My Brief Encounter With Zaha Hadid

The world-renowned architect, who recently designed a jewelry collection for Georg Jensen, died last week

Zaha Hadid, the British-Iraqi architect praised for her groundbreaking neo-modernist style, died Thursday of a heart attack at a Miami hospital, where she was being treated for bronchitis. She was 65.

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Zaha Hadid (photo courtesy Zaha-Hadid.com)

When I heard the news, I couldn’t help but reflect on my brief encounter with her.

On a late morning in mid-February, I sat at my desk, awaiting a call from Hadid. I was told the world-renowned architect—“starchitect” feels truly appropriate here—would be phoning me from her office in London, but that she would have only five minutes to answer my questions. I was working on a story about the jewelry collection she designed for the Danish jeweler Georg Jensen and was desperate for a quote. The time I’d been told to expect a call came and went.

Nervous about interviewing such a formidable talent, I Googled Hadid for the 10th time to make sure I was up-to-date on her work. By the time Battalion publicist Jim Kloiber patched her in, I had nearly given up hope.

Alas, the quote proved elusive. Hadid spoke in fragments. She was difficult to understand and, as I’d been warned, seemed pressed for time. Still, her excitement over the partnership was palpable. She told me she’d designed jewelry in the past—for the Swiss goldsmith Caspita and for Swarovski. “I like jewelry,” she said. “It’s very architectural.”

One look at the eight statement pieces Hadid created for Georg Jensen makes clear how she could navigate easily between such different design disciplines. Her bold, oversized jewels—a mix of cuffs and rings in sterling silver and black rhodium-plated silver accented with black diamonds, ranging from $500 to $25,000—evoke the flowing, organic lines of her buildings. The Georg Jensen collection, in particular, unmistakably derives its soaring, curvaceous silhouettes from Hadid’s Wangjing Soho project in Beijing. And little wonder why. It was at the September 2014 opening of that complex that David Chu, chairman and creative director of Georg Jensen, met Hadid and broached the idea of a joint collection.

“I was invited to the opening, and Zaha was sitting right next to me,” Chu recalled. “We got a chance to chat. She was wearing a lot of her stuff. She’s passionate about jewelry and had made a lot of prototypes. I saw them and thought they were pretty cool. We talked about collaborating. She said she admired Jensen jewelry for a long time. Of course, being in the design field, she’s passionate about a lot of ideas besides her architecture practice. Her studio has done chandeliers, furniture, even shoes and home decor accessories. But that night, we were just talking about her aspiration for jewelry. A few months later, when I was in London, we started developing the idea.”

During our call, Hadid said the similarities between the Wangjing Soho buildings and the Georg Jensen pieces was explicit.

“The striation comes from the elevation of the building,” Hadid said. “The forms are not identical to the project, but, of course, they are inspired by them.”

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Zaha Hadid’s Wangjing Soho complex (photo by Jerry Yin, courtesy of Zaha-Hadid.com)

“Like everything, whether you design clothing or shoes, you have to design something that people can wear,” she added. “You can’t really translate a building into a ring directly.”

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A silver ring from the Zaha Hadid collection for Georg Jensen

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A silver cuff from the Zaha Hadid collection for Georg Jensen

Hadid did, however, create a much more literal translation of her architecture for the Georg Jensen stand at Baselworld 2016, where the collection made its debut. Not only did she create an installation for the booth that looked just like the cuff bracelet she designed, she also designed an enchanting lounge directly across from the stand. I’m 99 percent sure it took over the booth space formerly occupied by designer Stephen Webster, who was conspicuously absent from Baselworld this year (not that he was the only one—the jewelry hall seemed to have more gaping holes than usual!).

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The Georg Jensen stand at Baselworld (photo by Mattia Abeni/Copenhagers)

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Zahid Hadid lounge at Baselworld (photo by Mattia Abeni/Copenhagers)

Although my conversation with Hadid was too brief, I was grateful to have had a few minutes of her time. My brush with greatness.

“She will be remembered for the swooping, sumptuous monumentality of her buildings, like the Maxxi Art Museum in Rome or her opera house in Guangzhou, China,” wrote Tegan Bukowski, an architecture and product designer at Zaha Hadid Architects, in a New York Times op-ed piece.

And, among the lucky women who acquire one of the cuffs or rings Hadid designed for Georg Jensen, she will be remembered on a more intimate level, as the pioneering talent who graced our industry for a brief spell to create lasting and portable tokens of her brilliance.