Zaha Hadid has always designed in the future tense, and her buildings—once she finally started to see them built—have conveyed an impatience with their very static buildingness, swooshing and tilting and foreshortening, straining against the present. She was born in the cosmopolitan and optimistic Baghdad of 1950, at a time when the International Style still had its utopic drive, and was educated in London under Rem Koolhaas in the seventies, before he wrote Delirious New York, his chaotic, erotic paean to ever-changing urban possibility. It was an era when the architecture world began to split: Some looked toward the traditional past, and others, like Hadid, rediscovered the early-twentieth-century Russian avant-garde, longing to build an unconstrained new world. She’s still doing that.
It’s been twenty years since her first commission, a 1993 fire station in Germany. (Now that she’s famous, it’s become a museum.) She went on to be the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s top honor, in 2004. Even as she became known for her sometimes volcanic personal impatience, her firm put up buildings from Cincinnati to China, Moscow to Michigan. But not, until now, in New York City.
It will be an eleven-story condo at 520 West 28th Street, next to the High Line. The site is currently occupied by a razor-wire-enclosed scrapyard, a few doors down from Scores and the Eagle leather bar. But more to the point, it’s just south of the now-inevitable supermetropolis of Hudson Yards, with which it shares an ambitious developer, the Related Companies. “I used to pass the High Line when I used to go to 22nd Street, where Max Protetch’s gallery used to be,” Hadid says over the phone from London, where she’s been suffering (impatiently) from a summer flu. “It was kind of one of those school projects: Everyone wanted to occupy the High Line.” Her firm lost out on the competition to design the High Line, to Diller Scofidio + Renfro, a similarly restless firm with a congenial sci-fi-inflected style.