Zaha Hadid is a 63-year-old, Iraqi-British female, prize-winning architect. She known for having designs that are futuristic with fragmented geometry that feature powerful and curving forms, that are meant to evoke the chaos of modern life.
Sense 1994 Hadid has completed 22 super structures. She currently has twelve on-going projects including the stadium for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup and has another two conceptual projects in the works. Her designs range from a ski jump in Austria, to a super yacht for Blohm+Voss, to professional sports stadiums and much more.
It is one of Hadid sports stadiums that is currently facing controversy. The design in question is her Al Wakrah Stadium, which will be used for Qatar’s World Cup 2022. Critics like John Stewart are claiming the stadium is designed around a phallic shape. Stewart says, the stadium resembles female genitalia, and he likened her to the “Georgia O’Keeffe of things you can walk inside.”
Hadid is fighting these claims saying, “It’s really embarrassing that they come up with nonsense like this. What are they saying? Everything with a hole in it is a vagina? That’s ridiculous.” Hadid also says that if a man designed this stadium he would not be facing such lewd accusations.
Al Wakrah Stadium is based on a dhow, Qatar’s traditional fishing boats. The curve of the roof is supposed to represent the sail of the boat. Hadid used Qatar’s fishing and pearl hunting economy as inspiration for the design.
Typically designs of phallic nature are created to showcase male genitalia and can be found in ancient and modern art and architecture. In today’s society locals and tourists find these objects funny but in ancient times phallic structure was used to show male dominance.
There is symbolism behind the designs of buildings. A building is considered to be masculine if it is acutely vertical while horizontal buildings are considered to be feminine. French sociologist Henri Lefebvre holds to this belief and said, “The arrogant verticality of skyscrapers, especially of public and state buildings, introduces a phallic or more precisely a phallocratic element into the visual realm; the purpose of this display, of this need to impress is to convey an impression of authority to each spectator.”
This type of belief comes from the use of phallic objects in history starting in ancient Greece and Egypt. In this period of history, phallic objects were used for festivities. In later years phallic shrines were used for a number of purposes but most notably for fertility. In modern times we this design type in monuments such as the Washington Monument and the State Capitol of Nebraska.
There are very few examples of buildings that feature female genitalia one example is the M’inge Stadium in China. Hadid’s stadium will be one of the few build buildings that could be considered female-feature phallic. Although Hadid maintains it is not a representation of female genitalia.
By comparing buildings to genitalia the separations between genders is brought up, and using male representations creates a power complex. If we keep enforcing gender separation and dominance, we will continue to think of one gender as more powerful.
Although changing how we think about buildings is a small step to changing our opinions, it is a start to thinking about gender equality. Once phallic shaped buildings are no longer considered a source of amusement the gender separation boundaries will have lost a source power.