The Must-See Buildings Designed by Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid pictured outside The Riverside Museum, Glasgow in 2011
Zaha Hadid pictured outside The Riverside Museum, Glasgow in 2011 | © drew farrell / Alamy Stock Photo
Tamsin Nicholson

Architect Zaha Hadid was at the forefront of contemporary world architecture in the late 20th century. From the clouds of Glasgow to the sun of Azerbaijan, here are ten of her most impressive buildings that every lover of architecture should know.

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The Riverside Museum, Scotland

Situated, as the name would suggest, beside the river in Glasgow, The Riverside is one of Hadid’s most beautiful British buildings. The zinc-clad zig-zagging roof echoes the ripples on the nearby water of the river Clyde. Such a dynamic building is suitable for a museum of transport; both internally and externally the building meanders and flows around the space it occupies. Hadid’s unusual approach to the Riverside Museum has made it an icon of the Glasgow skyline.

Vitra Fire Station, Germany

In 1981, a fire crippled the Vitra Design Campus, about a decade later Hadid was commissioned for the important role of ensuring that this never happened again and the Vitra Fire Station was built. Completed in 1993, this was Hadid’s first realized project and with this small building she made her mark on the world of architecture. With the soaring planes of deconstructivisim and the interplay of space, void and line, Zaha Hadid has created what will be regarded as a pivotal structure in the career of a great architect.

Ordrupgaard Extension, Copenhagen

Zaha Hadid is an architect who listens to her environment. With the Riverside, she mimicked the river Clyde and at the Ordrupgard Extension in Copenhagen, she listened to the undulations of the surrounding landscape. The garden is also reflected in the semi-transparent panes of glass which provide both privacy and a connection to nature. During the design, Hadid took great care to reflect the proportions of the original 1918 building and the resulting effect is one of modernity and elegance.

Phaeno Science Centre, Wolfsburg

The iceberg of architecture, Phaeno Science Centre is stunning and timeless. Few people can turn concrete, steel and glass into a “hypnotic work of architecture,” but Zaha Hadid has certainly accomplished this. The glacial windows and cool white concrete are captivating, but inside, a soaring latticework ceiling and huge concrete columns give the space a monumental feeling shared by the great cathedrals of Europe. Perhaps this can be seen not as a church of religion, but a Cathedral of Science.

Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou

For decades, opera houses have been great representations of contemporary architectural style. From Paris to Sydney each one embodies unique elements of their age; the Guangzhou Opera House is no exception. Like great facets of crystaline rock, the opera house rises from the urban streets. The sharp, angular glass, steel and concrete hide the rippling interior. Like the hard wingcase of a beetle hides a tender body, so the exterior hides a soft inside. The glittering light of the ceiling and the acoustic design, make this site perfect for its purpose as a centre for opera.

Hungerburgbahn, Innsbruck

Hungerburgbahn is a hybrid funicular railway. Each of the four stations on the line were designed by Zaha Hadid. The Hungerburg station in particular is glorious. Half sprouting fungus, half enameled icicle, its mountainside location is the perfect site for a cloud-like work of architecture. There is something ephemeral, yet solid about this building. It’s dynamic curving form along with the glossy white surface are a gift to the world of architecture. It is soft, yet it is hard; it is swaying and static; it is transient and timeless – so many juxtapositions, so beautifully assembled.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Azerbaijan

One of Hadid’s most renowned works, the Heydar Aliyev Center is 619,000 square feet of architectural brilliance. With a large conference hall at its heart and a gallery and museum as well, this building is an embracing and comfortable site that unites all these aspects together. In 2012, this curvaceous center rose to fame when it was featured on stamps, becoming a symbol of Azerbaijan and winning the Design Museum of the Year award in 2014.

MAXXI National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, Rome

MAXXI Natoinal Museum of the 21st Century Arts is a multifaceted space dedicated “to experimentation and innovation in the arts and architecture.” In 2010, this building of overlapping tubular forms won the RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture. Since then the Guardian has declared it “Hadid’s finest work built to date.” The curling tunnels, wide interior avenues, and intersecting walk ways give the building an aesthetic rhythm rarely seen in architecture today.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul

This powerful, curving structure is now a major landmark in Seoul, South Korea. An embodiment of Neo-Futurism, in many ways this is a sister to Glasgow’s Riverside Museum. Both take on flowing forms with dynamic lines of light and a distinct Hadid style. In contrast to Riverside, there are no sharp angles in Dongdaemun Design Plaza – soft, smooth curves only. At night, the building is lit up like Hokusai’s Great Wave, sparkling with pixelated light.

Pierresvives, Montpellier

A building that unifies the archive, library, and sports department has to fulfill three identities in one work of architecture. This accomplishment is one of Hadid’s great triumphs. The concrete and geometric qualities of Pierresvives are reassuring aspects for archives and libraries, but the lunging, projecting forms embody the sports aspect. This is a building that brings together these disparate purposes and creates a single architectural force establishing itself in the canon of architecture.

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