An ode to a great female architect: Zaha Hadid, 1950- 2016


Cover image: A painted portrait of Zaha Hadid / Thierry Erhmann

Text: Lee Zhuomin

The architectural community mourned the loss of Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid on March 31, Thursday. Ms Hadid died at age 65 of a heart attack in a Miami hospital where she was being treated for bronchitis.

Ms Hadid is celebrated as the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, followed by the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011. In 2015 she was also the first female recipient of the RIBA Gold Medal.

Her sweeping curves and fluid geometry often pushed the boundaries of design in a world where men dominated. Where, being non-European, one had to work twice as hard and be thrice as smart to prove one’s worth. And where she sought—and fought—to have her voice heard. In one interview with CNN in 2012, she said she did not like being called a “woman architect”; “I’m an architect, not just a woman architect,” she was quoted.

Born in Baghdad and educated mostly in Europe, Ms Hadid built her professional reputation and success in the West. It was there that she delivered many of her early projects. Some of her works include the Vitra fire station in Weil am Rhein, Germany, her first completed project in 1994; Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, Spain; and the massive London aquatics centre built for the 2012 London Olympics.

When she climbed to the status of a ‘starchitect’, she quickly stretched her practice overseas, pinning her signature extravagance first in China—the Galaxy Soho in Beijing and the Guangzhou Opera House—and then in the affluent cities of the Middle East. Her first completed project for a Middle Eastern client was the Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi in 2010. The Heydar Aliyev cultural center in Baku, Azerbaijan was completed in 2012.

Galaxy Soho, Beijing/ Credit: Bjarke Liboriussen

Ms Hadid was also one of the 10 designers engaged for The Wish List, a design campaign for the 2014 London Design Festival led by the American Hardwood Export Council, where world-renowned designers were invited to create and realise their dream products in American hardwood.

Ms Hadid was not, however, without controversy. Her notoriety for openly speaking up against her critics earned her a ‘diva’ title, one that stuck throughout her life and career. She sued the New York Review of Books over allegations of labour deaths during the construction of the Qatar World Cup stadium. The case was later settled for an ‘undisclosed sum’. Last year, the Japanese government turned down her proposal for an avant-garde stadium ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in favour of a more austere option.

Her excessiveness encrusted in her expressive design is often criticised as inappropriate—insensitive even—to the political, economic turmoil that has gripped so much of our times.

Ms Hadid’s legacy lives on in the unfinished Iraqi Parliament Building in Baghdad; One Thousand Museum, a groundbreaking 62-storey residential apartment in Miami; 520 W. 28th Street in New York, a 39-unit luxury residential project to open as early as 2017.

Her practice Zaha Hadid Architects will likely be continued by her partner, Patrik Schumacher.