Zaha HADID (designer)<br/>
<em>Wave sofa</em> (1988) <!-- (full view) --><br />

fibreglass, plywood, polyurethane foam, wool, (other materials), velcro, metal<br />
(a-b) 119.7 x 357.7 x 238.8 cm (variable) (overall)<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Presented by Denton Corker Marshall through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program, 2018<br />
2018.1140<br />
© Zaha Hadid Foundation

Zaha Hadid: Wave sofa 1988


Launched in a Milan nightclub in 1988 as part of a collection of three, the late Dame Zaha Hadid’s Wave sofa embodies the designer’s predilection for fluid architectural forms. This work eventually found its way to Melbourne, first in the studio of an architectural firm, then into the NGV Collection, where its complex design presented unique challenges for the conservation team.

In architecture circles, Iraqi-British architect Dame Zaha Hadid is renowned. Her premature death at the age of 65 in 2016 meant the loss of one of the most visionary and experimental architects of our time. However, few people know of her work as a painter, homewares and furniture designer. In 2015, John Denton, on behalf of the Melbourne architectural firm Denton Corker Marshall (DCM), generously donated to the NGV Wave sofa designed by Zaha Hadid, which had been in its ownership since 1988.

Zaha Hadid in her London office c. 1985 Photo: Christopher Pillitz / Getty Images.

Born in Baghdad, Hadid studied mathematics before moving to London with her family in 1972, where she enrolled in training at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London’s oldest architecture school. She began her own practice in London in 1980 and was soon lauded, before any of her designs had even been realised.

The initial design of Wave sofa was part of a commission begun in 1985 to create a residential interior and furniture for timber importer William Bitar’s townhouse at 24 Cathcart Road, Kensington, London. The challenge was to create furniture with minimalist appearance and maximum impact, while seeming light, as though defying gravity itself.

Hadid’s design philosophy references the influence of Le Corbusier’s ‘Five points of Architecture’, including to liberate a building from the ground. It is no coincidence that Hadid used architectural theory in her furniture designs, as both modern furniture and modern architecture shared the same guiding principle of requiring a lot of detail and attention in order to achieve a look of minimal detail.

For the Bitar sofa commission, Hadid produced rough drawings, then, following a period of experimentation, constructed detailed models for the client’s approval. The result was a unique curvilinear sofa that floated and provided several perspective points, as well as multiple uses. Two moulded fibreglass frames create a boomerang-like shape, supported on a tapered foot and coated in black futuristic-looking gloss lacquer. On top of this sits a long, narrow cushion upholstered in a distinct yellow wool, with a removable triangular cushion around the curve. This connects to a matte black painted curve jutting out at right angles to create a private nook. Describing the work in 1987, Hadid said, ‘the sofa is not just a sofa, but also acts as a partition or shield. The [smaller] seat is not only a seat; it could also be a tray’. The sofa’s namesake derives from the back cushion, which is separately attached to the wall behind – a long, rectangular, grey wool- upholstered framework with unevenly positioned undulations.

The furniture and working drawings for the Bitar apartment were displayed in London at the Architectural Association’s Bar and Members’ Room in early 1988. One room included Hadid’s working drawings for Wave sofa, which convey the mathematical relationships that created the boomerang curve and the uneven waves of the backrest. In 1985, when Hadid commenced design of the original sofa, French curves were one of the main tools used by architects, as the use of computers in design (such as CAD) did not exist yet; this makes her designs from this period all the more impressive.

When the client moved overseas the Bitar furniture was relocated to Hadid’s own apartment. By her account, Wave sofa was rarely used, as her friends were too scared to sit on it for fear of damaging the piece. After architect-designer Massimo Morozzi saw the Bitar furniture in Hadid’s apartment, he approached her about reproducing the works, just as they were, despite their imposing and somewhat impractical size. Morozzi had just joined Edra, a small, family-run Tuscan furniture company, as the creative director.

Established in 1987 by Valerio Mazzei, Edra’s philosophy was to support designers in creating innovative and unique furniture, often blending experimental technology with manually intensive construction methods. For its first collaboration, Edra commissioned Hadid to develop three sofas for production: Wave, Whoosh and Project in Red1Wave is also known as Wavy and Wavy back sofa; Whoosh is written both with and without the initial ‘h’; and Project in Red has also been called the Projection sofa and Red sofa.. Hadid stayed with the Mazzei family over the summer months drawing, testing, making and troubleshooting with Edra staff.

Hadid and Edra launched the Wave Collection at a Milan nightclub in September 1988, as part of Milan Furniture Fair. The cavernous room was dimly lit, and the three sofas making up Edra’s inaugural collection were presented under dramatic coloured spotlights. The success of this project gave Edra the confidence to continue working on avant-garde projects, including collaborations with Masanori Umeda and Francesco Binfaré.

So how did the sofa end up in Australia? Not all of Hadid’s three sofa designs developed for Edra became commercially available. Wave sofa was produced in a limited edition of seven, while Project in Red was produced in smaller numbers, with Whoosh sofa being the most commercially successful design.

DCM purchased Wave sofa directly from Edra’s director, Morozzi, a friend who had already acquired DCM’s 1989 Adelphi range of a table and chairs, which is still in production today, for Edra’s product range. Three examples of DCM’s original furniture, designed as part of its Adelphi Hotel renovation in 1989, have been recently acquired for the NGV Collection. These works provide an engaging comparison to Hadid’s work.

Wave sofa was placed in DCM’s directors’ studio at the firm’s Melbourne office. The functional nature of furniture means that, when works enter a museum collection, they are often acquired with evidence of use. In the example of Wave sofa there was uneven fading and discolouration of the backrest upholstery (presumably from light exposure), minor stains to the seat upholstery, and small chips to the edges of the fibreglass components. These signs of wear were visually distracting from the overall conceptual view of the sofa, so we approached Edra for replacement fabric to reupholster the sofa. Liaising with Edra’s Australian distributor Space Furniture, we eventually acquired the fabric from rural Italy, a process that took several months.

A common problem with upholstery from the 1950s onwards is the use polyurethane foam cushions. The upholstery in Wave sofa is now over thirty years old and the inherent instability of this foam is starting to show: it is losing resilience, some permanent denting has occurred, and cracking from embrittlement has begun. Close inspection of the foam cushions reveals their bespoke construction – layers of foam glued together and moulded on top of a plywood panel, with a hand-cut, angled join between the two cushions. The decision to remove original materials, such as upholstery fabrics or foams on works of art, requires consultation with the relevant curatorial department. In this case, the Conservation team consulted with curators Simone LeAmon and Ewan McEoin from the NGV Department of Contemporary Design and Architecture. Due to the complex and unique shapes of Hadid’s cushions, the decision was made to not replace the upholstery foam at this stage.

Once the fabric arrived, the supplier’s preferred upholsterers were contracted to reupholster the three cushions under the guidance of a conservator. Photographs were taken of the original stitching, folds and tucks of the upholstery. These covers were then removed and used as patterns for the new covers. Previously hidden construction methods and markings from the original makers were also documented for future reference. The original Velcro® cushion attachment strips and Edra-branded lining fabric were re-used when the last few seams were sewed at the NGV Conservation studio. The next step involved ensuring the best fit of the covers, replicating the original number of folds and tucks at corners, using stainless steel staples to secure the new upholstery, and handstitching the final seam closed just as in the original. While the sofa’s treatment is completed for now, the work remains in a fragile condition due to the natural degradation of the upholstery foam, which may require replacement in the future.

Keith Rogers of Alexander J. Cook worked with NGV Conservation department staff to reupholster the cushions, copying the original manufacturing methods of stapling, replicating the same fabric folds and tucks, and hand stitching the last seams.

The NGV is fortunate to have acquired this design from architecture’s ‘Queen of the Curve’ thanks to the generous gift by Denton Corker Marshall, presented through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. With the NGV Contemporary Design collection quickly growing; through the generosity of donors including Gordon Moffatt AM and the NGV Supporters of Fashion & Textiles, we have since added additional designs such as a Genesy lamp, 2009, and Nova shoes, 2013, a work co-designed with Rem Koolhaas, to expand on the remarkable story of Hadid’s radical and diverse design experience and influence.

This article was originally published in NGV Magazine Issue 18 Sep-Oct 2019

Suzi Shaw is a Conservator of Frames & Furniture at NGV. Zaha Hadid’s Wave sofa was presented by Denton Corker Marshall through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. © Zaha Hadid Foundation



Wave is also known as Wavy and Wavy back sofa; Whoosh is written both with and without the initial ‘h’; and Project in Red has also been called the Projection sofa and Red sofa.