Dezeen Magazine

"Architecture is not a medium of personal expression for me" says Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid has rejected claims that her architecture is self-indulgent and wilful, believing that she is "widely misunderstood" by the mainstream.

Addressing an audience during her Royal Gold Medal lecture last night, the Iraqi-born British architect said projects like her Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku were driven by an ambition for architectural progress, rather than personal indulgences.

"Architecture is not a medium of personal expression for me," she said. "To interpret it as striving for individual expression is to misunderstand it. This misunderstanding is often linked to the dismissal of my work as self-indulgent or wilful."

"However, for me there was never any doubt that architecture must contribute to society's progress and ultimately to our individual and collective wellbeing," she added.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku was named Design of the Year by London's Design Museum in 2014

The talk was held at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, ahead of Hadid being awarded the Royal Gold Medal for architecture – the first time a woman has won the prize in her own right in 167 years. The award recognises buildings including the London 2012 Olympic Aquatics Centre and the Galaxy Soho complex in Beijing.

Hadid said the aim of all her architectural projects – whether private and public – is to address 21st-century challenges and opportunities.

"I have always believed in progress and in creativity's role in progress," she said. "That's why I remain critical of any traditionalism."

It was these challenges, she claimed, that initially led her towards the types of complex and curved forms embraced by the Russian Avant-Garde – yet she insisted that her work has very different goals from visual arts.

"[Architecture] performs and facilitates everyday life. This is very different from art's role of contemplation, expression or provocation," she said.

"Buildings and programmes need to break open and embrace each other, even interpenetrate," she added. "This requires the spatial complexity and openness."

Messner Mountain Museum Corones by Zaha Hadid Architects
Zaha Hadid completed a museum for renowned climber Reinhold Messner at the top of Alpine peak Mount Kronplatz in 2015

Hadid will receive her medal in a ceremony later today. Her nomination was supported by Archigram founder Peter Cook, who described the architect as "our heroine" in his citation.

It comes at the end of a tumultuous year for Hadid. In July, her plans for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium was scrapped in spite of two years of design work, and she also had a run-in with a BBC Radio 4 presenter over a series of wrongful accusations.

Other projects she has completed in the last year include a museum for renowned climber Reinhold Messner at the top of an Alpine peak, and a mirror-clad facility for the University of Oxford.