Looking back on her career, it’s hard not to equate the late Zaha Hadid with creative brilliance. As the first female Pritzker Prize winner, her portfolio is studded with cutting-edge structures like the London Aquatics Centre, the MAXXI Museum, and the Guangzhou Opera House. “We don’t deal with normative ideas,” Hadid once told The Guardian. “We don’t make nice little buildings.”
Despite this renown, some of her most unique endeavours remain relatively unknown. Below, we highlight 10 of Zaha Hadid’s lesser-known projects, from non-architectural conceptual products to a custom residence in a secluded Russian forest.
1. Nova Shoe (2013)
When Hadid and United Nude began collaborating on a luxury shoe, they agreed to disregard all pre-established conventions for a truly unprecedented design. The result: a 16-centimeter cantilevered heel, striated chrome surface, and ultra-futuristic aesthetic. The shoe was also the first to use rotational molding, a manufacturing technology that gives it its seamless detailing. Though originally a limited-edition project, the Nova Shoe is currently sold by United Nude under the name “Zaha Nova,” as a tribute to its co-creator.
2. Cardiff Bay Opera House (1994-1996)
Upon winning the design competition for Cardiff’s new performing arts centre, Hadid was immediately met with resistance. Her vision—a glass edifice wrapping a central building—was hailed by fellow architects, but rebuffed by the committee and local politicians. When the project was ultimately blocked, Hadid cited her gender and ethnic background as a potential discriminating factor. “It would have become the most radical and compelling building in Britain,” wrote architectural critic Jonathan Glancey. Thankfully in 2010, the rejected plans were used to construct the now-famous Guangzhou Opera House in China.
3. Metropolis painting (1988)
Before she was known for her built creations, Hadid grew her reputation through innovative, freehand paintings like Metropolis. This piece, commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art, depicts London as a sprawling fracas of villages that spread out over time. Using a distorted perspective, red background, and divergent focal points, Hadid evokes the chaos and frustration effusing from the metropolis as different centres compete for dominance. Like a city sans identity, the painting wars with itself in the pursuit of unity and coherence.
4. Capital Hill Residence (2006-2018)
In the heart of the Barvikha forest, Hadid erected her first and only private residence for businessman-philanthropist Vladislav Doronin, a man she called the “Russian James Bond.” When the pair met to discuss, Doronin’s requests were fairly simple: he wanted comfort, the ability to entertain, and blue sky upon awakening. The resulting structure cascades like a waterfall over the sloping property, its heavy cast concrete contrasting with large glass panes. Rising 22 m above the indoor pool and nightclub is Doronin’s bedroom—the pinnacle of a glowing column with 360-degree views of the heavens.
5. Z.CAR (2005-2008)
When Kenny Schacter commissioned an unorthodox car for his upcoming exhibit, Hadid’s response was a three-wheeled, hydrogen-powered automobile. Like the other cars at Schacter’s show, the Z.CAR anti the sizes of the monotony prevalent on today’s roads. With an asymmetric hatch door and sweeping control panel, its “look” isn’t its only departure from normalcy. Depending on its speed, an inclined passenger pod raises or lowers via hinged rear suspension, optimizing street view when parking and aerodynamics when driving.
6. Moon System Sofa (2007)
Combining B&B Italia’s manufacturing with Hadid’s research on curvilinear geometries, the Moon System Sofa “liquefies” conventional sofa typography. The curving monoblock functions equally as back, seat, and armrest, with a matching ottoman fitting snugly into its curves. On B&B Italia’s website, the description reads: “Moon System contains references to futuristic sculptures and certain buildings by [Zaha Hadid]. Its name recalls the combination of unusual shapes and the concept of a product-system.” Today, the luxury sofa sells for upwards of $11,000 USD in over six different colours.
7. Chanel Mobile Park Pavilion (2008-2010)
For her first build in New York, Hadid partnered with Karl Lagerfeld to design a pavilion for Chanel’s traveling art show. Curving like a nautilus around a bowl, the space creates unique exhibit areas that coalesce at the central courtyard. The walls are translucent, allowing light—both artificial and natural—to pulse and dapple as if emitted by a bioluminescent organism. With stops in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Paris, fiber-reinforced plastic panels allowed for easy assembly and transportation.
8. Georg Jensen X Zaha Hadid (2016)
The year she passed away, Zaha Hadid released her final jewelry collection with luxury brand Georg Hensen. Featuring eight pieces in sterling silver, each ring and bangle references sculptural forms from Hadid’s buildings, such as the two-finger ring and the pebble-shaped Soho towers in Beijing. “There is an inherent integrity within the organic structural logic found in nature,” Hadid said regarding her inspiration. “Our challenge was to translate that into something that can be worn.”
9. BRIT Awards Statue (2017)
In early 2016, then-BRIT chairman Jason Iley asked Hadid to design a modern award for the next year’s ceremony. In explaining this request, Iley had nothing but praise for the architect: “[her] work is innovative, original, and recognizes diversity in culture… Hadid was the perfect choice for progressing the Award into the future.” Unlike previous award designers, Hadid altered the form of the statue rather than decorating it like a blank canvas. Her finished design comprised five silhouettes, each arcing in a slightly different way; though each is unique, they’re connected through a shared sense of movement.
10. The Peak Project (1983)
In the early 1980s, Hadid’s lectures and sketches popularized her ideas, but her proposals were dismissed by developers for being too complex. Her break came in 1983 when she won her first major bid. Tasked with designing a leisure club in the mountains of Hong Kong, her concept featured subterranean cavities and floating platforms carved into the rocky landscape. While it was never built due to a lack of funds, Hadid demonstrated an ability to capture motion in static (but still viable) structures, establishing her reputation as more than just a paper architect.