Zaha Hadid – world renowned female architect

In March 2015, Al Arabiya News reported that the firm ZHA would be responsible for the creation of the world’s largest airport terminal. The starfish-shaped building would be forming part of Beijing’s new airport. Building Design Online reported that the terminal would measure 700,000 square meters.

Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) is the firm that has created waves with bold, thoroughly original, utilitarian designs in their works in the world of architecture, the profession of designing buildings, open areas and communities, other artificial constructions and environments. Heading that firm is a woman who is known for being enterprising, gritty and who has always remained unshaken by critical opinions or scathing comments within the profession that is still considered a male bastion, especially with a global survey that says that there are 25 % women in the architecture profession yet over 30 % of these are unlicensed.

Standing tall with her world-wide recognition and the first lady to win the Pritzker Prize (considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize) in architecture, in the 31 years since it was instituted, this wonder-woman, thorough professional, no-nonsense lady, inspiration to her fellow women architects, is Dame Zaha Hadid.

Her amazing style and character in her work

What characterizes Dame Zaha Hadid’s work is that each design while unique in its look and feel, carries a signature of her love for smooth surfaces and curves. In fact it has been said of her that ‘Hadid has re-defined architectural geometry with the creation of highly expressive, sweeping fluid forms of multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry that evoke the chaos and flux of modern life’.

Her path-breaking works greatly acclaimed even today are the aquatic center for the London 2012 Olympics, the Broad Art Museum in the U.S., and the Guangzhou, China opera house. She designed the Mind Zone in London’s Millennium Dome, which was open to the public for one year from Jan. 1, 2000. Zaha Hadid’s starfish-shaped design that will form part of Beijing’s new airport will just add to her spectacular works.

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It is not just exteriors that Hadid has created

Hadid undertook high-profile interior work, including the Mind Zone at the Millennium Dome in London. She created fluid furniture installations within the Georgian surroundings of a private club in Marylebone, gave the design for the interior of a hydrogen-powered, three-wheeled automobile, worked with the clothing brand Lacoste to create a new, high fashion, and advanced boot, collaborated with the brassware manufacturer Triflow Concepts to produce two new designs in her signature style, designed Dune Formations for David Gill Gallery and the Moon System Sofa for leading Italian furniture manufacturer B&B Italia.

An impressive shaping of a career

Hadid was born on 31 October 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq, to an upper-class Muslim family. Her father, Muhammad al-Hajj Husayn Hadid, was a wealthy industrialist from Mosul, Iraq and also had political clout. Her mother, Wajiha al-Sabunji, was an artist from Mosul. In the 1960s Hadid attended boarding schools in England and Switzerland.

Later Zaha Hadid studied Mathematics at the American University of Beirut and moved on to the prestigious London Architectural Association School of Architecturein 1972. Here she met few people who encouraged her and guided her like her professors, Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis. She worked for them in the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, Netherlands, soon to become a partner in 1977. She also came in contact with Peter Rice, an engineer, through her professor Koolhaas, who gave her a lot of support and guidance when she seemed to find her work difficult initially. Hadid was a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom.

The journey thereon

Hadid established her own London-based architecture practice in 1980. Her reputation grew by leaps and bounds from an international show showing of her impressive architecture drawings in a path-breaking exhibition termed “Deconstructivism in Architecture” at the New York Museum of Art in 1988.

She had already started teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design where she held the Kenzo Tange Professiorship and at the Architectural Association.

In 1990 she also held the Sullivan Chair professorship in a premier institution like Chicago’s School of Architecture. The 90s thereon saw her serving as guest professor in Hamburg, Ohio, Columbia, Yale in all the prestigious Architecture institutes of the time.

From 2000, Hadid was a guest professor at the Institute of Architecture at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, in the Zaha Hadid Master Class Vertical-Studio.

Hadid was also named an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Architects. She was on the board of trustees of The Architecture Foundation.

Awards for her achievements

The Pritzker Architecture Prize is awarded annually “to honor a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture. It is considered to be one of the world’s premier architecture prizes; it is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture and is said to be awarded “irrespective of nationality, race, creed, or ideology.” The recipients receive US$100,000, a citation certificate, and since 1987, a bronze medallion. Dame Zaha Hadid received this in 2004, the first woman architect in its 31 year history and also the first Muslim to receive so.

She received the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, she was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and in 2015 she became the first woman to be awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in her own right.

Thorns in her path

Like every world personality Zaha Hadid had her critics and fair share of detractors. From a “not so different from the colossal cultural palaces long beloved of Soviet and similar regimes” and “an empty vessel that sucks in whatever ideology might be in proximity to it” to being dubbed ‘the world’s most famous female architect’ she has taken all in her stride.

In her own words “I don’t generally think of myself always as a woman architect, as I’ve said many times. I feel that I should be recognized as an architect first.

“People ask, ‘what’s it like to be a woman architect?’ I say, ‘I don’t know, I’ve not been a man.’ But now I think that if it serves as an inspiration or it helps women architects to push on then that’s fine.

“Whenever I give lectures, I get lots of women come up to me wanting reassurance that it’s a trip worth taking.”

That is the stuff that she is made of and naturally serves as an icon for all those female architects who have tried hard to gain recognition in a male bastion that does not take kindly to female competitors.

She has achieved it all

  • In 2002, Hadid won the international design competition to design Singapore’s one-north master plan.
  • In 2004, Hadid became the first female and first Muslim recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
  • In 2005, her design won the competition for the new city casino of Basel, Switzerland.
  • In 2006, she was honoured with a retrospective spanning her entire work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York; that year she also received an Honorary Degree from the American University of Beirut.
  • In 2008, she ranked 69th on the Forbeslist of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
  • Hadid was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2002 and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to architecture.
  • She was listed as one of the “50 Best-Dressed over 50” by the Guardianin March 2013.

The list is too long, her achievements in her field as meritorious as can be, but far above all that – she has been a good human being all her life who has led from the front and got ZHA its place of pride in the sun and also been the inspiration for women and men who learnt to think differently like her.

Sadly this precious jewel in the crown of Architecture breathed her last a few days ago on March 31st 2016.

Zaha Hadid has been and shall always remain in the hearts of millions around the world who may not understand architecture, nor its nuances, but would most certainly be awed and inspired by the hundreds of magnificent structures big and small that she has created, the ideas of geometry that she has left behind. May her elegant soul rest in Peace!      

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