Hadid Backlash

A lot is being said about Monday's award of the Pritzker Prize to London's Zaha Hadid. Here's a sampling.

Herbert Muschamp in The New York Times:
"Zaha Hadid is a woman and Iraqi-born, and her identity is news in its own right. It would not surprise me if the jury that has awarded Ms. Hadid this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize took these factors into account."

James S. Russell at ArtsJournal.com:
"Prestige awards like the Pritzker are best given to those with talent that is obviously prodigious (which Zaha’s is) even if arguably undeveloped (she hasn’t built very many buildings)."

Chrisopher Hawthorne at Slate:
"It's possible that the [CAC] will prove to be an aberration for Hadid. For a true measure of her place in architectural history, we'll have to wait until her major projects are built, particularly a new museum in Rome and a BMW factory in Leipzig, Germany, both of which are now under construction."

Giles Worsley at the Telegraph:
"In many ways, architecture has caught up with Zaha Hadid. Today architecture is increasingly dominated by the sort of bold forms and rejection of conventional geometry that Hadid has long championed."

Clay Risin at The New Republic:
"...Zaha Hadid is also an awful choice for the Pritzker...a host of more deserving architects stand in the wings for the award--architects who have built far more but are far less beloved by the avant-garde. Her selection, no doubt influenced by her distinction as the most prominent woman in a field dominated by men, represents a fatal debasement of an award purportedly about rewarding excellence, not political correctness or trendiness. Worst of all, it threatens to further widen the rift between ideas and practice that is slowly undermining architecture's ability to contribute to society."

Risin appears to be the most outwardly critical of Hadid's award, though this is definitely not the first time in its history that the Pritzker's selection has been questionable. I'm still boggled by awards given to Gottfried Boehm (1986) and Christian de Portzamparc (1994), not to mention the omission of wife and partner Denise Scott-Brown from Robert Venturi's 1991 award. But those selections didn't hurt the Pritzker Prize and Hadid's selection won't hurt either, even if "P.C." considerations dominated the international jury.

According to the Priztker Architecture Prize web page, "The purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture."

In reference to Pritzker's statement, Hadid is a fitting, yet questionable choice for the Prize. She definitely has talent, visions and commitment, her work is consistent in style (for better or worse) and level of quality, and the significance of her work can be measured in the impact she's had on the architectural profession and academia (moreso the latter) since she left OMA in 1977. But this takes into consideration her unique drawings and paintings, and her equally unique personality and presence. And while the Prize attempts to focus on buildings, it is probably difficult to do only that when dealing with an architect like Hadid.

Returning to Risin's words, it would be difficult to argue that excellence is not present in the work of Hadid, and only the jury itself knows its intentions. To me it sounds like Risin hates her architecture and is letting it be known. Mostly, I disagree with his assertion that this will "widen the rift between ideas and practice". Like many other architects of her generation and theoretical stance, Hadid is getting more commissions for built work which in my mind bridges the gap. It's one thing to say a lot without constructing buildings, but once those ideas become concrete, they change what people thought was possible and what architecture is and can be. Frank Gehry is a perfect example. His architecture (like it or not) has broadened what architects can achieve and what society expects from architects. Similarly, Hadid has achieved similar ends, helping her to become a fitting recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.