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Page 3 Profile: Zaha Hadid, architect

Another award? Another honour?

Hadid, who is rumoured to have personally overseen the design of every half-decent building erected in the past decade, is shortlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) Lubetkin Prize, awarded in September to the best new building outside of Europe. The 62-year-old’s Galaxy Soho, a panoramic 330,000 square metre entertainment and office complex in the heart of Beijing, is an “innovative” and “light and airy” space that “cities in the West could learn much from”.

And without the waffle?

It looks like a retro spaceship. It’s white, there’s lots of glass and frankly it could be anything – an airport terminal, apartments, you name it.

I’m sure the Chinese are delighted with it.

That’s where you’re wrong. The Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre slammed RIBA’s decision to shortlist the British-Iraqi architect’s building for an award. “It has caused great damage to the preservation of the old Beijing streetscape, the original urban plan, the traditional Hutong and courtyard houses,” it said, in a letter published by Building Design. “Many of us in Beijing are very disappointed and offended.”

What did Hadid have to say?

Her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, claimed they had “worked with the Local Design Institute” throughout the design process “to ensure the project complies with all government building regulations and planning requirements”. Far from destroying the city’s cultural heritage, Galaxy Soho is actually adjacent to “one of Beijing’s busiest motorways” they point out.

Is this the end of her career in China?

Fat chance. Hadid is an architectural “superstar” in China, and 15,000 fans attended a talk of hers in the Chinese capital. Her asymetrical Guangzhou Opera House won acclaim in 2010 and designs like her Wangjing SOHO towers complex have been “pirated” and produced in carbon copy forms by construction firms in southern China.

Is China becoming an architect’s playground?

Hank Dittmar, special adviser to Prince Charles’s urban building foundation, said cities like Beijing are in danger of becoming “architectural trophy rooms” for the likes of Hadid as they seek statement buildings to project their new global capital. If Hadid triumphs in the Lubetkin, it would be the second year in a row that a Chinese project has won the award. Last year Wilkinson Eyre won for its Guangzhou International Finance Centre.

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