EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally ran on March 31, 2016, the date of Zaha Hadid's death. You may have seen her honored in today's Google Doodle. In 2004, on this very day, Hadid became the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize—no small feat. We continue to honor, and learn from, her legacy.
Today, we join so many in mourning the very sudden and tragic loss of architect Zaha Hadid, who passed away earlier of a heart attack at age 65. Her design influence can be seen the world over, already the stuff of history books, from such ambitious projects as the London Aquatics Centre that was built for the 2012 summer Olympics to a curvaceous and much-anticipated condo building that's in construction by N.Y.C.'s High Line. In 2004, Hadid became the first woman to ever win the Pritzker Prize, architecture's highest decoration: She's already a legend, and we're so sad to see her go.
But the project that we'll remember her for is one of her humblest kinds of urban renewal, neither a museum nor a bridge nor an opera house—it's an embellishment to a bit of scaffolding.
As anyone who lives in a city knows, no urban development comes without the price of scaffolding—protective and necessary, yes, but just as much an intrusive and unwelcome preamble to the main event. Few architects or developers put energy towards bettering it, and even if they do we often still wait patiently until it comes down. Hadid thought better.
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Last summer, while her residential building at 520 West 28th Street in New York was under construction, Hadid and her team unveiled an art installation called Allongé, a swooping covered walkway designed to protect passing pedestrians. The protective part of it was mandatory, but the design was all her.
Left: the walkway, right: the building. Photo by Wallpaper
The "sidewalk shed," as these single-story coverings are called, is distinguished by a swooping silver fabric, perforated for the light to filter through and then stretched amorphously over a tall metal frame—a public-serving extension of her building being erected nearby. As Curbed reported, it was designed "to give a sneak preview" of the shapes that the building would eventually take on; the New York Times declared it "equal parts civic gesture and promotional material"—and it succeeded at both.
But on a more human level, this is one bit of scaffolding that you'll actually want to pass through. Covering over 100 feet of walkway, Allongé curates your experience: The fabric obscures the view in places, creating a bit of tension for walkers, and then opens up to reveal something worth seeing.
And since construction is ongoing, the structure is still up. So if you're in New York City this weekend you can slip over to the High Line and pass through it, remembering an architect who was "larger than life" but not above it. In a world where so many big name architects feel out of reach, we're celebrating this exception and the woman behind it.