The Constructed Environment’s Updates

The First Great Female Architect

Image courtesy of Richard Wasenegger / WikiMedia Commons | Article Link | by Jonathan Meades

Zaha Hadid's practice occupies a former school in Clerkenwell, an area of London that still bears the scent of Dickens. It's an 1870s building designed by the London School Board architect E.R. Robson, who, typically of his profession, was unquestionably formulaic. Still, his was a sound enough formula. Today the high, plain, light rooms are crammed to bursting with Hadid's 200 or so employees. Though they are of every conceivable race, they are linked by their youth, their sombre clothes, their intense concentration. They gaze at their screens, astonishingly silently. There is little sound other than the click of keyboards and a low murmur from earphones. They don't talk to each other. It is as though they are engaged in a particularly exigent exam. It feels more like a school than a former school. And it feels more like a factory than a school. If there is such a thing as a physical manifestation of the dubious concept called the knowledge economy, this is it. This is a site of digital industry.

"What is exciting," says Zaha, "is the link between computing and fabrication. The computer doesn't do the work. There is a similar thing to doing it by hand..."

"The computer is a tool," I agree.

"No. No, it's not..."

What then?

The workers on the factory floor--my way of putting it, not hers--are, she says "connected by digital knowledge...They have very different interests from 20 years ago."

Sure. But this does not make immediate sense. It is a matter to return to, that will become clear(ish) in time.