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Stories for being at home.
Their California loft is a treasure trove of pieces that come with a story.

Jereme and Shelby Mendez's Vintage Collection

05 06 22

Jereme and Shelby Mendez are a multi-faceted creative couple based in Oakland, California. Jereme dabbles in several genres, from painting, and interior design, to creative consulting, to name a few. In addition to their ongoing projects, Shelby also styles and manages a well-known womenswear brand. Jereme and Shelby are avid vintage collectors. Their loft, filled with a collection of pieces they acquired over the years, reflects their love for well-crafted, timeless pieces.


What attracts you to vintage design?

Quality, personality, and beauty. We like to think of vintage design as art. It can be subjective because not everyone will like it, and it's based on feeling. We find it fascinating that the spirit of each piece we've collected lives on and comes with history. You can't find that often with newer pieces designed today. The sustainability behind owning secondhand makes our space feel confident. Every vintage piece we've acquired is viewed as a sculpture, and we like the energy they each create in our home. We also like the charm and characteristics of a well-loved piece.

 

 

How did you start collecting? Was there a pivotal moment when you went from thrifting to seeking out and collecting specific pieces?

There wasn't necessarily a pivotal moment or thrifting per se. However, for us, living with beautiful things such as art, objects, and pieces that feel timeless and universal have always been important. We think as you get older, you start to understand why these things matter. We felt this way while living in our previous space, which was 3 times less square footage than we have now. The difference currently is that we're fortunate enough to have much more room to create our oasis. We've always focused on creating our own world that is special to us and what we like.

Why do you choose to buy vintage/used more often than new?

There's specific craftsmanship and beauty that is hard to find in modern design for furniture. The fact that we have chairs from the 1960s in our house amazes us, and that they can still be sat in, all while managing to look cool, relevant, and timeless after all these years, is what does it for us. Today, most objects seem to be produced fast with not much life to live. In contrast, most pieces from the 20th century are intended to age well; they're made from good materials, are well constructed, and have a timeless appearance.

 

 

What are some of your favorite pieces in your collection?

This is very hard to choose — we love them all for various reasons as they complete our space and define different meanings. When guests come over, we love that they find that each piece has a story. Although our general interior style represents eclecticism, it somehow all works well together as each design, color, and material play off each other.

Do any have an interesting story behind any of them?

Each one comes with a special story, but there is one that particularly comes to mind. About a year ago, we purchased a Le Corbusier lounge set from this very kind woman whose late husband — a well-known architect — had these chairs since the early 1980s. She invited us into her home filled with incredible taste and works of art. She showed us where they once lived, and you could tell she had a hard time parting with the pieces. Still, it made it easier knowing they were going to a good home with a true appreciation and knowledge of the design.

 

 

How do you go about sourcing your furniture and accessories? And what advice do you have for those looking to bring more vintage furniture into their homes?

We find that the best taste in curation comes from those who have been collecting for years and know a thing or two about good design. Fortunately, we've befriended a few individuals who acquire gorgeous vintage pieces and reach out to us when they find something suitable for our space and general taste. When it comes to bringing vintage into your home, it's important to feel connected with the piece, especially if it's not cheap. The worst is when you purchase something and don't absolutely love it when you get it home. It's equivalent, if not equal, to buying art. Go based on feeling and what you like. The nice part about collecting vintage is depending on the designer, most have a good resale value, so think of it as an investment.

Have you always been influenced by design?

Definitely, we often talk about how it has always been a part of our lives. For us, design is a lifestyle. Sometimes we feel like the term "design" is boxed in, but ideally, it can mean much more. Beyond subjects like fashion, interiors, and architecture, design can embody how you speak to others or the color of the coffee cup you choose to drink out of in the morning. We believe that design can be anything depending on how you view it. Sometimes, it may be overlooked in even the simplicity of everyday acts. Everything we have taken the time to appreciate in the smallest of formats contributes to what our home represents. Anything from a chair to a piece of art or something as simple as what toaster we use. Design can be everywhere if you take the time to stop and smell the roses.

 

 

Which design movement do you gravitate towards?

We'd probably have to go with the Bauhaus Design Movement. So many of our pieces come from this era, ranging from Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, and Mies van der Rohe. They are all favorite designers of ours amongst several others of this time period.

Although it is a new piece, why did you buy The Floyd Bed?

We were looking for something lower to the ground, clean and minimal, and, overall, a beautiful, functional piece that would stand the test of time. All these requirements checked out while deciding on our purchase.

 

Describe your space in three words.

Harmonious, eclectic, individualized.

What is your favorite thing about your current space?

We love that we've created our own sanctuary. Personally, I feel blessed that it also functions as my studio workspace. It makes it hard to leave at times because it truly brings us peace, especially providing us with tranquility when coming home. We love the obvious bits about it: the brick, hardwood floor, and bright light, but it's also the sense of community that we have here in the building. The building houses many other creatives, ranging from a barbershop, photographers, designers, chefs, etc. We collectively support each other where possible utilizing each other's resources and talents. It's a beautiful thing.

 

 

For more about Jereme and Shelby please check out:

@j.brian

@shelbycatt 

 

 

Photography by Jake Stangel.

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An artist’s call for us to re-examine our relationship with the environment.

Seeing the World Through Found Art

04 21 22
Jonathan Bender

If you were walking on the east side of Detroit, you might happen upon a trio of shopping carts mounted at the top of a branchless tree or a field lined with unplugged vacuum cleaners that bear silent witness to the traffic headed downtown.

These are installations in a living art museum known as The Heidelberg Project. The ever-evolving series of sculptures and paintings constructed out of forgotten objects by artist Tyree Guyton has transformed his childhood neighborhood into an internationally known art exhibit over the past 36 years.

“This is about how art and creativity can be used to talk about social issues,” says Jenenne Whitfield, president of The Heidelberg Project. “It draws you in. Makes you pause. It’s just the start.”

 

The Heidelberg Project, street view, 2017

 

Found art (or found object art) — wherein artists use discarded or everyday objects to create sculptures or paintings — makes us stop and think about our relationship with the things and environment we see daily.

“Routines make us stop noticing what’s beautiful,” wrote author Stephen Batchelor in an essay for The New York Times. “But if we focus on details, we can see the impact of the world on objects and on us….the artist focuses attention on those details of the world that are likewise forgotten, taken for granted or ignored.”

 

A Brief, But Packed, History of Found Art

The found art movement is rooted in the work of Marcel Duchamp. The French-American artist challenged convention in the early 20th century by arranging and presenting everyday objects as sculptures in works he termed “readymade” in 1915.

 

Marcel Duchamp with work, Bicycle Wheel, in 1913.

 

“Choosing, selecting, and deciding on [an object] was the result of being very careful… of not using my sense of beauty, my belief in some aesthetics of some kind,” said Duchamp in an interview at the Walker Art Center in 1965.

That absence of feeling, what Duchamp termed “indifference,” was a guiding principle in the objects (an upside-down bicycle wheel mounted on a stool, a shovel suspended from the ceiling) he arranged for his pieces. Duchamp’s approach upended the traditional notion that an artist would be guided by passion or strong emotion.

Even though he only produced 13 readymades over four decades, that handful of works impacted conceptual artists over the next several generations. Duchamp showed how mass-manufactured objects could be transformed through composition or juxtaposition, contrasting centuries of art theory which suggested an artist had to be struck by inspiration or motivated by beauty to produce something singular.

You can see examples of found object art throughout history if you take the time to look. The painter Pablo Picasso experimented with trash and discarded objects more than 80 years ago. His work, “Crumpled Paper,” was exactly that, a piece of scrunched paper encased in plaster.

 

Jeff Koons, Three Ball 50/50 Tank, 1985

 

In the 1950s, artist Jasper Johns incorporated pieces of newspaper into his seminal work, “Flag.” Three decades later, Jeff Koons unveiled Three Ball 50/50 Tank, a sculpture containing three basketballs floating in a fish tank, a bold, stripped-down tribute to life. When asked about found art, Koons recently remarked that “readymades are really a form of acceptance of the world.”

A year after Koons' work debuted at the Museum of Modern Art in 1985, artist Tyree Guyton began working on The Heidelberg Project in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood. Guyton found inspiration in the space between where he had been and where he was now, much like fellow Detroit artist Charles McGee, who taught and mentored Guyton at the College for Creative Studies.

Guyton took the stuffed animals and abandoned appliances he found while cleaning up trash-strewn lots and houses in various states of disrepair and transformed them into statements.

“Guyton wanted to point out waste and consumption,” says Whitfield. “Symbolically, not only how waste and consumption permeates into the things we use; but also how it translates into the ways we discard places and communities.”

 

Dotty Wotty House, The Heidelberg Project

 

A house painted with oversized polka dots became a way to draw attention to the decline of Guyton’s childhood neighborhood. Where others might have seen abandoned cars and trash, Guyton saw a landscape ready to be reimagined.

“It’s raw and expressive, and I think that’s what speaks to different generations,” says Whitfield. “As Guyton said, ‘there’s beauty in this so-called ugliness.’”

The Heidelberg Project has been an evolving installation. City workers tore down pieces in 1991 and 1999, and exhibits were consumed by 13 fires set in 2013 and 2014.

“We are the sacrificial lamb presenting what society has become,” says Whitfield. “Everyone has a different reaction. And sometimes that reaction is to destroy a piece of work.”

The story of found art often begins with what an artist sees in everyday objects. But found art is also about the dialogue created with the viewer. The act of viewing a piece extends the conversation, as you bring your own experiences and feelings to bear on what you’re seeing.

This act is what Whitfield refers to as a "layered process." In that initial moment, a piece may speak to you. And you might turn away or keep walking. But it's the people who stop and look deeper who will find something else.

 

Noah's Arc, The Heidelberg Project

The Holy Place, The Heidelberg Project

Clock Series, The Heidelberg Project

 

“You’re curating what the piece means to you,” says Whitfield. “It might seem whimsical and flimsy. But there’s so much more when you look at it.”

The ever-changing installations and organic nature of The Heidelberg Project raise the question of what will happen next.

"You might want to think of this as a museum and ask, 'how do we preserve this?'" says Whitfield. "But Tyree [Guyton] asks another question. How do we preserve you? Because all things break down and go back to where they came."

And it's here that we can hear what Duchamp, Koons, and Guyton have been telling us for the past century.

 The world around you affects you in ways you don't realize every day. Each object we see leaves an impression. By showing you found objects in a new context, artists continually examine our relationship with the world.

“This isn’t about recycling things,” says Whitfield. “It’s about recycling the human spirit.”

 

 

For more about The Heidelberg Project please check out:

The Heidelberg Project

@heidelbergproj



 

 

Hero Image: Salvador Dali's Lobster Telephone, 1938; Images 2, 5-8 - Courtesy of Heidelberg Project Archives.

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How to style a room without walls.

Rethink Your Outdoor Space

04 15 22
 
Jonathan Bender

You want to build an outdoor space that draws you outside. A spot where you linger, sunlight restoring you while you lounge in comfort.

Good news. Your dream isn’t that far out of reach. You only need a few guiding principles to help shape your decisions and transform an undefined space into a lovely, living representation of your personality.


Where Can You Look For Outdoor Inspiration?

Look next door. Start in your neighborhood. Grab your pup, partner, or headphones and get walking. Look at spaces similar in size to your patio, balcony or backyard. What have your neighbors done that you love? Artists steal all the time, so find plants and pieces that speak to you.

Look at your vacations. Where did you feel most relaxed? Go there mentally and try to figure out how the surroundings – maybe by a pool or in nature – helped you find peace. You’ll likely discover that you’ve been drawn to a particular color (cool colors like blue and green are often characterized as calming) more than you realized.

Look to your past. What brought you happiness when you were younger? Was it that moment of weightlessness on a swing or the smell of ripe cherry tomatoes still warm from the sun? Think back to the moments when you felt at home and jot them down.

 

 

Think of Your Outdoor Space as a Room Without Walls

The easiest way to look at your outdoor project is to consider it a room without walls. Now, you can take style elements from inside your home and bring them outdoors. Even better, this lets you break down what could feel like an overwhelming number of choices into individual decisions.

Start with a focal point. Just like you might style your living room shelves, you will need a focal point to anchor your space. The right outdoor furniture is timeless, a set of pieces you rearrange and style around to adjust with the seasons.

Look down for your glow up. Outdoor rugs serve two key purposes: they create a distinct space where you can entertain and they draw in your eye. Use them as an accent color (remember the cerulean color of the ocean?) or to make a big statement if you’re opting for a more neutral color scheme.

Play with the idea of walls. A trellis with climbing ivy or a vertical garden alive with herbs, gives the suggestion of a wall which makes a space feel cozier, but still lets in enough light to keep it from seeming cramped.

While a larger structure like an archway with flowering plants might work in a backyard, opt for less structure and more plants in a smaller space like a balcony. A few containers with taller plants like amaranth or bamboo will anchor corners. It’s important to stay within the scale of your space.

Always hang string lights when possible. Stars make for a lovely ceiling; but the soft luster of small bulbs turn a patio at twilight into a wonderland. Look for an outlet first (if you don’t have one handy, solar-powered lights are an option). Then where you’ll be able to hang hooks to hold a set of string lights. After that, sketch out a design — a square for framing your patio or half moons that hang playfully from the top of your balcony — to know how many strings of lights you’ll need.

 

 

Decide What Goes In Your Outdoor Room

Now that you’ve “framed” out your space, add the small touches and functional pieces that make a patio your own.

Pick color accents for the vibe you want. Whether it is pillows (opt for water-resistant fabric or give a favorite pillow a few coats of a fabric water shield spray) or planters with spring flowers, a complementary or contrasting color will help subtly build out the mood you want.

Here’s where you can use your neighbor’s knowledge of native plants or your walkabout to see which flowers are thriving in your climate will come in handy. These small hints of color will also be the easiest to change — you can recover pillows or swap out containers with annual plants — with the seasons.

Lean in to function. If you work indoors all day and the idea of dinner outside is a respite, consider investing in an outdoor pizza oven or barbecue smoker. Both are built for making food you’ll want to share. And as long as you’re entertaining (might we suggest some apple cider sangria), look at picking up a bar cart or repurposing a planting bench as a drink station. It’s nice to have everything on hand once you head outside.

 

 

What Should You Do With Other Outdoor Spaces?

Once you’ve created a gathering spot, look at any adjoining additional spaces. But just like your home, don’t feel like you have to transform everything at once.

Instead, sit in your new space and see where your eye goes or what you think is missing. Maybe you’d like a projector screen by the garage for movie nights? Or long naps in a hammock suspended between two trees by the back fence? This is where you layer in the things you’ve wanted or missed since you were a kid.

Make some lines in the grass. Love the look of lush plants or flowering trees? Abundance doesn’t have to be messy. Opt for clean lines and clearly delineated spaces. A small amount of edging or stones around a garden bed is like framing a picture. It will also help create a natural path or flow through your backyard.

Create secondary seating spaces. Picture a reading nook or a set of wingback chairs in the corner. That’s the spirit of what you’re making here, a self-contained spot that invites you to sit down. With more room, you can opt for a fire pit and seating arranged in a circle for conversation. Chimineas (clay or metal fireplaces) with a lounge chair on either side fit beautifully in little jut outs or small patches of grass.

 

Your backyard, patio, or balcony are all places of possibility. Your spaces will naturally change with the seasons and where you are in your life. Enjoy that process. Take your time and make the outdoors great.

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The interior designer's home is a bright and tranquil oasis, full of cherished pieces collected over time.

Inside Catherine Nakajima's Los Angeles Apartment

04 13 22
 

Catherine Nakajima's childhood love for interior spaces eventually evolved into a career in interior design, art, and hospitality consulting. From studying film and working in graphic design to becoming the interior designer and design director of a 21-story apartment building, One Museum Square, Catherine's journey has been anything but traditional. We visited Catherine at her apartment in Los Angeles to chat about her journey thus far, her approach to design, and what she loves most about her own home.


Tell us about yourself!

I'm a somewhat self-taught interior designer residing in Los Angeles, motivated by the psychological dimension of space (and sound) and driven simultaneously by utility, emotion, science, and instinct.

 

 

How did an interest in interiors and design begin? And what has your journey been so far?

I always liked thinking about how someone's home reflected their personality and way of living. As a child, I'd create dream homes with wooden blocks or clay. I'd re-envision my room by sketching floor plans and rearranging furniture, testing out arrangements to see how they affected the way I lived in the space. It gave me a sense of power to be able to change the function and mood of a space and imbue it with fresh possibilities.

I knew I wanted to articulate space in some form, but I didn't know how that would play out. I studied film and had a graphic and editorial design background from working on a college magazine. I worked in other industries like hospitality and event production before landing a job at a design studio called Simplicity in Tokyo in 2014, where I further explored graphic and editorial design, branding, and art direction. I translated the interior design team's plans and presentations, which is how I learned how to read drawings. I moved back to Los Angeles in 2017 to work on the interior design of a 21-floor luxury apartment building, and that's when my career in interior design began.

How do you find that your experience growing up in different cultures influenced your design aesthetic? 

Growing up biculturally in Los Angeles and spending time in various parts of Japan heightened my awareness of my surroundings. It gave me perspective and has encouraged me to continue seeking other perspectives. From a young age, I saw many ways of doing things instead of deeming things as absolute. It's given me a bigger well to draw from and makes me more open-minded and willing to adopt new design elements. I don't want all my work to be tied to a specific culture or influence.

What about your time in Japan or studying in Copenhagen shaped you as a designer?

I was in Copenhagen for six months doing a crash course in design as an exchange student, and I loved the experience-based style of education there. The instructors would take us to see the buildings we studied, and then we'd discuss our thoughts over coffee. Copenhagen is where I learned to carry a tape measure and measure everything around me like a crazy person so that I'd have an internal log of comfortable sofa depths and toilet seat heights.

Working in Japan taught me to be as thorough and detailed as possible. Measure twenty times, cut once. I'd had a very DIY approach to things before living in Japan, so this gave me a level of organization and professionalism that's been valuable. It also taught me to value ideas and concepts larger than my own individual expression.

 

 

You've mentioned that you hope to create sustainable structures of design and service. Could you elaborate more on this? 

Growing up in Los Angeles, there was always an emphasis on recycling but not enough on how we live, consume, and waste. Living in Japan, I had to clean and sort every piece of trash, which was a good exercise in getting up close and personal with my own waste. I try to think about the sustainability of materials and products from several angles, like any ongoing long-term maintenance that may make it less sustainable in the long run. I'd like to figure out sustainable systems of acquiring materials and repurposing construction waste for future projects. For now, my focus is on designing for longevity and choosing products strategically to reduce the need to replace things where possible.

Tell us about a recent project you've worked on? What was the experience like?

From 2017 to 2021, I worked as the interior designer and design director of a 21-story apartment building called One Museum Square. Working closely with the contractor and construction team, I got the chance to learn about the many aspects involved in constructing a building from start to finish. I also helped with project management, which gave me insight into each trade's work and how it was relevant to the next. Finally, working closely with the developer throughout the project helped me make informed decisions that addressed the longevity of the furniture and materials and long-term management and operational issues.

How did Nakajeem come about?

After completing my work with One Museum Square, I wanted to bring some seemingly disparate interests and skills together in one place. Nakajeem is a design consultancy that offers interior design services as well as hospitality consulting. I'm excited to develop Nakajeem into a hub of creativity where experimentation takes place, through which I'll be able to collaborate with a variety of talented people.

 

 

What keeps you inspired?

I feel most inspired when I'm in a space that makes me feel something, even if it's a negative feeling. Any space that evokes a visceral emotion is something of value, and I like to take that and explore why it makes me feel a certain way. Is it the monotonous color scheme that depletes a space of depth? Is it the mismatched music that creates an eerie atmosphere like that of a horror film? Is it the lush landscaping that makes me feel like I'm in a five-star resort?

I found myself fixated on the discomfort I felt in various spaces as a child, from building lobbies and doctor's offices to friends' homes. Discomfort is something we usually try to avoid, but to this day, it inspires me to think and create. I bring the same philosophy into my work — I want the spaces I design to be ultra-comfortable and cozy, but with a perceivable something that inspires a visceral connection.

What keeps the creativity flowing?

I love water. I like drinking it, showering in it, and swimming in it. Anytime I feel stuck, I take a shower or a bath. I also keep the creativity flowing by taking walks, exchanging ideas with people, and making playlists, which is like an exercise in storytelling.

Describe your home in five words or less.

A bright and tranquil oasis.

 

 

Where did you draw inspiration from for your home decor? What pulls you toward this aesthetic?

My head was deep in a project when I got this apartment, so instead of developing the design from a concept, I furnished my place in a very slow, piecemeal way, collecting items when I found them, starting with more essential items then layering upon them. I like the organic feel of materials like wood, linen, wool, metal, stone, and glass. Sometimes I think my apartment looks like a beach — the rug looks like sand, the wood furniture like rocks, the various objects I have floating around everywhere like coral or sea glass washed ashore.

What is your personal style? 

I like things that are versatile, like stools you could use as step-stools or as extra seating. I've moved around a bit, so I appreciate lightweight furniture that's easily movable. It's all about balance, though. I like mixing textures and weights, and natural materials like wood with more dramatic fabrics like velvet and chenille.

I'm not a minimalist, but I am very conscious of my space and the things I bring into my home. You wouldn't be able to tell from my apartment, but I really appreciate color and intricate patterns and moldings.

 

 

You've got quite a record collection! What are some of your favorite albums?

I love all my children equally.

Some records I revisit often are "The Tribal" EP by River Ocean ft. India, United Future Organization's "Now and Then" compilation, "Programmed" by Innerzone Orchestra, "Chill Out" by The KLF, and "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" by Neil Young.

I like vinyl because it encourages me to listen to an entire album front to back instead of skipping around. I enjoy streaming and listening to mixes as well, but it's just a different experience. It's haptic and visual; you touch the record and perceive the album art. When you tap into multiple senses while focused on one thing, you form a connection linked to a certain place in time.

What is an item in your home that you plan to never part with?

I'm in love with this hand-cut crystalline rechargeable LED lamp I found in Japan last year. The craftsmanship is beautiful, and it emits the softest, most beautiful, candle-like light. I don't like bright lights at night, and I found myself taking it around my apartment from the living room to the shower and to the bedroom in lieu of using actual lights. It's like a traveling nightlight.

 

 

For more about Catherine please check out:

@nakajeem

nakajeem.com 



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"There Are 360 Degrees, So Why Stick to One?"

Zaha Hadid: The Architect of Curves

03 25 22

Salmiyeh Karamali

A Zaha Hadid design is distinct. Twists, curves, layers, dynamic. Each structure is a work of art; brought to life through physical materials, like steel, concrete, and glass. Each intended to break free from conventional architecture and push the boundaries of what's possible. The designs are among some of the best architectural feats in the world. And in the process, the late Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid, who suddenly passed away in 2016 at the age of 65, became one of the greatest architects of the modern era.


Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq, to a wealthy and politically influential family. Her father, Muhammad al-Hajj Husayn Hadid, was an industrialist from Mosul who co-founded the National Democratic Party in Iraq and served as finance minister. Her mother, Wajiha al-Sabunji was an artist.

Hadid studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. It was a subject she had always enjoyed. "We would play with math problems just as we would play with pens and paper to draw. Math was like sketching." And many of her buildings include elements that resemble mathematical aspects, like the fluidity of a graph.

Hadid later moved to London to study at the Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture. She studied under Dutch architect Rem Koolhas and Greek architect Elia Zenghelis. Zenghelis described her as an outstanding pupil. "We called her the inventor of the 89 degrees. Nothing was ever at 90 degrees." Upon graduation in 1979, Hadid joined her former professors' Rotterdam, Netherlands-based studio, Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), and she quickly ascended to partner.

 

Hadid and Alvin Boyarsky, 1980

 

Soon after becoming a naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom, Hadid opened her own architectural firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, in London in 1979. She became known for her teaching appointments at various universities and her colorful project proposal paintings and drawings published in architectural journals (all were unbuilt).

These early years in architecture were not easy. Many of Hadid's ideas were unrealized in the 1980s and early 90s, including her competition-winning design for The Peak in Hong Kong, a private leisure and recreational club. Then, in 1988, her drawings and paintings were featured in the exhibition "Deconstructivism in Architecture" at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Her use of painting as a design tool — an alternative to the traditional drawings of the field — created unique perspectives on building shapes, something people had never experienced before.

Koolhaus told Deezeen magazine in 2016 that Hadid "... was somebody with rare kind of courage, she was just made that way. It was an almost physical thing. That was very important because, at the time, we were all exploring new ways in which you could be an architect."

 

Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany.

 

It Just Takes One Building

Soon, the "paper architect" had her first completed building, and it was the defining moment of her career. The "Fire Station" at the Vitra Furniture Factory in Weil am Rhein, Germany, is unusual in design, made of concrete, angular, and void of color. But it was enough to make Hadid stand out and had clients from all over the world finally buying into her visions and futuristic concepts.

Acceptance was growing. Slowly. Because as an Iraqi-British woman, making a name for herself in a white male-dominated field wasn't easy. But her strong will, hard work, and one-of-a-kind designs eventually earned her a place as one of the greatest this field has seen.

 

"As a woman in architecture, you're always an outsider … It's OK, I like being on the edge."

 

By the end of the 1990s, her career had gathered momentum. She won the bid for the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1997, becoming the first woman to design an art museum in the United States.

In the following two decades, Hadid's list of work grew and earned her some of the highest accolades an architect can achieve. By 62, she had won all the most significant awards in architecture.

She received the 2004 Pritzker Architecture Prize — dubbed the Nobel Prize of architecture — the first time a woman was named for the award. Hadid only had a handful of completed projects, including the Vitra Firestation and Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, to her name, which spoke volumes about the quality of her concepts and designs.

Hadid was honored twice with the Stirling Prize, Britain's most prestigious architecture award, in 2010 for the MAXXI Museum in Rome and 2011 for the Evelyn Grace Academy in London.

She's landed on notable lists such as Forbes' "100 Most Powerful Women" in 2008, TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2010, and Newsweek magazine's "150 Women Who Shake The World" in 2011. In addition, Hadid received honorary degrees and countless nominations and awards for her work. Google, in 2017, honored her with a Doodle on the 13th anniversary of her Pritzer Prize win.

In 2012, she was made a Dame Commander by the Order of the British Empire for services to architecture.

The Dame was the first woman to be individually awarded the prestigious Royal Gold Medal from the esteemed Royal Institute of British Architects in February 2016, since its founding in 1848.

"I am very proud to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal, in particular, to be the first woman to receive the honor in her own right. […] We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn't mean it's easy. Sometimes the challenges are immense. There has been tremendous change over recent years, and we will continue this progress," Hadid said.

Hadid joined notable winners such as Frank Lloyd Wright (1941), Alvar Aalto (1959), Charles and Ray Eames (1979), Oscar Niemeyer (1998), and Frank Gehry (2000).

 

Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Abu Dhabi, UAE

 

"Queen of the Curve"

The Guardian described Hadid as the "Queen of the Curve" who "liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity." Her designs make inanimate structures look as though they are fluid, full of movement.

"Part of architecture's job is to make people feel good in the spaces where we live, go to school, or where we work — so we must be committed to raising standards," said Hadid. "Housing, schools, and other vital public buildings have always been based on the concept of minimal existence — that shouldn't be the case today."

A Zaha Hadid creation is the opposite of convention. Each project tested her limits and tests our imaginations. Bringing the future, and its possibilities, to the present, while challenging the traditional landscape they arose in.

The Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg, Germany 2005

 

Described as an "architectural adventure playground," the structure sits on concrete cones that allow visitors to walk underneath and house cafes and shops inside.

"The Phaeno is the most ambitious and complete statement of our quest for complex, dynamic, and fluid spaces," said Hadid on the building's opening. "The visitor is faced with a degree of complexity of strangeness, ruled by a very specific system based on an unusual volumetric structural logic. The floors are neither piled above each other nor could they be seen as a single volume."

Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China, 2010

 

Inspired by "pebbles in a stream, smoothed by erosion," the Opera House design helps it blend with the surrounding riverside. The structure features exposed granite and a glass-clad steel frame. Folded glass mirrors the surrounding architecture and lets in light.

Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Scotland, 2011

 

Described by Hadid as a "shed in the form of a tunnel, open at the extreme ends, one end toward the city, and the other facing Clyde." The roof which resembles a graph is zinc-clad with a zig-zagging roofline. The zinc plates are a nod to the location's history as a shipyard site.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), Seoul, South Korea, 2014

 

DDP is a cultural hub in the historic area Dongdaemun, nicknamed the "town that never sleeps," with 24-hour markets and cafes. The structure is full of twists and turns and exudes fluidity. Each building seems to flow into the other. The cladding system of the exterior consists of over 45,000 panels in various sizes and degrees of curvature..

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2012

 

The design of the building was to express the optimism of a nation that looks to the future. The white structure, made of glass-fiber panels, seems like sheets of curved graph paper were gently draped, creating a fluid relationship with its interior. It was named Design of the Year by London's Design Museum in 2014.

"This was an incredibly ambitious project for me," said Hadid in 2014, speaking at the Design of the Year Award Ceremony. "It was always my dream to design and build the theoretical project, and that was the closest thing to achieving that."

The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan, USA, 2012

 

This contemporary art museum at Michigan State University has an angular facade composed of stainless steel and glass pleats. It contrasts the surrounding red brick of the university's campus. It gives the building "an ever-changing appearance that arouses curiosity yet never quite reveals its content."

 

A Woman. A Visionary.

Hadid "operated on the fringes of convention." And it would draw some concern from critics. Despite the criticism, her projects pushed us out of our comfort zone; forced us to think about what is possible for the future of our cities.

And paving the way for this vision wasn't easy. Here was a female, Iraqi-born architect with profound perspectives on building design, way beyond her time and architecture culture during the early years of her career. Yet, despite her successes, the media continued to focus on her appearance, attire, and manner.

Navigating what was mainly a male-dominated industry when she began her career was challenging. "She did the impossible as a female architect and designer navigating a predominantly white male world," said Shai Baitel, artistic director of the 2021 ZHA Close Up exhibition held at the MAM Shanghai. "And while doing so, she stayed true to her authentic voice.

"I never took no for an answer. I never sat back and said, 'walk all over me, it's OK,'" Hadid said about her headstrong approach.

"I used to not like being called a 'woman architect.' I'm an architect, not just a woman architect," she said to CNN in 2012. "The guys used to tap me on the head and say, 'you're OK for a girl.' But I see an incredible amount of need from other women for reassurance that it can be done, so I don't mind anymore."

 

Sketch by Zaha Hadid for the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

 

More Than Just Buildings

Perhaps as equally notable as her building designs is her love for fashion. An interest she carried since her younger days, Hadid sported bold outfits that matched her personality. While studying in London, she was known for stapling or pinning fabric together to create an outfit, often layering skirts or shirts to complete her look. She told Vogue in 2011, "In a sense, I'm into fashion because it contains the mood of the day, of the moment—like music, literature, and art. I am also very fascinated by the way one can transform cloth and make it do things that it doesn't always do. Architecture is how the person places herself in the space. Fashion is about how you place the object on the person." Hadid took this fascination for fashion into collaborations with designers like Melissa, Lacoste, and Louis Vuitton.

Her collaborations went as far as furniture, where she created various collections for David Gill, leaning on her love for fluid design.

Designing took other forms in her life. The Pet Shop Boys brought her on to create the stage set for their The Nightlife World Tour in 1999. She took on guest-editing for Wallpaper magazine in 2008. In addition, she was guest editor of the BBC's morning radio news program, Today, on January 2, 2009.

 

The Zaha Hadid for LACOSTE footwear collaboration, 2009.

Zaha Hadid, Table 'Dune', 2007, David Gill Gallery.

"Zaha Hadid: Form in Motion Exhibition," Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2011-12, was the first US exhibition to focus on Hadid's furniture and design obejectives as an immersive experience.

 

The Zaha Hadid Legacy

Hadid passed away in March 2016. The news was shocking and sudden to all who knew her, adored her, respected her. At just 65, she had broken stereotypes, inspired women, and showed a tenacity to take risks. Hadid made avant-garde inspired architecture popular. She was a celebrity, genius, hero, pioneer. Today, her firm continues on this legacy, pushing further in design with the passion and determination she brought to her work.

 

"You have to really believe not only in yourself; you have to believe that the world is actually worth your sacrifices."

 

 

Image Credits: 1. Virgile Simon Bertrand, 2. Andrew Higgott, 3. Christian Richters, 4. https://visitabudhabi.ae/, 5-6. Wener Huthmacher, 7. Hélène Binet, 8. Iwan Baan, 9. Virgile Simon Bertrand, 10. Iwan Baan, 11-12. Hufton & Crow, 13. Hélène Binet, 14. Salmiyeh Karamali , 15. Virgile Simon Bertrand, 16. Iwan Baas, 17. Hélène Binet, 18-19. Hufton & Crow, 20. Broad Museum, Michigan State University, 21. Paul Warchol, 22. Broad Museum, Michigan State University, 23. Zaha Hadid Architects, 24. Deezen.com, 25. David Gill Gallery, 26. Paul Warchol

 

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