Visual Culture

6 Breathtaking Zaha Hadid Designs in Faraway Places

Alexxa Gotthardt
Sep 24, 2018 8:30PM

During her lifetime, if Zaha Hadid had been invited to play a game of truth or dare, it’s likely she would have chosen “dare”—and with gusto. The late Iraqi-British architect, who passed away in 2016, routinely produced buildings that were not only aesthetically unprecedented, but also incredibly difficult to erect. She dashed architectural conventions, and, in the process, expanded the possibilities of three-dimensional designs. “There are three hundred and fifty-nine other degrees,” she was known to say. “Why limit yourself to one?” Indeed, her constructions are marked with asymmetric façades, sloping walls, and undulating roofs that disregard traditional design elements like rooms and front doors. “You can’t say, ‘I’ll be in the back,’ because there is no back,” The New Yorker’s John Seabrook once marveled of Hadid’s buildings. “There’s no front, either.”

While Hadid is best known for her sprawling urban structures like the London Aquatics Center, the Guangzhou Opera House, and Antwerp’s Port Authority, some of her most daring projects are located far beyond the borders of major metropoli. Below, we highlight Hadid’s most far-flung creations, situated everywhere from a vertiginous Italian mountaintop to a remote Russian forest.

The Peak Project, Victoria Peak, Hong Kong (1983)

By the early 1980s, when Hadid was in her early thirties, she’d become famous in architectural circles for her passionate lectures, innovative ideas, and spellbinding sketches, which look more like abstract paintings than renderings. “Abstraction,” she said when she won the 2004 Pritzker Prize, “opened the possibility of unfettered invention.” But despite her popularity, developers weren’t biting on Hadid’s proposals—they were too complex to erect. At least, that is, until she won her first major in bid in 1983 for The Peak Project, a leisure club perched high in the mountains above Hong Kong. “It was the first intimation to many in the architecture world,” wrote Seabrook, “that she might be more than a ‘paper architect.’”

While the building was never erected (the project ran out of funds), Hadid’s design reinvented mountain architecture by approaching the treacherous, rocky landscape as a malleable material that could be carved into and imitated, rather than competed with. In The Peak Project, she proposed a network of subterranean cavities, floating platforms, and polished structures that resembled a scattering of boulders or the craggy, porous faces of cliffs. Together, the elements looked like a building that had exploded, then melted into the surrounding topography.

Hadid’s preparatory paintings for the project entered history books—and international architectural consciousness—when they were included in the Museum of Modern Art’s game-changing 1988 “Deconstructivist Architecture” exhibition. They revealed Hadid’s ability to harness sensations like motion, entropy, and growth within static structures. As architecture critic Thomas de Monchaux described it, the designs captured “all the energies and geometries of a place, like an invisible roller coaster manifesting around you, [sweeping] you up to a mountaintop.”

Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany (1993)


The first building Hadid saw to completion is perched in the small German town of Weil am Rhein, where the hip modernist furniture company Vitra was founded. The project began when Rolf Fehlbaum, Vitra’s CEO, proposed that Hadid design a special-edition chair. But after six months of work, she asked the company if she could make a building instead. (“There are a lot of chairs,” she said to Fehlbaum, by way of explanation.) Fehlbaum agreed, and tasked Hadid with conceiving a new fire station for the company’s campus (which had recently suffered from a destructive blaze).

The resulting building is small but commanding, with sharp angles extending forcefully into space, redolent of the painted shards that burst from Hadid’s Peak Project design. Hadid chose cast concrete as her primary material, but offset its weight with several transparent glass walls. Even when using a substance as dense as concrete, Hadid conveyed motion and energy. “The building was a sort of frozen explosion that might seem to move around you as your eye—or mind’s eye—moved through it,” mused de Monchaux, “perhaps like the still suspense and sudden motion of the firefighter’s life.” Today, the versatile building is used as a museum, displaying Vitra’s sleek designs.

Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria (2002)

One of Hadid’s most otherworldly projects rises high above the Bergisel Mountain summit, a famed ski hub in the Austrian Alps. From afar, the building’s tower resembles a submarine periscope, peeking out from a sea of pine trees. Hadid’s firm won the project in 1999 after the town of Innsbruck, located just north of Bergisel, solicited proposals for a new ski jump (the town had hosted the Winter Olympics in both 1964 and 1976, but its jump had since become outdated).

The structure Hadid completed in 2002 swoops gracefully across the mountain’s crest, and nearly 50 meters into the sky. The construction’s lower half, which resembles a tail, is the ski jump itself, its end dangling over a precipice. Its window-studded top half, on the other hand, houses sports facilities, a café, and a terrace that boasts uninterrupted views of snowy peaks—and, sometimes, the soaring forms of daredevil skiers. Hadid once referred to the building as “an instrument for high-performance sport shaped with mathematical precision.” The description, however, doesn’t capture the structure’s sinuous, biomorphic quality; it hugs the mountain, embodying its dramatic curves and ability to launch humans into the air at breakneck speeds.

Tondonia Winery Pavilion, Haro, Spain (2006)

R. López de Heredia Pavilion, Haro, Spain, 2006. Photo by Hélène Binet. Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects.

R. López de Heredia Pavilion, Haro, Spain, 2006. Photo by Hélène Binet. Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects.

Hadid’s Tondonia Winery Pavilion is tucked within a network of cobblestone sidewalks and age-old stone buildings in the tiny village of Haro, Spain. The architect designed the luminous structure as a tasting room to celebrate the Rafael López de Heredia Tondonia Winery’s 125th birthday (the producer is one of the oldest and most celebrated in the famed Rioja region).

Though many of Hadid’s watermarks are here—a curved façade, transparent glass walls, an open-format interior—the project was a departure for the architect, as her design enveloped an existing fin-de-siècle building. At the winery’s request, Hadid erected a modern shell around an ornate pavilion built in 1910 for the Brussels World Fair. Hadid’s design is like a jewel box containing a precious stone, or a decanter cradling a fine liquor.Hadid’s studio haslikened the layered project to Russian nesting dolls, a “bridge between past and present,” and a “new bottle for an old wine.”

Messner Mountain Museum, Kronplatz Mountain, Italy (2015)

You’ll have to take a cable car up to the top of Italy’s Messner Mountain, high in the Dolomites, if you want to ogle Hadid’s loftiest creation—it’s located at a whopping 2,275 meters above sea level. The museum is one of six founded by renowned climber Reinhold Messner, the first person to mount all 14 of the globe’s peaks over 8,000 meters. He tapped Hadid to design his final institution, which explores the history of mountaineering.

Hadid’s team embedded the majority of the approximately 1,000-square-meter structure underground. Only three balconies, which hang off the mountain’s edge, protrude. They face several of Messner’s most cherished peaks: southwest towards Peitlerkofel, south towards Heiligkreuzkofel, and west towards the Ortler and South Tyrol. Hadid used materials that imitate the colors and textures of the surrounding alpine environment: The Dolomites’ limestone peaks informed the light-grey façade, while lustrous, deep-black interior panels evoke the anthracite mined in the mountain’s belly.

To Hadid, the structure’s many staircases also resemble mountain streams, moving fluidly through the exhibition spaces. “The idea is that visitors can descend within the mountain to explore its caverns and grottos,” she said, “before emerging through the mountain wall on the other side.”

Capital Hill Residence, Russia (2006–18)

“I want to wake up in the morning and just see blue sky.” That was one of the prompts Hadid’s client, Vladislav Doronin, issued when they began collaborating on his future home, built deep in Russia’s Barvikha forest. Her response was simple: “You realize you have to be above the trees?” The structure that resulted was the first and only private residence Hadid designed during her lifetime. (The project began in 2006, but wasn’t completed until 2018, two years after her death.)

The four-level, cast-concrete-and-glass structure cascades over the property like a stepped waterfall, with its most slender floor situated high in the air, and its largest spreading out over the ground and disappearing into a sloping stand of trees. While the lower levels make up the majority of the home and boast an indoor pool, spa, Japanese garden, library, and nightclub, the bedroom is the design’s crown jewel. Suspended 22 meters above ground, connected to the base by a glowing column, it provides Doronin with his dream: He wakes up in the sky.

Alexxa Gotthardt