Iraqi-born architect of London 2012's aquatics centre talks design, downturn and cost overruns
“Some sort of sea life creature” is how architect Zaha Hadid describes the £269m ($439m) Aquatics Centre she just completed for the London 2012 Olympic Games. [click here to see photos]
The pool complex has an undulating roof that looks like a big skate fish. Temporarily tucked under its wings are chunky legs to fit the extra 15,000 seats needed for the Games; the legs will come off later to restore the original contours.
The Aquatics Centre is the first London landmark by Iraqi-born Hadid, who has long been an unsung heroine in the UK - despite living here for the past four decades, and becoming the first woman, in 2004, to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
When we meet for a poolside conversation, she wears black leggings and a dramatic gold ring that practically covers one finger. Dabbing her eyes with tissue, she says she’s “not crying or anything” - just suffering from an allergy.
I ask what it’s like opening her first Olympics project.
Hadid: It’s fantastic. London is going to be amazing next year. Everybody is going to be involved in this energy in the city. It’s an incredible place now, and I think this really is one of the things which will add to it.
Nayeri: You’ve got this waved, undulating roof.
Hadid: You need more height in the diving than you do in the swimming. So it’s really a design that has two heights. It would be quite nice to see what it’s like from the pool, looking up!
It could be like some sort of sea life floating above you, like a sea creature.
Nayeri: Are you happy to finally have a landmark in London?
Hadid: Yes, because I think it’s very important to do public work buildings, whether museums or theaters or libraries or sports facilities that are open to many people. It’s very nice to do housing, but it’s private, has an impact on the street.
Nayeri: Were you irritated by the press coverage about cost overruns?
Hadid: We have to clarify what it is. The number is not the cost of only the building. It’s the cost of the building, it’s inflation, it’s VAT, it’s the fee, it’s the bridges, it’s a whole bunch of things which go with it.
They want to give it an overall cost. That’s not necessarily a construction cost.
Nayeri: You’re not hit by recession in your portfolio?
Hadid: Eventually I’m sure everybody will be. There are other places. Once some players maybe subside, others appear.
Nayeri: What do you mean?
Hadid: I think there is a downturn generally, but there is other work - in South America now. You have work still in Asia, a lot of work, and China is still a buoyant economy.
Nayeri: Does that worry you?
Hadid: Of course, but I think there’s a bigger story. Not just me. What do you do about the economy? It’s a different issue altogether than whether our office or other offices will have a problem.
I think other worlds are emerging.
(Farah Nayeri writes for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)