Zaha Hadid, also known as Dame Zaha Hadid, was the first woman to have been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 2004. Having studied for a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in Beirut, Lebanon, she moved to London to study at the Architectural Association, school of architecture, in the 1970s.
With 950 buildings in 44 countries, we know her now as a highly successful global architect with multiple ongoing projects posthumously, however, that wasn’t the case for the first 20 years of her career.
Till the late 90s, Zaha Hadid was often referred to as a ‘paper architect.’ Despite having won many international competitions, her designs never came to fruition. However, that perception changed after her first major built project; Vitra Fire Station (1989-93), Germany.
“It was very anti-design. It was almost a movement of anti-architecture,” said Zaha Hadid of her graduate project. It was then that she resonated with artists like Kazimir Malevich, a Russian avant-garde painter, who was the founder of the Suprematist school of abstract painting. Suprematism could be described in part as a blend of Cubism and Futurism.
Zaha Hadid deconstructs one of Malevich’s works, reshaping it into a new form. The award-winning design for an International Competition in 1982, set her apart globally as a ‘Deconstructivist’.
The design titled, ‘Movement Frozen’ for the Vitra Fire Station changed people’s perspectives about her design style. She showcased concrete—a material otherwise used rigidly, in fluidity, the form resembled a bird in flight.
The design not only broke architectural stereotypes but also achieved practical requirements. Zaha Hadid’s 1982 competition entry, ‘The Peak’, a design for a recreational center in Hong Kong, responded to the hillside site by moving at a dynamic diagonal. She always represented her buildings in abstract renderings.
Her designs were often tagged as unrealistic and impractical. She lost many projects after ‘The Peak’ citing similar reasons. Her designs were looked at as too avant-garde to move beyond paper to construction. However, Zaha Hadid continued to express herself and not change her style to be accepted by society.
In the early 2000s, with better construction technologies, we witnessed Zaha Hadid’s golden era. But that did not stop the criticism she faced that her male counterparts did not. Her dramatic forms and the scale of her commissions were often ridiculed.
Due to continued protests by preeminent Japanese architects, she had to altogether scrap her plan for The New National Stadium for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Her 1994 competition winner for the Cardiff Bay Opera House project was criticized for being inapplicable. She believed that the plaza sections despite not being conventional were easily achievable.
Practice; Queen of The Curve
Zaha Hadid, after graduating from the Architectural Association worked along with Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghalis at the Office of Metropolitan Architecture. She then went on to establish her London-based firm, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) in 1979.
A few of her initial projects included a Centre for Contemporary Arts, Cincinnati, Ohio, an 85,000 square-feet center, which became the first American museum designed by a woman. Zaha envisioned the upward curve at the entrance of the building as an ‘urban carpet’ welcoming the visitors.
In 2010, she won the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize for her design for the MAXXI Museum of contemporary art and architecture in Rome. She won a second Stirling Prize in 2011 for Evelyn Grace Academy, a secondary school in London. Her design for the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre won the London Design Museum’s Design of the Year in 2014.
Along with being a practicing architect, Zaha Hadid was passionate about teaching. She believed she discovered many things, like the mass interpretations of designs, that she wouldn’t otherwise. She has taught at the Architectural Association, Harvard GSD, Yale University, and the University of Chicago.
Lastly, she also designed furniture, jewelry, footwear, bags, interior spaces such as restaurants, and stage sets, notably for the 2014 Los Angeles Philharmonic production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Così fan Tutte.
Zaha Hadid also received RIBA’s highest honor, the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture in 2016 along with many other awards. In 2012, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).
In the Words of Zaha Hadid
We lost a consequential artist in the architecture community in 2016, due to a heart attack. She is survived by her friend and longtime colleague Patrick Schumacher, who has now taken over the responsibilities of the studio.
At present, there are 36 unfinished projects worldwide. Zaha Hadid practiced Islam and denounced the recent religious branchings, the situation in her birthplace, Iraq, pained her constantly.
When asked if there was anything she was afraid of regarding the future, she responded by saying, “Yes, the conservative values that are emerging. It may not affect architecture immediately but it will affect society and that’s what worries me. The world is looking more and more segmented, the difference between people is becoming greater. one has to strive for a very open liberal society.” The words could not be truer at this point.