Bangkok Art & Culture Centre

The documentary about Zaha Hadid is everything you expect and do not expect to see, all at the same time. We already know much about Z. Hadid to be surprised by the way Alan Yentob, the presenter that is, portraits her to the world. Easily understood documentary, thankfully with lack of over-explaining and getting into details that hijack the true essence of the story. 

Documentary: Zaha Hadid. Who Dares Wins.
Zaha Hadid ©

This article is all about a review of a documentary, without spoiling the content of it, therefore no spoilers I must reveal (as Yoda will probably have said). Anyway, I don’t mind having spoilers for documentaries about prominent people that we already know so much about, to some of us, these figures are already live-by characters that inspire us on an every-day basis, but I will do my best, so shall we?

“Who Dares Wins” at the beginning offers us a glimpse of Zaha Hadid’s childhood, her ways of growing up in Baghdad in the 1950s. At that time, Iraq, in general, could be measured against western society and countries, and maybe even win /Photographs of Baghdad 1950s/. An apparent contrast to the present, that many of us are witnesses to, and/or have seen a portrait of it. 

Thing is, many of us think that to be an artist, you have to struggle whether in childhood or in adulthood, to have a bit of a dark in yourself to be recognisably divided from the rest, subsequently making you “one of a kind”. In full disclosure, this was not the case for her. Zaha Hadid was a curious child, raised in a loving family, and open society, with an amazing childhood. Living in a cosmopolitan household, she decorated her room at the age of 8-9, which subsequently led her to the conclusion that she wanted to be an architect by the age of 11. Amazing, right? In addition to her self-evident attraction to designing, she was brought up in Baghdad in the ages when the infrastructural landscape of the city was changing. Prominent architects such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Alvar Alto were part of that “change”. She was exposed to that specific interlacing of “designing gift” of these names in our line of profession, and the power architecture holds to transform a city. 

The ‘70s in Britain were known as a period of change. The country was in a downfall spiral of economic instability, and thus comprehensive reforms relating the British finances were introduced by Margaret Thatcher. On other hand, social “reforms” were initiated by the English population via radical trends, music, fashion, food, art, architecture, etc. Time of accepting diversity. And Zaha Hadid embraced diversity at the Architectural Association //, the centre of progressive architectural thinking, with Alvin Boyarsky as its “Dumbledore”. This chapter of our protagonist’s life is of crucial importance; mentored by Elias Zenghelis and Rem Koolhaas, among others, led her to become the pioneer as we all know her. She found her “thing” in all that diversity and freedom, or as she calls it in the film – “mess”.  

I am just reassuring myself and my need for not serving you any spoilers, but I am sure many of you already know that Z. Hadid was also a professor at the Architectural Association. Although this part of the profession wasn’t entirely her cup of tea, she did well, and she learned a lot. She was known as an architect with the extraordinary capability to present 3D landscapes, infrastructures, and projects via drawings. And in these years her proclamation to the world begins, with no other than a series of drawings of a leisure club, set on the Kowloon Peak of Hong-Kong // Her inspiration for such drawings, which she is known for throughout her career, was the Russian avant-garde painter Kazimir Malevich and the Suprematists / Although “The Peak” was not realised, it set in motion her career as an architect with a specific style and specific way of showing her work, thus putting her on the map as an emerging new talent to watch. She was stepping through rocks all through the 90ties, climbing her way to the top, failed competitions due to the stigmatized view of the general public and her colleagues, just because her style was so divergent to what was already known and accustomed to. 

And yes, I may have, or have not served you a small spoiler here, but this is the plot of the documentary, therefore the plot of her life, and what a review this will be if I do not elaborate on the plot? 

Anyway, she made it, and she made it well. And what architect should take away from this documentary is written in the title itself. A live-by motto for many of us, not just in this line of work, but every other. There is not a single thing I can say, that you haven’t already thought about, reading in this review. Tough roads, obstacles, stigmatised perception, and sweat and blood will be spilled until you reach your goal. But, is it even worth it unless you don’t go through all of this? “Things worth having don’t come easy.” – Abbi Glines.

I have a deep respect for Zaha Hadid. Her architecture, however wonderful, defying all odds of gravity, and art of constructive embodiment, it is not entirely my cup of tea. However, objectivity is needed when it comes to these sorts of things, and I value her strength as a woman in this world, to carry her diverseness as a cloak and dagger at the same time, and to make her way through the world as such. Inspiring, remarkable, and unique. 


Viktorija Vitanova is a fifth-year student at the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Architecture, Slovenia. She received a bachelor’s degree of Arts in Architecture from American College Skopje, North Macedonia. Her interests lie in the theory of architecture, an abstract undertake of architectural projects, and the socio-psychological aspect of architecture.

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