Often named the most prominent contemporary female architect and ‘Queen of the curve’, Zaha Hadid is known for her intellectual toughness and her refusal to compromise on her ideas, helping to reshape the world of architectural landscape.

Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950, Zaha Hadid grew up in a well-educated family. Her interest in architecture began when she went on a family trip to the ancient Sumer region of Iraq, the site of one of the oldest civilisations. ‘The beauty of the landscape- where sand, water, reeds, birds and buildings all somehow flowed together has never left me”, she said.

Zaha Hadid with one of her early design protypes. Credit: www.zaha-hadid.com

Hadid began her studies at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, receiving a bachelor’s degree in Maths. She then decided to move to London to study at the Architectural Association, a major centre of progressive architectural thought during the 70’s. She won a special diploma prize at the school and began working for a London firm founded by one of her teachers.

In 1983, Hadid gained international recognition with her competition winning entry for The Peak, a leisure and recreational centre in Hong Kong. The horizontal skyscraper moved diagonal down the hillside site which established her aesthetic.

Hadid’s design for The Peak was never created, nor were her other radical designs in the 80’s and early 90’s including the Cardiff Bay Opera House, Wales (1994) and the Dusseldorf Art and Media Centre (1992). She became known as the ‘paper architect’, meaning her designs were too avante-garde to move beyond sketch and actually be built. This impression was heightened when her designs were exhibited as works of art in major museums.

The Peak. Credit: www.zaha-hadid.com

Hadid finally got her moment as an architect when her work began on her design of a new contemporary art center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The 85,000 square foot centre opened in 2003 and was the first American museum designed by a woman. Essentially a vertical series of cubes and voids, the side that faces the street has translucent glass that invites passers-by to look in to the workings of the museum. Hadid said she hoped it would create an ‘urban carpet’ that welcomes people into the building.

Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, Ohio designed by Hadid. Credit: www.zaha-hadid.com

In 2010, Hadid’s career was ever growing and she was finally getting the recognition she deserved. Her boldly imaginative design for the MAXXI museum of contemporary art in Rome, Italy earned her the Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize for the best building by a British architect. She then won a second Stirling Prize the following year for her sleek structure of a school in London. Her undulating design for the Heydar Aliyev Center, a cultural centre in Baku, Azerbaijan won the London Design Muesum’s Design of the Year– she was the first woman to earn the award. Hadid was made a DBE in 2012, the same year she designed the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games.

In 2016, Hadid died of a heart attack in Miami. Some of her works are still under construction after her death including the venue of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Hadid was described as ‘someone who liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity.’ Her works can be seen all across the world for people to enjoy and admire.

MAXXI Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome (2010). Credit: www.zaha-hadid.com

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