Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid: Architecture and Design Design Museum Through Nov. 25

For Zaha Hadid, the one-woman exhibition at London's Design Museum is more than a homecoming; it's a victory lap 35 years in the making.

Those who saw the exhibition of her work last year at New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum can anticipate the impact of abstract paintings morphing into sculptural models and finally—finally—into built works. But the full scale of achievement has to be measured against the latest buildings and the essential backdrop of London.

Hadid studied at the Architectural Association under both Leon Krier and Rem Koolhaas in the late 1960s and opened her studio in 1972. She toiled in relative obscurity, developing a reputation as a Baghdad-born architect on paper. All that changed with completion in 2003 of the Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, with galleries housed in horizontal tubes floating between ribbonlike ramps, which proved to the Pritzker Prize jury that swirls not only could be built, they worked. She is only now finishing her first work for London, a diamondlike design clad in polished stainless steel for the Architecture Foundation.

Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic has planned the exhibition to introduce Hadid's “extraordinary flashes” to a hometown audience, but he says, “I hope people will come away realizing that she is interested in materiality.”

Sudjic allows full immersion in Hadid's dynamic digital architecture through a darkened first floor devoted to projects and process, leading to an airy, daylighted second floor, where buildings and objects (such as the Aqua Table, shown above) speak to each other in a new language of form. He hopes to “evoke the experience of moving around in her buildings,” which now include the Phaeno Science Centre and the BMW plant, completed in the past year in Germany.

Hadid's studio, now 170 strong, turns out furniture and objects along with master plans and building plans, such as the Opus, a 20-story hollowed-out cube for Dubai; a silvery beanlike building for Budapest; and a museum for Sardinia that looks like global warming got the best of an ice cream cone.

The distinctive “eruption of energy” that marks a Hadid building or sofa has been evolving since the early 1990s, when the faint of heart in Wales selected, and then rejected, her radical approach to an opera house. Hadid had to wait until last year to complete her first project in Britain, a Maggie's Cancer Care Centre in Scotland. Next up is the Aquatic Center for the 2012 Olympics.

The power of the exhibition comes from the juxtaposition of drawings, which have always suggested the chaos and disorder of modernity, and the built works, which are dynamic but serene.

Hadid explains herself by saying she “started out trying to create buildings that would sparkle like isolated jewels. Now I want them to connect, to form a new kind of landscape, to flow together with contemporary cities and the lives of their peoples.”

The exhibition closes with the subliminal suggestion that one isolated example is not enough. Sudjic describes the museum's sendoff as “a skyline of her coming projects to see against the backdrop of London” through a glass wall. Is more Hadid better? It would be worth the jet lag to see.