Dame Zaha Hadid

Dame Zaha Hadidby Brigitte Lacombe

Her name has paved the way for other women architects to be heard and accepted in the male-driven industry; her name has been caught in several architectural controversies around the globe; she has been known for being difficult to work with while her projects were normally considered unbuildable and had contractors fleeing from her like vampires at the sight of garlic – Dame Zaha Hadid was a visionary who dared and took risks, leaving a legacy of a true genius in architecture.

Zaha Mohammad Hadid was born in Iraq in October, 1950 to an influential family with the father ranking high in the Iraqi government at the time. She studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before moving to London to study architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in 1972. As she was about to graduate, Hadid found herself fascinated with Suprematism where she studied the relationship between architecture, the space and the city. She had developed an interest in Malevich works which led to her own work being greatly influenced by him. She set up her own company, Zaha Hadid Architects, with her business partner Patrick Schumacher in 1980, however most of her designs were considered unbuildable due to their complex yet somewhat logical use of space and motion in a structure. This was partially due to computer technology being in its infancy at the time. In addition, Zaha Hadid spent many years during the 80s teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design as well as at the Architectural Association.

Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China © Virgile Simon Bertrand
Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China
© Virgile Simon Bertrand

Her first breakthrough, however, came in 1994 with Vitra Fire Station in Germany. It was the stepping stone to her eventually having Zaha Hadid Architects projects pop up across the globe. Interestingly enough, her works were not so well-welcomed in her second homeland – the UK, with Cardiff Bay Opera House – the first project to be overshadowed by controversy in 1995 and not being realised. In fact, one of her first UK debuts happened much later with London Aquatics Centre for the Summer Olympics 2012. Her other great achievement is the Pritzker Architecture Prize which she received in 2004 as the first woman and the first Muslim ever.

Dame Zaha Hadid was no stranger to controversy, as she was often associated with one issue or the other overshadowing her unique projects. One of the most recent controversies surrounds the just-cancelled National Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. The official reason for annullment of the project was the need to cut the costs, however when Zaha Hadid Architects tried to re-enter the competition, they were unable to do so due to not finding a suitable Japanese partner to work with. In media, however, Dame Zaha Hadid sometimes referred to the project being taken away from them as Japan simply wanted to have it built by the local contractor.

Dame Zaha Hadid
The Opus, Dubai, UAE
© Zaha Hadid Architects

Nevertheless, Zaha Hadid’s projects kept on appearing all over the globe, with one of the most recent openings being in Baku, Azerbaijan – the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in 2012. There are a few projects that have found their home in the UAE. Emirates currently have two projects from the genius, Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi and The Opus tower in Business Bay district in Dubai, with the latter nearing completion. There were two more projects planned for the UAE, however, they have not been realised just yet.

Dame Zaha Hadid passed away on March 31,2016 which is undeniably one of the biggest losses to architecture and humanity in the recent history. She was the first on many fronts; she was a feminist who did more than just talk; she was an Arab and a Muslim woman who pushed boundaries and achieved so much in an industry dominated by men; she was the first to pave the way for many smart and gifted women who have now seen the heights that are too possible to be achieved by a woman; she’s left her numerous architectural works that will be studied and marvelled at for many generations to come, but most of all, Dame Zaha Hadid was a visionary who never gave up and truly believed that it was all worth it.

“You have to really believe not only in yourself; you have to believe that the world is actually worth your sacrifices” – Dame Zaha Hadid.

The title image is by Brigitte Lacombe.