Zaha Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq on 31 October 1950. Her father Muhammad was a wealthy industrialist and politically active, he co-founded the National Democratic Party in Iraq. Her mother, Wajiha, was an artist. In the 1960s, Zaha attended boarding schools in England and Switzerland, then studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before moving to London to study architecture in 1972.
By 1979, she had established her own architecture firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, and gained a reputation internationally with trailblazing projects such as the Peak in Hong Kong and the Vitra fire station in Weil am Rhein in Germany. Other creations include the Maxxi (Italian Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome), the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Azerbaijan, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London, the Riverside Museum at Glasgow’s Museum of Transport and the Guangzhou Opera House in China. Her most famous UK design is the London Olympic Aquatic Centre, resembling a wave.
“She was an extraordinary role model for women. She was fearless and a trailblazer – her work was brave and radical.” – Amanda Levete
Hadid’s designs are so distinct, modern and futuristic. She twice won the Stirling Prize for architecture and was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize for architecture. In 2016 she was named as the first woman to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). In 2003, she was made Commander of British Empire (CBE) and in 2012, was made Dame (DBE) for services to architecture.
“I don’t really feel I’m part of the establishment. I’m not outside, I’m kind of on the edge, I’m dangling there…”
Succeeding in a male-dominated industry was not without challenges or controversy. Described by fellow architect and Stirling prize winner, Amanda Levete: “She was an extraordinary role model for women. She was fearless and a trailblazer – her work was brave and radical. Despite sometimes feeling misunderstood, she was widely celebrated and rightly so.”
Hadid told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs “I don’t really feel I’m part of the establishment. I’m not outside, I’m kind of on the edge, I’m dangling there. I quite like it … I’m not against the establishment per se. I just do what I do and that’s it.”
Devastatingly, Dame Zaha Hadid died suddenly in April 2016, aged 65. She’d suffered a heart attack in a Miami hospital where she was being treated for bronchitis. Her legacy will live on through her designs, her architecture firm (which employs 400 staff) and the inspiration that she provides – that success is possible, even for foreign-born females in a male-dominated conservative industry.
A collection of ten of her most extraordinary designs can be seen here.
What an inspiring woman, gone far too soon.