There’s something funny in the forecourt of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. A sleek and slippery object that looks like a curvy space ship crossed with a piece of futuristic footwear has landed. It is in fact a mobile art pavilion, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Commissioned by Chanel, which has donated the structure to the Institute, the pavilion was transported in shipping containers and toured several of the world’s fashion capitals, before coming to rest in Paris where it will be used as an additional exhibition space to showcase art by the Arabic world.
The pavilion is an interesting addition to the Institute which is already on the archi-tour hit list thanks to its own design pedigree – it was designed by Jean Nouvel in the 1980s and was one of President Mitterand’s Grand Travaux.
The pavilion’s first show is fittingly dedicated to Hadid, an Iraqi-born and educated architect, who has since trained and settled in London. Showcasing several of her current projects, with an emphasis on those in Middle Eastern countries, the exhibition seeks to demonstrate a synergy between Islamic influences (from traditional calligraphy to the intricate geometry of mosaics) and Hadid’s style that somehow melds two extremes: organic molecular and geometrical structures such as branching and cell repetition with the crazy artificiality of skyscrapers.
As far as the exhibition goes it’s more of a taster than Hadid’s exhaustive (and exhausting) 2006 Guggenheim retrospective, the tone and content on offer is more promotional than analytical and there’s scant insight about the woman herself.
For all that, it’s an interesting experience to see an exhibition of Hadid’s work in a pavilion that she also designed; the space and the objects certainly inform each other in a stimulating way, though the effect is a little bit like being in a showroom. Certainly, if I was Hadid I’d be bussing in the Saudi’s and those heads of nation states desperate for a new status building that will help put them on the map – if anything can convey the concept of ‘Hadid’ world, it’s this. Not that they need the business. (Aside: too bad they didn’t have Hadid’s cool kitchen unit.)
Twenty years ago Hadid was a brilliant and well-connected academic, dreaming up architecture that was virtually impossible to build; now it’s not. Standing there and looking at her work, gave me an insight to how visitors to the Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret’s Pavillion de l’Esprit Nouveau at the 1925 Exposition des Artes Decoratifs must have felt. I think they must have felt something along the lines of: ‘This is the future’ and ‘WTF?!’.
Dates: Zaha Hadid, Une Architecture runs until October 30, 2011. Information: Institut du Monde Arabe Tips: you must buy your ticket inside the institute, and if it’s your first visit, don’t forget to take the elevator to the top floor for a great view of Paris from the terrace.