Zaha makes waves. Nicole Stock

27 August 2012

Though some of the stylish stadia were some of the many reasons the recent London Olympics were deemed such a success, few of these buildings received much more than a quick scan before the television crew cut back to the rowing or cycling. Yet, for a short time, the design of the Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects became centre stage. And, unsurprisingly, the media and public interest was not to celebrate architecture but stomp and rail against a ‘mistake’ of the design.

Now, the issue was this: about 3000 seats had, due to the architectural undulations of the roof, restricted or totally blocked views of the diving events. On the surface, this seems like a preposterous reversal of form before function. However, Hadid came back and explained, “The brief for the building from LOCOG was to provide 5000 spectator seats with uninterrupted views of the 10m diving platform events. The centre actually provides over 8000 seats with uninterrupted views of the 10m platform events. This is more than 3000 additional seats than the brief required. LOCOG approved the sightline studies and seating layouts over two years ago.”

So, the issue may be a non-issue in some ways. The brief, according to the architects, was attended to, and exceeded, and the client signed it off. Still, there are seats inside an event space that don’t allow spectators to see the event, so there is still something that seems amiss here, even if it got the ok.

Regardless of the he said-she said argument, I found it interesting and, in an odd way, reassuring that in none of the discussion I saw or read about this architectural folly, was Hadid talked of as a woman architect. The discussion of the architecture seemed to be without any gender politics, which, in a small way, even as a woman architect was being criticised, felt like progress towards an equality in design.

For a good critique of the building (presumably before the sight-lines issue came to light as it isn’t really mentioned) read Rowan Moore’s essay in The Guardian, here.

What did you think of the architecture at the Olympics? Zaha is a controversial figure as an architect, and in particular as a woman architect, what is your opinion of her work and her role as a figurehead for female designers?

Image of the London Olympics Aquatic Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects, from here.