An Interview with Zaha Hadid
When designer Gareth Neal, whose commissioner was Zaha Hadid, took his nearly-complete vessel to show her, it was a nerve-wracking experience – Would the architect like what he had done? Would it meet her exacting standards? – but a successful one.
Hadid had expressed a wish for ‘tableware’ but that was as far as it went. Neal faced two problems. One was that, with the exception of certain dishes, timber is not an obvious material for tableware. The other is that with Zaha as a client he couldn’t produce anything ‘ordinary’, however beautifully designed.
His solution was to design a series of vessels which took classic forms and then distorted them, largely by extending along one axis and opening them up at the end. Working with the team in Hadid’s office using 3-dimensional modelling software, , he developed double-curved forms that have a flavour of the practice’s work, but infused with the sensibilities of his own craft.
Making the first vessel was a challenge, not just for Neal but also for Benchmark, which had to upgrade its CNC software. Having spent an exhausting week watching the manufacture with a steely eye, Neal faced his largest challenge yet – showing the work to his patron.
He took it to Hadid in her gallery in London’s Goswell Road which displays every scale of the practice’s work from shoes right up to a masterplan for a sizeable chunk of Istanbul. She was seated at one of the transparent acrylic tables that she has designed, a jaw-dropping accomplishment. Along with her senior designer, Patrik Schumacher, she examined Neal’s work – and she approved.
‘It’s beautiful,’ she said. ‘I think it is really fantastic.’ Far from being daunted by the inherent and intended impracticality of the object, she said, ‘It’s not functional as an object, but there are so many things that it could become. I like the idea of stretching. We used to do drawings on a machine that we elongated. I like this. What I like is the idea of doing something that is not expected. It is what I have always enjoyed. It is very nice.’
Soon she was fizzing with new ideas. She liked a proposal for a double vessel that Neal had designed but discovered was just too complex to make. And she also suggested that instead of elongating the vessel horizontally it could be done vertically. ‘You could stretch it vertically and make a slit in it and put something in it.’
They also discussed treatment of the outside. Neal had been proposing to ebonise the exterior but Hadid liked it left natural, with the making lines very visible. ‘Perhaps we could make the next one black,’ she said.
Neal wrapped up his vessel again, ready to be taken away – a happier and more relaxed man than when he had arrived.