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Dorothy Draper + Zaha Hadid

October 21st, 2010

Daniel Pontius

The story of Draper’s Greenbrier starts immediately upon arrival.

“Dorothy Draper has become an icon, not for her decorating ability, but for her talents to create a look.” says Carleton Varney in the Oct-Nov 2010 copy of Interiors. Carleton Varney is the president of Dorothy Draper and Company Inc. and “one of America’s best known interior designers” says their website.

Dorothy Draper (1889-1969) was born to a family in the very top drawer Tuxedo Park, NY. It was an advantage on which she was not afraid to capitalize. She said she had no design eduction except to have been brought up around beautiful things. People trusted her and she made it a success. She was able to show them what they wanted. They wanted an experience–they wanted to arrive–you might call her the original Experiential Marketer.

Dorothy Draper speaks to me. What I know about Zaha Hadid is that she has been more known for not building her buildings than building them.  In Draper’s book Decorating is Fun! (1939), you see that she believed you could make a client a better person through their environment. She worked with their needs, wants, and desires. Draper’s interiors transports one to an unique stylized world where you want to look again and dim the lights. 

In a moment, a doyenne is heard saying, “Tell me why I like it?”
“Tell me why it’s beautiful?”

Okay, it may be a stretch, but go with me here. Compare Dorothy Draper’s work with Zaha Hadid’s. Hadid (1950-) grew up in Iraq in a bourgeois intellectual family with a drive towards education which was her natural route into architecture. Hadid’s work has been described as a “modern baroque” and Draper’s “neo-baroque.” In this baroque sense, Hadid’s work may open us to a sense of god, but perhaps more so to a sense of the chaos of the modern world. Draper’s work baroque comes from her use of over-scaled architectural plasterwork.

Hadid’s work rushes in the inspired adrenalin of beauty. Here is the floor she designed for the Hotel Puerta America in Madrid. Hadid’s narrative starts for me in imagining a stay at the Hotel Puerta America with a question, Where do I put my suitcase?

In Hadid’s narrative; the interior is sacrosanct, the person is only passing through. In the above video (you may want to mute the music) one sees a couple in the room looking much like visitors in an art opening. Viewing the art and wondering where the wine is. Hadid’s consistency seems to be void of client. Hers is a play on space and perspective: a morphing that changes as the person moves through it.

Zaha Hadid. The interior is sacrosanct.

Dorothy Draper reveled in the applied surface.
Zaha Hadid, the surface appears as structure.


Noticeably, Draper had her hand in the cafeteria of the 1950’s underground bunker at the Greenbrier. 
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