Why do I go out of my way to openly criticize Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Center for the 2012 Olympics in London? Actually, this is a kind of love letter, the kind that begins, “Don’t you love me anymore?”

I feel abandoned and bereft because one the most gifted architects of my time has been reduced to wrapping such conventional programs of use in merely expressionistic forms, without letting a single ray of her genius illuminate the human condition. Am I being pretentious and overly demanding? Of course. But that’s the way disappointed lovers behave. Exaggerated emotions. Absurd demands. Anger that transgresses all reason. She has let me down, and what makes it worse is that she apparently couldn’t care less.

Did she ring me up and ask me what I thought the design should be? No. If she had I would certainly have told her to propose rethinking the aquatic events themselves, reconfiguring the competition pools or at least the relationship of spectator seating to them. How (it might be asked) can an architect challenge such rigid rules of a sport and the traditions surrounding it? Well, how can an architect challenge the equally entrenched conventions of how people inhabit their houses and the streets of their town or city? Simply by having a better idea. Zaha has done it before.

And did she consult with me about the way the Center’s form should somehow express the “fluid geometries of water in motion?” No. If she had, I would have counseled her to forget this idea, because it is too easy and obvious. Even if it could be achieved in architectural forms (which it isn’t here, because water’s fluidity is formless and boundless) it would be much more compelling to competitors and their audience to be confronted with actualities of their relationship. For example, the most interesting photograph in the suite of images presented on the blog Arthitectural is the underwater shot, where the motive power of the competitors’ choreographed arms and legs can most closely be observed.

Does every work of a great talent have to reach a new peak of achievement? No, of course not. Or wait.  Maybe it has to at least aim for it. In the Aquatic Center, so prominent on the world stage just now, Zaha was obliged, I believe, to set an example measuring up to her status and, more so, to her talent. The finished design shows no signs of any such attempt. So says the dejected lover.


Photos below by Hufton + Crow:

(above) The same old thing, with elegantly shaped windows.


(above) An underwater world, at a quiet moment, just waiting to come alive.


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