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Zaha Hadid Parties With Kanye, Ponders Return to Baghdad

Architect Zaha Hadid in front of the new Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Hadid and her team have turned a former gunpowder depot into an art space and built a tent-like white structure next to it. Photographer: Farah Nayeri/Bloomberg
Architect Zaha Hadid in front of the new Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Hadid and her team have turned a former gunpowder depot into an art space and built a tent-like white structure next to it. Photographer: Farah Nayeri/Bloomberg

Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Zaha Hadid posed for an army of photographers huddled outside a former gunpowder depot in London’s Hyde Park.

The Iraqi-born architect was showing the media her latest creation: the Serpentine Sackler Gallery (an extension of London’s nearby Serpentine Gallery), which cost 14.5 million pounds ($23 million) to complete.

Hadid has turned the rectangular brick depot (built in 1805) into a contemporary art space and put up a rippling white tent-like edifice next door that will be an all-day restaurant named the Magazine.

The architect joined me for a filmed conversation inside the Magazine, whose tilted columns resemble stiletto heels. I asked why she had twinned a listed 19th-century building with something so futuristic.

“I don’t think the existing building should be duplicated in a building like it, next to it,” said Hadid, who was dressed in leggings and a royal-blue tulle tunic.

The aim, with new architecture, is “to celebrate the moment it’s built,” she explained.

This is only Hadid’s third building in London, though she has lived here for more than 40 years, designed the London 2012 Olympics Aquatics Centre, and is a Dame of the British Empire.

Iraqi Bank

There are countless projects elsewhere. Her work on a new Central Bank of Iraq headquarters -- which she was asked to build after a 2010 suicide attack on the existing bank -- is progressing, she said. Will she return to Iraq for the first time since 1980?

“I would like to go,” she said. “It’s very difficult emotionally for me, because I have no family there anymore. The last time I was there, my parents were alive; they were there.”

“Also, I cannot go for just three days,” she explained. “The few people left I might know, I would like to see -- my aunt and uncles are in the north.”

Baku Building

November sees the opening of the swooping Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, which houses a museum and a 1,000-seat auditorium and is named after the late president.

“It’s very important to contribute to public buildings, irrespective of where they are,” said Hadid, countering charges that she worked for a regime ranked among the world’s most repressive by Washington-based Freedom House. “You can’t criticize something and then deprive the population of another thing.”

As Hadid’s fame has grown, so has her circle of friends. The latest addition is rapper Kanye West, who recently said he wished to create architecture himself.

West rang the other day suggesting they do something together -- Hadid said she wasn’t sure what.

Rapper Pharrell Williams is also a fan of her trade, she said. “Architecture is very topical,” noted Hadid. “Everybody wants to be involved with architecture, which is good.”

Pritzker Prize

Hadid in 2004 became the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Sneers still come her way. A Guardian journalist noted this week that she was both single and childless, and that her flat was said to be impersonal.

“Before, I wasn’t successful, so they just made fun of my clothes, my this, my that,” she said. “Now, especially in the U.K., you are hated if you are supposedly successful or well known, because they assume you are corrupt, decadent.”

Hadid said she couldn’t tell how much of that was misogyny. In general, though, “people just assume that because you’re a woman, you’re a second-class citizen,” she said. “And that’s not going to fly with me.”

Although Hadid has a third building in the U.K. capital --a secondary school in Brixton, for which she won her second RIBA Stirling Prize in 2011 -- she’s keen for more.

“I would like to do something in London, because it’s where I live,” she said. “I have so much expertise on London. It would be good for it to manifest itself somewhere.”

The Serpentine Sackler Gallery is named after the Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, a major donor. The gallery and its opening exhibition were sponsored by Bloomberg.

(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on restaurants and Frederik Balfour on the Asian art market.

To contact the writer on the story: Farah Nayeri in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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