A woman and an Arab – those were the labels she carried with her during her entire career, going through barriers she managed to break in a shining, brave, but elegant way.
Zaha Hadid – the futuristic architect who revolutionized the language of architecture and transformed the way we think about design. An artist who sought to question everything taken for granted, she created some of the most spectacular buildings of the 20th and the 21st centuries. She was the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, and in 2012 she was given the title a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, the female equivalent of a knight, and she was on the Queen’s 2012 Birthday Honours List. Zaha also taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, at the University of Illinois, at Chicago’s School of Architecture and at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg.
Zaha was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1950. She was a daughter of Mohammad Hadid, a liberal politician who constantly took her on trips to visit the buildings and landscapes of Sumerian cities and sent her to a convent school despite being a Muslim. Zaha used to say that the school was religiously diverse. Her mother was Wajiha al-Sabunji, an artist from Mosul. One of her brothers, Foulath, became an Oxford academic. She grew up in a secular, modernizing Baghdad at a time when Le Corbusier had been commissioned to build a sports complex, when Frank Lloyd Wright was working on a cultural center and Walter Gropius had built a university campus. These were projects that she acknowledged might have inspired her choice of a career, and certainly gave her a sense of the transformative power of architecture. At university, Hadid changed her major from Mathematics to Architecture – a choice she obviously never regretted. Afterward, she moved to London in 1972 to attend the Architectural Association (AA) School where she received her Diploma Prize in 1977. Her interest in geometry greatly influenced her digital architectural forms and neo-futuristic designs.
The architectural style of Zaha Hadid
In the field of architecture Zaha is known as “The Queen of Curves”. Her architecture does not particularly fit into one traditional architectural style. It was her purpose not to limit her style to a specific movement. That is what makes her so well-known, along with the way she used geometric shapes to create dynamic and fluid structures. One of the most influential aspects of her designs was her love for abstract painting and drawing. She was a big fan of avant-garde Russian painters such as Kazimir Malevich and even re-interpreted Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International Exhibition at the Guggenheim. Once, during an interview at one of her exhibitions, she even said: “The whole idea of lightness, floating, structure and how it lands gently on the ground: it all comes from the Russian.”
Basing her work on concrete and steel was another bold move of hers as concrete is known as a brutal material for designs. However, she chose these industrial materials and bent them into forms that subtly remind natural shapes. By deconstructing these forms, she was able to present cutting-edge work that also evokes human emotion.
Most Iconic Buildings
Heydar Aliyev Center – Azerbaijan
This landmark design shows Hadid’s creativity at its best. Elegant and at the same time innovative, the roof gently folds over itself, highlighting the curvilinear form of the building. It resembles a gravity-defying, snow-white iceberg that erupts from the ground like a twisting roller coaster. This building was beautifully finished, inside and out. It is 619,000 square feet of architectural brilliance, with a large conference hall at its heart and a gallery and museum too. It is an embracing and comfortable site that brings all these aspects together. Twelve thousand individual panels form the outer shell, which is broken up by a large facade peering out from beneath the building’s exoskeleton. The importance of this work lies in the meaning it takes for a city characterized by the urban organization of the Soviet Union, but which has dramatically changed. This building is considered to be one of the most significant symbols of transformation of Baku into a modern and advanced city. After gaining its independence from the USSR, the country invested a lot of money in modernizing urban planning and architecture with the aim of looking into the future. As a result, this building was first launched in 2013, reflecting the optimism and the enormous changes of the nation. While aiming at creating a landmark in Baku, Hadid also produced one of her most successful designs. As a result of her efforts, she was awarded the 2014 Design of the Year by London’s Design Museum—the first architectural project to ever win the prize.
Galaxy SOHO – Beijing
This building is both a commercial and an office center created from a cluster of four oval buildings topped by glass. The egg-shaped forms are connected by curving pathways that give a sense of continuous movement. Zaha Hadid described the structure as “a reinventing of the classical Chinese courtyard which generates an immersive, enveloping experience at the Heart of Beijing.” According to Zaha Hadid, the design is meant to “respond to the varied contextual relationships and dynamic conditions of Beijing.” Allowed to transition without barriers, Hadid invites the public into the dynamic and futuristic space. And with the circle functioning as a symbol of unity and perfection in China, subtle cultural cues are once again incorporated into her design.
MAXXI – ITALY
Italy’s national art museum, a true architectural masterpiece of contemporary art, took a decade to be finished. With its multifaceted space, it is dedicated “to experimentation and innovation in the arts and architecture.” Even though the progress was moving forward slowly, it was surely moving. The Italian government changed six times over the course of its construction. The result is one of Hadid’s finest works. The building itself is a monument fitting of standing alongside colossal monuments. The curling tunnels, the wide interior avenues, and the intersecting walkways give the building an aesthetic rhythm rarely seen in architecture today. It is one of her most praised works. In 2010, this building of overlapping tubular forms won the RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture which goes to the best new European building built or designed in the UK. Since then the Guardian has declared it “Hadid’s finest work built to date.”
A former professor, Rem Koolhaas, described Hadid as “a planet in her own orbit”. Her more than thirty-year long career helped shape the way the world thinks about contemporary architecture. As a female coming from a different background in a male-dominated industry, and the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, Hadid was a living proof that you don’t need to be a white male to make a statement in architecture. Not just limited to architecture, her work in interior design, fashion, industrial design (including yachts), and fine arts reminds us of what a perfectly shaped artist she truly was. The scope and breadth of this creativity has left a lasting legacy that will continue to influence creativity in all fields.
Zaha was a dedicated teacher, enthused by the energy of the young. She was not keen on being characterized as a woman architect or an Arab architect. She was simply an architect.
Zaha Hadid died on March 31, 2016 in a Miami hospital of a heart attack while she was being treated there for bronchitis. She was only sixty-five.
–By Mariana Wolf
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