architect/artist: Zaha Hadid
interview title: Question time: Zaha Hadid
interviews compilation no: T-40, A-06
interview format: Text, Audio
date: 5 March 2009
appeared in: The Guardian
interviewer: Hannah Pool
photo by: Alberto Heras
Architect Zaha Hadid on her ambitious aquatics centre for the 2012 Olympics, why her work creates controversy, and rebuilding Baghdad
You have designed the aquatics centre for the 2012 Olympics. Can you explain the concept behind the building?
It was about a wave - or two waves - but we've also been working with organic morphology, underwater life, all that sort of stuff. The roof is a wavy roof because we wanted to achieve a level of lightness.
It has allegedly gone three times over budget. Is that correct?
The original project did not include all the contingencies, all the fees. Maybe now things will drop down. At the time these things were priced, it was a very competitive global market - the price of concrete and cement, of steel, was high. There are different pricings - one is for construction, the other includes everything. You can't mix and match them.
Why do you think people get so passionate about how much a building like that costs?
Because all public buildings here are under scrutiny. There is a tremendous focus on legacy after the Olympics, how this regenerates an area. It becomes a pavilion and a park, it services the whole neighbourhood; one has to think about these things in a strategic way, not just as an isolated project.
Have you had any involvement with Boris Johnson?
No, not yet.
Because of the fuss about the cost, and the recession, do you wish you had designed a more modest building?
No. In these moments of recession, uplifting the spirit is even more important and we should learn from things that were done in the past that were done in a hurry. You can't compromise with any of these buildings: you can't shrink the pool, because it's an Olympic pool; you can't compromise on changing rooms, on glazing.
Your work is quite divisive. Do you set out to cause controversy?
No. But because it's not familiar at the beginning, people shy away from it.
There was a period when you were winning awards and getting commissions outside the UK but you couldn't get anything built here. Has that changed?
I don't think so.
Do you feel sidelined here?
No. I just think it's a pity because my work stems from being educated here, and it's a response to this kind of city. It was a response to how to deal with a historic city.
You have a reputation for being intimidating.
There is nothing I can do about that. I don't think they are used to many women being in this role. There is a fixated view about how you should be. I don't necessarily abide by these rules.
By intimidating, do you think they mean not British?
I'm not sure it's a race thing. There are moments when I think that was the case. I think it's because you don't follow the norm and people are uncomfortable. It's not that I'm trying to be nasty to them or intimidate them.
Do you enjoy the notoriety?
Sometimes it's fun.
You recently designed a pair of shoes, and now a tap - are you trying to make your work more accessible?
No, it's just fun. You have to think about it in a functional way, and because it's a small object, every line has to be right. It can't be clunky - you have to really work on it like a sculpture - but it's a tap, so it has to work.
You have said that you were inspired by the architecture of Baghdad.
Baghdad was a very nice city, there were beautiful suburbs. Life in the Middle East is quite different from other places.
When did you last go back?
Would you like to be involved in the redevelopment?
It would be interesting, but it needs to be more than just a building - the redevelopment is a very big ambition. There's a lot of destruction and someone has to rethink how to build up a society, how to rebuild a nation. It's beyond doing a few cultural buildings.
Do you miss Baghdad?
I miss aspects of being in the Arab world - the language - and there is a tranquillity in these cities with great rivers. Whether it's Cairo or Baghdad, you sit there and you think this river has flown here for thousands of years. There are magical moments in these places.