympic Games.
Top three images: Zaha Hadid Olympic Window at Dover Street Market. Middle image;Construction of London Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects. Photography: Hélène Binet. Bottom three images: London Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects. Photography: Hufton + Crow.