Zaha Hadid: the person, her ideas and architecture examined through musical composition

an experiment in cross-disciplinary research

Aquatics Centre, London Olympics 2012
The Zaha Hadid sweeping lines and bold statements are evident here captured in The Life ZH. Musically, in all the pieces except The Space Between Silences

Image courtesy of Ana Gic from Pixabay
MAXXI Museum Rome 2010
Signature (visually) raking props typical of many such as Will Alsop a fellow student of Zaha Hadid's at the AA (Architects' Association) in fact here upright and seemingly inadequate structurally (see Vitra Fire Station for actual raking props), brutalist architecture meets Italian futurism taken to the next dimension, within classic Italian architectural context, like a Punk statement, in-your-face anti-gravity and text "More Than Meets the Eye", like text written over Folkestone as part of the Artistic Quarter: "Heaven Is A PLace Where Nothing Ever Happens" (Nathan Coley, 2008: partly in Space Machine

Image by Tasos Lekkas from Pixabay

See also:
Evelyn Grace Academy Brixton 2011
An early success for Zaha Hadid, an exciting and uplifting college with the telltale zig-zag motif, parallel lines and angular structures emulated electronically in ZH the Life

Image from photograph by Luke Hayes, RIBA
Glasgow Riverside Museum 2011
Another early Zaha Hadid project putting her on the world architectural map with her now unmistakable zig-zig pattern involving behind the façade a folded plate roof indicating her fascination with eccentric geometry made possible by CAD (Computer Aided Design), essentially in both ZH the Life and Space Machine 

Image by Charlie Irvine from Pixabay
Cicinnati Contemporary Arts Center 2003
One of the very first projects of Zaha Hadid, leading to her obtaining the Pritzker Prize for architecture, the highest such award and the first female to achive this. In a way a cultured scheme yet with many Zaha Hadid touches involving outside inside, ramps and like the MAXXI almost integrating the displayed art with the architecture

Image by Arts Center Management on Tripadviser
Investcorp St Antony's College Oxford Middle East Centre Extension 2015
Zahah Hadid's brother, Foulath, studied at this college, a middle east expert. Her involvement with this project seems one indication of her Islamic Arabic interest which is contended shows in her architecture, especially with geometric and calligraphic shapes and curves. This is applied as a parallel spirituality in Marsh Churches

Image by Luke Hayes, Zaha Hadid Architects
Cardiff Bay Opera House 1996
A debacle where Zaha Hadid won three times in competition and was eventually turned down. This design has the same urbanity as Cincinnati Arts Center and her early work in German domestic properties and considered buildable by Hugh Pearman the Times architectural correspondent. This stimulated a splenetic short electronic outburst and some more considered though still emotive and evocative collaborative music with the Free Range Orchestra

Model photograph from Zaha Hadid Architects
St Clement's Church Old Romney 12th C on possible 8th C site
Famous for having Derek Jarman buried in the graveyard and pink internal paintwork for a Disney film. This is one of the churches evoked in Marsh Churches and marked to play 'dance-like full of the joys of spring' and with 'legato full rich bowing' (refer:, an eccentric composition displaying Zaha Hadid in a parallel fashion, spritually and eccentrically

Own photograph when visiting the 14 Romney Marsh churches (actually 15 if counting a ruin)
Phaeno Science Centre Wolfsburg 2005
A centrepiece of Space Machine, the word Wolfsburg can be plainly heard. Discover Germany cites The Guardian as stating that this building is 'one of the world's most important modern buildings' ( There is so much innovative that can be mimicked in music: massive concrete made to fly, space incorporated by structural walls, upside down cones incorporating functioning space, variety of facilities, through access under the structure, unusual windows arrangment, light filled interior spaces: innovation, experimentation, fearlessness are the takeaways for musical invention

Image from Timo F. from Pixabay
Vitra Fire Station 1993
The site that really gave her a break-through. Here are both raking and vertical props similar to the MAXXI and folding and sliding and crashing plates and planes, colliding perspectives in geometry never seen before creating a new language; expressed musically as renegade and dissident (distorted). Her use of concrete posesses gravitas and beauty. Her daring has to be admired, inspiring architects and composers to challenge modernism

Photograph by Hélène Binet, ZHA
Heydar Alyev Centre Baku
Displaying all Zaha Hadid's and her architectural practice's (ZHA) trademarks of flowing curves, use of computerised parametricism, innovative use of materials, tesselation (possibly an Islamic architectural influence), her grand scale; there are questions about politics and culture, yet the building seems popular, a centre of different activities, including a state of the art concert hall, a precursor to the Sverdlovsk Philharmonic concert hall in Yekaterinburg fully utilising parametricism (see and

Photograph by Hufton+Crow, Arch Daily
IBA Housing Dagewo AG Berlin 1993
An example of a Zaha Hadid early domestic housing scheme shared with others and frought with politics, essentially against her uncompromising sense of design, commissioned as supporting a female architect. She was more interested in freedom of expression. She did not get the chance to implement all she wanted, but it was finished (See Her daring and innovative sense of geometry is apparent in the angles and upward out sloping walls. Musically, this can be like Malevich's Suprematism, curves going where? To infinity like the edges of some Malevich drawings

Photograph by Christian Richter, ZHA
Bergisel Ski Jump Innsbruck 2002
Hailed as really innovative as can be seen with a 360 café at the top and achieved in an accelerated time frame of one year. An olympic ski jump run, this twins with the nearby Nordpark railway station

Image by Julie-Kolibrie from Pixabay
Nordpark Railway Station Innsbruck 2007
Another signature of Zaha Hadid and her practice ZHA, apart from the free flowing curves made possible by computer design is her use of double curved glass similar to the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London and her use of innovative technology such as the sort of adapted funicular railway design and levelling system to cope with a 46° slope. This marries with the nearby Bergisel Ski Jump. As well as being functional it evokes metaphorically the ice cold and the snow capped mountains. A technique used much in evoking Zaha Hadid musically: metaphor


Photograph by Hélène Binet
BMW Central Building 2005
A democratically designed work flow and space sharing (see, a concept buried in Space Machine where workers are celebrated within the sound world. For the future music in this mould could sound like industrial techno with plenty of repetitive rhythms, synths and electronica in all its meanings taking in EDM and other genres, a gesamkunstwerke (c/o Shuman Basar (

Photograph by Hélène Binet, ZHA
Daxing Airport Beijing China 2019
A near perfect design with Zaha Hadid's principles of design, mathematical and Islamic patterns, complexity and simplicity interwoven. How to express this in music: just go for it and express oneself as Zaha Hadid did—oh, and meet the brief as this does. The musical brief is to express Zaha Hadid subjectively which can go in many directions

Hufton+Crow, ZHA
Galaxy SOHO Beijing China 2012
This is Zaha Hadid at her fully fledged commercial, urban, large scale, yet with complex flowing lines, order and layers. She got on well with the clients Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi (see: Many of the world's top architects were chasing contracts in China, a good source of clients: maybe pragmatism rules and provides a large canvas upon which to realise ambitious creations

Image by Iwan Baan, ZHA
(see also:
by Hufton+Crow)
SOHO Galaxy from a vernacular view
The argument is that big architecture displaces local culture and the indigenous marketplace and is so big as to be like an alien placement from outer space. The counter argument is that a new forum is created. Is it progress and new technology versus arcane and archaic traditions, the machine versus the human, the thinking machine that has grand concepts that just does not notice the little ants crawling around at the feet? Will they come around and embrace the new? Is the new plastic? Is it real? Is it a matter of ideas, evolution of thinking? Zaha Hadid was certainly an ideas person and the theory of everything promulgates pure thought

©FG+SG–Fotografia de Arquitectura
520 West 28th New York 2016
Zaha Hadid has come a long way from the early IBA project. Explore the complexity as described by CW (2018) at: Musically this is complexity as theoretically bound up in lines within lines, merging into other shapes and transforms, complex life theory as applied musically, embodied in much of the portfolio, especially Space Machine

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Serpentine Sackler Gallery 2013
Zaha Hadid's signature (like Nordpark and Heydar Aliyev Baku), the flowing curves, the tented structure, the 'adjacency' (not disturbing the old and going with the new), a word Zaha Hadid liked (with 4 discreet fixings acording to Hugh Pearman, 2013), nominally not touching the old building, the former magazine (tastefully conserved and upgraded with added facilities), the use of light, transparency, fun, café and bar facilities

Luke Hayes|Archilovers|ZHA
2 Murray Road Hong Kong The Henderson
yet to be built
Tiffany's meets Metropolis come 5th Dimension in the new age of sustainabilty. How ZHA has evolved. Would this be how Zaha Hadid would have liked it? Does it have her heart? Is it ethical? The answer must be yes regarding its sustainability credentials. There's a similarity to the Hopkins Saga building in Sandgate, Folkestone, Kent UK where stratifcation of temperate, tropical and other zones occurs within a modern easy access maintenace imposing building overlooking traditional Victorian and Georgian buildings

image render by Arqui9|ZHA

Members of the Free Range Orchestra present at 4th December 2022 recording in St Gregory’s Music Centre, Canterbury, Christ Church University:
Sam Bailey piano, toy piano, tibetan bowls
Nadia Bailey violin
Sean Williams electronics
Neil Sloman tenor saxophone
Paul Cheneouer Flutes
Maureen Wolloshin Oboe
Anna Braithwaite voice and electronics
Daniel Herbert electronics
Murray Smith bass guitar
Kat Peddie Words
Kit Slawson percussion
Frances Knight piano and accordion
Roddy Skeaping Violin
Lawrence Fletcher Tenor saxophone
William Glanfield alto clarinet
Toby Slawson saxophone
Russell Kitto double bass
Tim Long home-made instruments
Craig Gell electric guitar
Nick Wyver baritone saxophone
Cassie de St Croix drawing and voice
Amy Haynes drawing and voice
Les Wilson drums
Matt Wright conducting
Grant Gover composer, tenor recorder
Natalia Spaliara composer, tenor saxophone
Steffan Hughes composer

Own photograph of a marsh church
This is me at the top and the image on the right is of a previous piece called Nataraja played with the Free Range Orchestra (see heading FRO). In the shot can be seen Kat Peddie, the poet singer, Lauren Redhead on accordion (who played The Space Between Silences), Sean Williams on his own made synthesizer, Murray Smith on bass guitar and Ted Long on another home-made instrument) that figures strongly in the realisation of my portfolio (with grateful thanks).
Having spent decades in the construction industry and gotten to realise a long held dream of composing plus making music the two disciplines are now brought together in my current research. The self set task is to translate (with all the attendant issues of what that means) architecture to music having nominated one person to represent architecture. That person being Zaha Hadid (and she ampified the translation difficulties with her unique view of the universe and architecture, a further task taken with relish and then apparent in the thesis and attendant portfolio).

Recorded in the St Gregory Centre Canterbury on 5th December 2021

Stained Glass Window image

It works as an image for Andrew Graham-Dixon, the art critic, as Zaha Hadid's original design paintings did and still do even though she was adamant that they were actual architectural drawings. In the same vein, here the image is a score, that can be read in any orientation

Recorded in St Gregory Centre Canterbury on 4th December 2022

  •  18/05/2023 02:35 PM

This is a heartfelt group artistic expression about Zaha Hadid having won the architecture competition three times and then not being awarded the contract and about her design for the Cardiff Opera House. There is also the element of anarchy, a coalition of determinacy and indeterminacy as explained by Antony Eagle and Joseph Dauben on Cantor transfinite numbers, an outcome of Zaha Hadid's extreme architecture coupled with her interest in mathematics and cosmology. This ties up with layers of such meaning in Space Machine. The audio treatment is raw and inclusive, so all sounds are welcomed. With ideas of space and architecture from Stockhausen, Nono, Berio, Scelsi, Le Corbusier, Varèse, Xenakis and modern technologists an Atmos type sound aura is created in stereo using Reaper's ReaSurroundPan

Some references

Some references

This is the ground plan idea that Zaha Hadid had for the Cardiff opera house. The music is based upon a similar drawing. Below is an initial sketch

Chou, Chao-Chiun. (2020). ‘The Depth of Sound‹. The Creation of Sonic Space in Works by Giacinto Scelsi and Gérard Grisey’, in Klang: Wundertüte oder Stiefkind der Musiktheorie. 16. Jahreskongress der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie Hannover 2016 (= GMTH Proceedings 2016), hg. von Britta Giesecke von Bergh, Volker Helbing, Sebastian Knappe und Sören Sönksen, 151–162. p.11, veröffentlicht / first published: 01/10/2020. Available at:

Dauben, Joseph, W. (1983). ‘Georg Cantor and the Origins of the Transfinite Set Theory’. Scientific American, June, Vol. 248, No. 6, pp. 122-131. Available at;

Eagle, Antony. (2021). ‘Chance versus Randomness’. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Spring, Edward N Zalta (Ed.) [online]. Available at:

Iddon, Martin. (2013). New Music at Darmstadt, Nono, Stockhausen, Cage and Boulez. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, Luke and Gingell, George. (2020). ‘Life and Work of Zaha Hadid’, in four episodes Available at:
Ep 1 The AA Days:
Ep 2 The Peak Competition:
Ep 3 From Vitra to Cardiff Opera House:
Ep 4 The Parametric Years:

Nielinger-Vakil, Carola. (2016). Luigi Nono: A Composer in Context. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Pasticci, Susanna. (Chief Ed., Direttore). (2022). ‘Berio and dramatical space’. Chigiana, Journal of Musicological Studies, Academia Musicale Chigiana. Available at:

Steiner, Hans-Christophe. (1999). ‘1958 – Philips Pavilion Poème Electronique, by Le Corbusier, Iannis Xenakis, and Edgar Varèse’. Available at:

Tobin, David, S. (2020). ‘Cardiff Bay Opera House’. Tobin. Available at:

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Thesis extract on Cardiff Opera House

Thesis extract on Cardiff Opera House

The image is taken from a Canterbury Christ Church University source, which although copyrighted is considered fair use as a student member. If this infringes rights please inform and the image will be removed forthwith, otherwise thank you

[....] Cardiff Opera House

Now back to the St Gregory Music Centre
It was the intention to write a piece of music taking an intersection of Emma-Kate Matthews’ music, with that of Megan Steinberg and Milton Mermikides, with own ideas from before on interpreting architecture abstractly, combining in some variant, in other words a data driven piece that could subsist as a direct or vicarious comment upon some specific architectural detail of ZH, including her speciality of abstraction.
            However, when perusing the ZHA website the feelings overwhelmed and the miniaturised score was abandoned for adhering to the stance taken throughout, a holistic approach to ZH. Here the outright disgust or spleen was taken out on a short piece returning to SunVox as the medium, where the message was everything to say: I don’t like repeated loops (unless worked in a meaningful way such as in Space Machine), so let’s have them. An irreverent approach close to that of the Sex Pistols, around when ZH started in London and from whom she may have drawn some inspiration; it is thought that she did admire ‘punk’, perhaps as a rebellious expressive example taken against established architectural design. I don’t like cheap synthesizer sounds, so let’s have them. When playing with the keyboard of the new SunVox version strange sounds emerged from keys. These were played as weird electronic pads, creating a dissident polyrhythmic non rhythmic pattern going against the grain of the repeating loops. A graininess of disc scratching was welcomed as dissidence and a penchant for such sounds under an alternative heading of new materialism, a continuity factor, as used in Zaha Hadid the Life, possibly overly much then, left as a feeling of dissatisfaction with ZH’s early demise and solidarity with her force of character. This ended after 3:19 (m:s), shown as ‘prelude’. It is a way into this composition in a literally graphic way.
Thereafter, it was decided to return to the FRO and ask them to interpret a graphic score based upon ZH’s footprint of the opera house basic layout, with text suitable for ZH and as used by her, reference to Luke Jones and George Gingell two architect lecturers (2020, Ep. 3) who in a series of four videos provide accompanying analysis for any player to peruse, as well as added ontological subtle touches and personal colouration to transform ZH’s basic design into a score type known that the FRO could interpret. Having vented the spleen, it was envisaged that the FRO version could be gentle, melodic and textural, with emphasis upon the known inventive electronic section and opportunity given to the percussion section which often misses out on prominence.
However, in describing the score, as has evolved to be the practice, the incensing facts about ZH’s winning and losing the contract three times, possibly became conveyed at least to one member, maybe more, perhaps latching onto a feminist sisterhood angle, or plain empathy with the poor treatment she often received and definitely over this project, with the result that the now subsided anger of the author-composer becoming largely overlooked, in the subsequent playing. With an approach of always letting performers have their own voice, not editing where possible, the raw result combines elements of all these aspects, ‘punk’ type disgust, reverence for ZH’s ability and at times some melodic content to ‘soothe the savage breast’ (Schwartz, 2023. In order to draw out differentiation of texture, cue cards were given to each member in three section to separate the electronic and percussion sections, strings and wind, to start in that order and to replicate ZH’s often used stratagem of designing in layers.
            It was agreed beforehand that we would end with a short free jam with all layers and sections playing together, although at the last minute a composer-conductor decision was made to start with percussion, leading into the electronic section, then bring in the rest. This is seen as a related yet separate piece in its own right. By this time the spleen in the orchestra seems to have been worked out. The author-composer took a cue from other students having their work recorded at the same time and conducted this last part suddenly cutting out, in retrospect, as ZH did. A player commented that this last free jam (still as based on ZH’s score) sounded like Miles Davis. With Jorge Bernal’s commentary upon Teo Marcero and Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew in connection with his architectural designs, this seemed particularly pleasing, free jazz with cuts and splices as Bernal (2003) likened to architectural deconstructivism, a hallmark of ZH.

Please note: some references and arguments are within the main thesis. Please refer to this and if anyone not having a copy would like one please contact via the end contact details. Thank you

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  •  18/05/2023 01:45 PM

The image is the actual score. The text is like layered instructions of how to interpret with playing suggestions

The Translation Problem and Solution

The Translation Problem and Solution

This explains the translation problem and solution considered within the research. Download the pdf file to read Walter Benjamin Image by creative commons

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Theory of Everything

Theory of Everything

This is a personal world view in line with the primacy of subjectivity with some thoughts offered in connection with the research and generally

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Another way of looking at the research

Another way of looking at the research

A justification for the holistic approach related to translation and the theory of everything

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A different version of Marsh Churches combining live recording, electronic and underlying midi

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