Dame Zaha Hadid, Our Heroine
Zaha Hadid cannot be compared to any other architect. There are many great ones, but throughout the entire history of architecture, very few have such a distinct, unique style that they buildings are mere mirrors of their architectural ideology.
Today, the Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid, died at the age of 65 of a heart attack, in a Miami hospital. But her life and career are the story of a tremendous and surprising success – let’s not forget, she was the first woman and the first Muslim to ever win the Pritzker Architecture Prize. She was a 2 time winner of the Stirling Prize, in 2010 and 2011, and the first woman to win the top prize for the Design Museum Design of the Year Award, designated to the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center in Azerbaijan. In 2015, she became also the first woman to be awarded the RIBA Gold Medal.
Zaha Hadid was born on 31 October 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq. She studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut, which later shaped her architectural approach, and then attended the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. At the AA, Zaha’s unique vision started to be noticeable, with projects such as the Malevich’s Tektonik, a “fourteen level hotel on the river Thames in London – linking 19th century buildings on the north shore with the Brutalist South Bank Complex. Inspired by the Russian Suprematist movement and utilizing the tektonik to create new possibilities or interior space”.
At the AA, Hadid also met Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis and joined their Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, where she became a partner in 1977. She also met with engineer Peter Rice, a fact that encouraged her faith in her own architecture and opened her London studio in 1980.
Hadid has manifested a mix of interests between architecture, landscape design and geology, and has been an advocate for architectural renewal through use of innovative technologies, both physical and digital. Her formal research resulted into unexpected, dynamic structures, previously unseen and incomparable to the works of any other architectural firms.
Zaha earned international recognition with the Vitra Fire Station in Weil Am Rhein in 1993. “Conceived as the end-note to existing factory buildings, the Vitra Fire Station defines rather than occupies space – emerging as a linear, layered series of walls, between which program elements are contained – a representation of “movement frozen” – an “alert” structure, ready to explode into action at any moment”.
Other notable projects include:
MAXXI: Italian National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome (2009)
The London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games (2011)
The Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku (2013)
The projects are representative of her fluid, organic approach. My personal favorite, the Guangzhou Opera House in China (2010) has been described by Zaha Hadid Architects as “been hailed as architecture that transforms our ideas of the future with visionary spatial concepts defined by advanced design, material and construction processes.”
Zaha Hadid was a pioneer – for women in architecture, for citizens of Muslim countries, for architectural renewal, for parametricism. She didn’t get lost in constraints and had her own understanding of architecture, which she considered a natural part of the society’s evolution and not a means of imposing her own dogma. Her legacy goes on not only through Zaha Hadid Architects, a firm with over 350 employees, but through her students, since she was a teacher at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg, the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University, the Masters Studio at Columbia University and a vissiting professor at Yale School of Architecture. After 2000, Hadid had been teaching at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, at the Zaha Hadid Master Class Vertical-Studio.
I am overwhelmed of what could be said about Zaha Hadid, therefore I would like to conclude with the words of Sir Peter Cook: “In our current culture of ticking every box, surely Zaha Hadid succeeds, since (to quote the Royal Gold Medal criteria) she is someone “who has made a significant contribution to the theory or practice of architecture…. for a substantial body of work rather than for work which is currently fashionable.” Indeed her work, though full of form, style and unstoppable mannerism, possesses a quality that some of us might refer to as an impeccable ‘eye’: which we would claim is a fundamental in the consideration of special architecture and is rarely satisfied by mere ‘fashion’.
And surely her work is special. For three decades now, she has ventured where few would dare: if Paul Klee took a line for a walk, then Zaha took the surfaces that were driven by that line out for a virtual dance and then deftly folded them over and then took them out for a journey into space….Our Heroine”.