by Nathan Lerner
Architect, Zaha Hadid, has achieved international acclaim for her distinctive, futuristic buildings. She is the first female to ever be awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.

This futuristic car created by Zaha Hadid is a lightweight carbon fiber composite made by GTM Cars, Kingswinford, England. Photography courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects: Project Zaha Hadid Architects in collaboration with Kenny Shachter/ ROVE Gallery London.

Hadid’s innovative sense of style also manifests itself in a panoply of smaller items that she has designed. A new exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art represents the first in the U.S. to feature Hadid’s product designs in a setting of her own creation.

It showcases 40 items designed by Hadid. This includes a sterling silver coffee and tea set for Sawaya & Moroni, shoes for Lacoste, and even the prototype for her Z-Car, a hydrogen-powered, three-wheeled automobile.

Chestnut Hill resident, Kathryn Hiesinger, is the Museum’s Curator of European Decorative Arts after 1700. In this capacity, she curated the show on Hadid. Hiesinger is a noted authority on the subject, having penned the book, “Zaha Hadid: Form in Motion,” which is scheduled for publication in the fall.

Hiesinger explained in a recent interview, “She has been a leader in digital design and direct-to-production technologies, pushing the limits of engineering and current building practices; that is, of what can be built.

“The fields of architecture, urban planning and design are deeply interrelated in Hadid’s practice, developed from the same theoretical concepts and the same formal language.”

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Hadid grew up in a progressive, well-traveled, Westernized, Muslim household. Hiesinger observed, “This gave her an expansive world view and innate boldness.” Hadid obtained an undergraduate degree in mathematics from American University in Beirut, Lebanon, before studying at the Architectural Association in London.  Hiesinger pointed out, “Her educational background has been deeply important for her professionally. It has given her the ability to develop and realize the complex geometries that her buildings and designs require.”

Hiesinger illuminated the curatorial selection process, “The factors are public interest, scholarly contribution, budget and schedule. Curators propose their exhibition ideas to the Director, who makes the final determination. Hadid has made impressive contributions to the fields of architecture and design that I wanted to recognize.” Hadid herself shaped the parameters of the show.

The 68-year old Hiesinger was born and raised in Houston, Texas, where she was an ardent bibliophile . “As a little girl I wanted to be a librarian because I loved to read.”

While attending Wellesley College, however, her career aspirations changed. “I took my first art history course at college. However, it wasn’t until after my sophomore year, when I spent the summer in Italy looking at art, that I became seriously interested in making a professional career in the field, in some capacity.

“Although I didn’t know it at the time, my favorite professor, John McAndrew, had been director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Architecture and Design. I discovered this when I took responsibility for the Museum’s design collections.”

Hiesinger went to graduate school in fine arts at Harvard, where she earned Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Fine Arts. While there, she met her future husband, Ulrich W. Hiesinger.

After graduation, she became a curatorial assistant in the Department of Medieval and Renaissance Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she has spent virtually her entire professional career.

Besides the catalogues for shows Hiesinger has curated at the Museum, she has authored “Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour at Acadia Summer Arts Program;” “Collecting Modern: Design at the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 1876,” and the upcoming tome on Hadid. She also co-authored “Landmarks of Twentieth Century Design” as well as “AntiqueSpeak.”

The show, “Zaha Hadid: Form in Motion,” will open Sept. 17 and continue through March 25, 2012, at the Perelman Gallery of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Nathan Lerner, the Director of Davenport Communications, is actively involved in civic and cultural affairs. He welcomes feedback at