"She is an architect whose buildings are shadows emerging out of landscape . . . Instead of the weighty presence of tectonic plates, she now suggests that the manipulation of geometry and structure could liberate a space from its confines," said Thomas Pritzker of Baghdad-born, London-based Zaha Hadid at award ceremonies for the 2004 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Speaking of formative influences in her acceptance speech, Hadid mentioned "my secular modern upbringing in Iraq. I have to thank my parents for their enlightened open-mindedness." Interesting biographical note: Hadid appears to have gotten out of Baghdad just as the Baathists came to power, earning a degree in mathematics from the American School in Beirut before moving on to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London beginning in 1972. Her profile at zaha-hadid.com makes no mention of her Iraqi origins. (Musée du Louvre, rendering by Zaha Hadid for a new gallery to house the Louvre's Department of Islamic Art. Click here for more views of Hadid's proposal)
"This design is sure to be controversial for the way it forces itself into the classically-scaled and proportioned courtyard, as well as for its neo-Islamic / neo-Escher / neo-Libeskind's-vetoed-Victoria-and-Albert-Museum-ish skin," writes Chicago architect John Hill of A Daily Dose of Architecture [a great new find, via Ghost of a flea] re Zaha Hadid's provocative, albeit non-winning entry (above) in the Louvre's competition to design a new gallery for its Department of Islamic Art. Fun fact: Billionaire Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal donated more than $20.5 million towards the project, saying "he hoped the gallery would help people to gain an understanding of Islam as a religion of humanity and tolerance." Now if only his inhumane and intolerant coreligionists would gain a little understanding of their own faith.
"Long before I discovered in the Alhambra an affinity with the Moors in the regular division of the plane, I had recognized this interest in myself," wrote M.C. Escher. ("Day and Night" 1938, Woodcut in black and gray printed from two blocks, 15 3/8 x 26 5/8 in.)
Shocking, shocking architectural statements that ripen in the fullness of time into beloved cultural icons are a sine qua non of our French amis. Think Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Center and I.M. Pei's glass pyramid in the Louvre's own central courtyard. And despite her Iraqi roots, Hadid's in-your-face proposal is mostly about Deconstructivist ideas of "fragmentation, non-linear processes of design, non-Euclidean geometry, negating polarities such as structure and envelope" in opposition to the ordered rationality of Modern Architecture. Besides, we agree with blogger/architect Hill that the design per se is "rather appealing" if somewhat claustrophobic in context. So why did a fleeting feeling of dhimmitudinous fear wash over us when we first set eyes on her renderings? The febrile blogging brain went into overdrive, plotting the next post: The Islamicists' insidious and increasingly effective attempts to impose Sharia on an all-too-submissive Europe -- as in the recent Cartoon Wars -- is akin to Hadid's attempt to impose an alien architectural intruder upon the self-contained Second-Empire Neo-Baroque space of the Louvre's Cour Visconti. Are we venturing into crackpot territory here? Maybe. We've flogged this theme early and often, of course, the "mechanics of tyranny" that sustain all fundamentalist societies, whether religious or secular:
Democratic Europe's go-along-to-get-along types in turn call to mind those members of academia who go along with politically correct groupthink they may not agree with in order to protect their careers. Call it "Fear Society Lite." Sharansky's "mechanics of tyranny that sustain such a society" are at work in those lofty intellectual bubbles just as surely as they were in the old Soviet Union and are today in the Arab tyrannies. A repressive society is a repressive society, wherever it may fall on a continuum of brutality and thought control. The crushing of dissent brutalizes the human spirit. Sharansky's optimism encourages the human spirit to soar.
"Rather than an iconographic object within the courtyard, the winning scheme opts for a 'magic carpet' effect that plays down its presence in the space," writes the silver-moused John Hill.
Fortunately for the integrity of the Cour Visconti, "Rather than an iconographic object within the courtyard," notes Hill, "the winning scheme [by the Italian firm Bellini and Ricciotti] opts for a 'magic carpet' effect that plays down its presence in the space." Architectural Record News explains:
A shimmering, undulating glass roof, made up of glass disks, will allow diffused sunlight to penetrate into the space.
It also offers visitors glimpses of the surrounding neo-classical facades. It is, say the designers, "architectural integration without violence."
A magic carpet figures in many Asian folktales, notably in the stories of the Arabian Nights. Like Sharansky's optimism, the image encourages the human spirit to soar.