In 2008, the Pontifical Council for Culture invited to the Vatican five hundred of its favorite international brands in the arts. Cardinal Ravasi drew up the guest list and emceed the program. Pope Benedict was enlisted, like the speaker at a communion breakfast, to address the gathering.

Among the trademarked “custodians of beauty” flattered by the summons was Zaha Hadid, London-based, Iraqi-born starchitect. She is as much a phenomenon as an architect, winning conspicuous commissions all over the globe. Her stated intention is to “rewrite the script for architecture.” That means removing it from its classic concerns for the needs of man—for shelter and comfort, for useful spaces that individuals want to be in—and toward an embodiment of what Jonathan Glancey terms the “consequences of modernity.” Among these consequences are spatial structures devised as signature spectacles for their own sake, superseding if not supplanting, the social function they house.

 

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Dubai Opera House by Zaha Hadid

 

Her futuristic, intergalactic tours de force are aggressive. They are engineered to impress, to overwhelm. It is not a stretch to call them intimidating. Notwithstanding the cardinal’s programme, creation of beauty is not among her ambitions. In a 2006 interview for The Guardian , Hadid confessed to Glancey: “I don’t design nice buildings. I don’t like them.” That is obvious in the Drunkard’s Path design of buildings that signal the abolition of architecture for living human beings. Hadid creates for the anonymous replicants of a dystopian future, heirs of Ridley Young and Philip K. Dick. D0 androids dream of architecture? If they do, there is a place for them at 33-35 Hoxton Square, London:

 

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A mock-up of Naha Hadid’s gallery and apartment complex approved for 33-35 Hoxton Square, London.

 

What kind of furniture suits a structure like this? Residents are in luck. Hadid puts out a line of furniture as well. The Aqua table, below, sold not long ago at auction for $296,000, a record price for a contemporary design:

 

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Zaha Hadid. Aqua table.

 

Tables need chairs. The one below is typical of a collection that professes to be furniture but negates the human body. Hadid’s furniture extends, as a prerequisite, her firm’s flair for dehumanized design. Call it post-human.

 

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Zaha Hadid. Chair in the “Seamless” series exhibited in New York in 2006

 

Hadid’s enterprise is the consummate embodiment of the ethos of Otto Silenus, the humorless, modernist fanatic of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall :

The problem of architecture as I see it . . . is the problem of all art—the elimination of the human element from the consideration of form.

Keep looking:

 

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Zaha Hadid. Trophy home of Russian billionaire Vladislav Doronin and supermodel Naomi Campbell. All 28,000 square feet of it sets like a space ship on a Moscow hillside.

 

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Zaha Hadid. Heydar Allyev Cultural Center, Baku, Azerbarijan

 

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Zaha Hadid. Guangzhou Opera House.

 

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Interior view of the Guangzhou Opera House.

 

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Zaha Hadid. Proposal for a Chinese cultural complex in Changsha. Interior view of a portion of the complex.

 

None of these are intended to please the eye. They are expressions of welcome to a future in which humane instincts linger as the antiquarian residue of a collective spiritual life in the process of dissolution. This is architecture for a totalitarian’s utopia. It is merciless.

Vatican favor toward celebrity architects like Hadid calls to mind a reflection by Bernanos’ anonymous country priest:

I confess that I have always been repelled by the “lettered”priest. After all, to cultivate clever people is merely a way of dining out . . .

 

Note: An extended photo tour of the Changska project is here.


 

 

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