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Being an architect must be so frustrating. At every turn, your artistic vision gets constrained by town planners, clients and engineers. Even the laws of physics stop you in your tracks. Visionary architectural nutcase Zaha Hadid, who died in March 2016 at 65, must have felt that frustration more than most. Her twisting, undulating buildings – including the London Aquatics Centre and the Serpentine’s own Magazine restaurant – pushed engineers, and her clients, to their limits. She wanted more than was physically feasible, abstraction brought to life, structures that exist outside of the realms of possibility.
In her drawings and paintings though, there were no limits. The result is a collection of nearly abstract visions of impossible future cities. There are recognisable elements – buildings, streets, mountains – but they’re pulled apart, deconstructed, stretched and twisted: horizons bend, walls wobble.
The earlier paintings are the most realistic. They look like your standard architectural imagery at first, but odd elements pop out: rooms on their sides, walls that intersect at multiple angles. But as the show goes on, the naturalism disappears, until the paintings are almost completely impossible abstractions. There’s even a virtual reality element that places you in the middle of four of the works, their angular shapes flowing around you.
The Russian avant-garde is the biggest influence, Malevich’s constructivism especially, but she wanted something more than pure aesthetics. It feels like Hadid made these images with genuine, megalomaniacal and futile hope. The paintings have names like ‘Berlin 2000’, ‘London 2066’ and ‘Visions for Madrid, Spain’. It’s like she really thought it could all happen, that these glitching, juddering, geometric constructions could not only be built, but should be. Imagine it: a city of mathematical precision, with walls that curve for miles, roads as straight as a laser beam, endless fields of colour propping up buildings of ridiculous geometric complexity.
A part of you wishes she’d had the chance to see some of these abstract visions become reality, but maybe it’s good that they stayed as pure fiction: there are no town planners in the imagination.