First Drafts is a series exploring the early work of our architectural icons, examining their careers through the lens of their debut projects. Every day in August, we'll profile one architect's first finished building—often surprising, always insightful—as a solo practitioner. Within the vast field of great building design, we aim to uncover the significance of first acts.
Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany
Date completed: 1993
Getting the Gig: It took a fire to give a paper architect the chance to realize her first commission. In the early morning of July 20, 1981, in Weil am Rhein, Germany, a fire sparked by a portentous lightning bolt burned down nearly half the Vitra furniture factory. In response to the blaze, the chairman of the iconic design brand, Rolf Fehlbaum, decided to take advantage of the mishap and commission a cutting-edge new factory and corporate campus, enlisting talents such as Nicholas Grimshaw and Frank Gehry to turn the Vitra facility into a destination, not merely a plant. While new buildings, such as a ribbon-shaped museum, were being constructed, the company's volunteer fire brigade was still operating out of a wooden shed. Commissioning a new, state-of-the-art station seemed like a fitting, phoenix-like gesture. The high-profile job ended up in the hands of a 43-year-old architect who had spent the better part of the last decade lecturing and sketching buildings, but had no completed projects to her name. That someone was Zaha Hadid.