Zaha Hadid, the legendary architect and woman, died in Miami last week whilst being treated for bronchitis, after having a heart attack at the age of 65. Born on October 30th in Baghdad, she ventured above and beyond the norms of Iraqi society’s expectations of a woman, and the standard practices of architecture. In Peter Cook’s citation for Hadid’s being the first woman to win the Royal gold medal for architecture- he compared conventional architects who would simply take ‘a line for a walk’ to the fearless Hadid who instead ‘took the surfaces that were driven by that line out for a virtual dance… folded them over and then took them out for a journey into space’.
Her defiance of logic, dancing over the ashes of buildings past won her early recognition. In 1983 her design for a leisure center in Hong kong- the Peak, won the international competition, despite her incomplete qualifications. This angular, unusual design, like many others, never came to fruition. For a while, she was the famous architect who never got anything built, as often civic leaders just felt her work was too difficult, or perhaps too challenging and provocative. However, once the noughties began and the idea of the ‘starchitect’ emerged, along with their iconic buildings, she lead the pack.
Hadid was particularly special in that the buildings she created were not just beautiful objects in and of themselves, but they would often interact with the culture and past of the country in which they were built. The Sleuk Rith Institute in Cambodia, is built to commemorate the Cambodian Genocide, and is made up by five interwoven wooden towers, which echo the nearby Angkorian architecture. A former fire brigade building in Belgium, offers impressive harbour views, and hundreds of glass windows, most importantly, some of which are reflective, as a nod to Antwerp’s diamond trade. Her breadth of work, often working on projects simultaneously, was impressive. Some of her most famous works included a tower in Marseille, a retail complex in Beijing, an opera house in Guangzhou, a cancer centre in Kirkcaldy and the London 2012 Aquatics Centre.
Hadid was always surrounded by controversy particularly over her infamously stubborn attitude. She combated sexism in the architectural community, and was at ease within this battle. Some felt the design for the Al-Wakrah stadium in Quatar, was overly sexual or femine. She responded with the perfect attitude, saying ‘ What are they saying, everything with a hole in it is a vagina? That’s ridiculous’. Criticism and particularly compromise, were not things that sat well with Hadad, she ‘didn’t like the word’. She once hilariously paid the Architectural Association fees in bags of loose change, just to reflect her displeasure at their price. She was an incredibly hard worker, who had high standards of her staff at every level, in her height employing over 400 people with high expectations, unflinching honesty and passion. When criticised by the media for her demeanor, she quite rightly rebutted ‘Would they call me a diva, if I were a guy?’
Despite this hard- ass reputation, she was a woman of contradictions and complexity. As a student, she was supposedly incredibly shy and would present stunning drawings half crumpled and singed at the edges. She never married, but had a great love of children and a deep well of empathy by those who knew her well. Her harsh attitude was drawn out of a genuine belief that buildings mattered, their longevity making them worth all the effort and strife. The words of her final year AA tutor Rem Koolhaas predicted the brilliance of her architectural career. She was a ‘planet in her own inmitable orbit’, a status that had ‘its own rewards and difficulties’, ‘it would be impossible [for her] to have a conventional career’. What a brilliant planet she became, one whose legacy shall continue to glow for years to come.