AGAINST NATURE

The late poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote that nature was not the object of his poetic contemplation—“nature bores me.” The human world interested him more than the world of nature—a thought that provokes deep memories of my experience of living in Rome in 1970 and the shocking intensity of the “human world” of Rome. Its dense urban fabric was so very different from the sprawling wooden houses of my native Kitsap Peninsula in Washington State. Perhaps the beauty of Puget Sound, the snowcapped Mount Rainier with a foreground of tall stands of Douglas firs was in maximum contrast with Rome for my astonished young eyes.

Rome has a great variety of amazing constructions of the human world spanning centuries, in contrast with the monotony of Puget Sound’s Douglas Fir trees and islands. For this reason, I was excited to encounter the student Zaha Hadid in 1976, when I arrived that the Architectural Association in Rome on January 26 to be on Elia Zenghelis and Rem Koolhaas’s jury. I distinctly remember the smiling Zaha saying “I hate nature, it’s so boring.”

Last month, when I walked inside the opera house in Guangzhou China, which Zaha completed two years ago, I was astonished at the liquid space of this large “house.” These few iPhone photos cannot express the fluid theatricality of this spectacular space. The scala, that stalwart of opera typology models, is nowhere in this rippling golden volume stippled with star points. This space renews the very idea of opera giving it a 21st century space of great acoustics and comfort.

However, there is nothing about nature here. There is nothing green, no trees, no plans, no potted geraniums.

Sometimes “against nature” can be really inspiring.

Steven Holl

3/29/2013