By Angus Stanley
OxArch members were lucky enough to gain an audience with not one but two associates from Zaha Hadid Architects, as Olga and Evgeniya Yatsyuk (who are also identical twins!!!) entertained the audience with an insight into what it is like to work for one of the best-known brands in architecture.
They started by providing solace to the dissatisfied architecture student by revealing that the architectural profession is not just about designing buildings, and there are many diverse avenues to explore. If you enjoy organising people, a career in project management may be for you. If art is your passion, you may consider going into jewellery, or working on yacht or even jet design. A benefit of working within a large practice such as ZHA, with over 700 employees, is that there is a department to accommodate all interests, and every new employee can spend time in each specialism until they find one that fits.
ZHA also delivers projects across all scales, from product design right up to vast developments like Unicorn Island in Chengdu, China. Olga and Evgeniya have been at ZHA since 2011, and have worked at a variety of scales, but they are quick to point out that a small project does not necessarily mean an easy project as a mistake in a small project is far more obvious than in a larger one. In order to demonstrate the complexities involved when working at a smaller scale, they each took us through a project from start to finish.
Photographer: Paul Warchol
IL MAKIAGE PAVILLION, NEW YORK, 2018
Olga was a key team member for the design and construction of the Il Makiage Pavilion that launched the makeup brand’s collection in the USA. The CEO was looking to bring “the fireworks” for the launch, so needed a design that matched the boldness of the brand. Olga describes developing the ‘passage’ concept that invites the customer in through a dynamic tunnel of folded arches inspired by the Il Makiage logo.
The project faced many difficulties throughout, such as the realisation that it was hugely over-budget and pushed for time. Glass reinforced plastic (GRP) was eventually chosen as a low-cost option for the folded arches, yet the finish was anything but budget. Olga describes a dilemma common to most designers, where the client, upon seeing the final mock-up, was thrilled and asked for another but just a bit different here, there and everywhere, resulting in huge amounts of design and construction changes. Yet the final pavilion was a huge success, with the brand’s sales booming after the product launch.
Courtesy of JCDecaux
THE KENSINGTON, LONDON, 2014-18
Evgeniya presented her work on The Kensington project, a large advertising billboard consisting of a huge intertwined loop of stainless steel set on a granite pedestal. She states that only 50% of their time was spent working on the design, and the other 50% was dealing with the issues encountered during construction. The complexity of the shape made it difficult to find a steel fabricator, and eventually, a yacht builder was hired to fabricate it. Another difficulty was matching up the millimetre-perfect tolerances of the CAD and CNC elements with the much larger tolerances of the building site. Due to these issues the project overran by a year, but it is perhaps because of this arduous process that the team were so proud of the finished project, which towers over the road as a testament to capitalism’s ever-present nature.
THE ROLE OF THE STARCHITECT IN 2021
I’m not sure what to make of Zaha Hadid Architects. There is no doubting that Zaha, the female architect had an incredible influence on the built world, and she was a trailblazer for architecture at a time when buildings were square and architects were men. Yet Zaha the brand appears to hold on to an ethos born out of the golden years of 1980’s individualism that feels out of touch today.
In March 2016, the year that Zaha passed away, the world looked different. Obama was still in the White House, the Brexit bombshell had not fallen, Mosul was under ISIS control, the Climate Crisis was yet to be named so and, of course, COVID-19 was an unassigned group of numbers and letters. The global economy was recovering and architects were allowed to indulge in extravagance and ‘landmark design.’ Buildings such as the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku, although admittedly controversial at the time, still had their place in the architectural world.
Yet 2021 is a different place. Patrick Schumacher’s stated premise is “how can we actually create prosperity for all.” Yet I would argue that for many in countries like the UK, the question is how can we create equality for all by sharing the excessive prosperity of the very few, and recognising the high ecological and social cost that a focus on individual wealth brings. Schumacher’ belief in the power of the market over the public sector has been shaken by the COVID pandemic, which saw global economies surviving solely due to the intervention of the state. As a sign of changing tastes, this week saw plans for Foster + Partners’ Tulip Tower, a glass and steel extravaganza from another starchitect, being rejected by the government. Olga and Evgeniya highlight some practices that just seem incredibly wasteful today, such as flying out multiple times a week for one-day client or fabrication meetings. An anecdote that I think exemplified the libertarian ZHA ethos was when Evgeniya admitted that they had to secretly cut back some pesky trees under the cover of darkness as they were getting in the way of the huge Audi advert that was to be displayed.
Yet perhaps I am the irrelevant (and grumpy and boring) voice here. Reports for the year ending April 2019 show Zaha Hadid Limited posting record profits, yet this is almost entirely from revenue from projects in Asia, most prominently in China. The company’s revenue from the UK constituted just 1.3% of the total, with revenue also falling in the USA, Europe, South America and Australia. It is a truly global company, with its London office being home to employees from over 50 different countries. Although ZHA and the starchitect may not be palatable in a post-COVID, post-Brexit and post-austerity Britain, its obvious that the name still has a massive international draw.
 Rent, A M (2018) ‘Architect Patrick Schumacher: 'I've been depicted as a fascist'’, The Guardian, 17th January, accessed on 12/11/2021 at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/jan/17/architect-patrik-schumacher-depicted-fascist-zaha-hadid?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other  Gary side, B (2021) ‘Gove crushes plans for 1,000ft Tulip tower in City of London’, The Telegraph, 11th November, accessed on 12/11/2021 at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2021/11/11/gove-crushes-plans-1000ft-tulip-tower-city-london/  Ing, W (2020) ‘ZHA posts record turnover but revenues plummet outside Asia’, The Architects’ Journal, 2nd April, accessed on 12/11/2021 at: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/zha-posts-record-turnover-but-revenues-plummet-outside-asia  Ing, W (2021) ‘Zaha Hadid Architects’ profits rocket despite fall in revenue’, The Architect’s Journal, 25th May, accessed on 12/11/2021 at: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/zaha-hadid-architects-profits-rocket-despite-fall-in-revenue