Her indelible mark will live forever in stunning, trailblazing, fluid and utterly enthralling buildings that dot the skylines of cities across the globe.
On March 31, the architectural world was jolted by the news of the death of Zaha Hadid. The “queen of the curve”, as she was popularly known, and the world’s only female starchitect, was no more. Her genius would no longer grace the eyes of lovers of unusual, unexpected and dynamic architecture. Like a storm over paradise, gloom lay over the projects she left on the drawing board and those mid construction.
But although she was gone, the lovers of her ingenuity will forever appreciate her legacy of stunning, trailblazing, fluid and utterly enthralling buildings that dot the skylines of cities across the globe. From the cobbled streets of London to the crowded streets of Tokyo, from frenetic New York to humid Sydney, countries across the gulf and in Africa, her indelible mark will live forever.
Her phenomenal imprint remains on designs ranging from a handbag designed for Fendi, to shoes for Lacoste and Adidas, vases for Lalique, and a perfume bottle for Donna Karan.
Undeniably one of the greatest architects the world has ever known, her vision and creativity redefined architecture in the 21st century, showing and pioneering creations and giving life to imaginations never captured before. Her skill, extraordinary consistency and fascinating originality of intent and design were apparent in all her buildings and designs.
Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1950, Ms Hadid started her architectural journey in 1972, studying at the progressive Architectural Association in London, UK. By 1979, she had established her own company, Zaha Hadid Architects, in London. It currently employs more than 400 people and works on projects globally, with a turnover of £44 million (Sh6.3 billion) a year.
Night view of the Guangzhou Opera House designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid in Guangzhou city, south China's Guangdong province, 20 February 2016. Opera houses have long been a symbol of a city's culture, and today a Zaha Hadid opera house is the cultural symbol of choice for a new world city. PHOTO | COURTESY
Her rise to the top was not easy. On October 29, 2015, an article by this author titled “The gender gap in architecture” enumerated some of the hurdles female architects have to jump over just to be able to practice. Hadid was cited several times. She had to navigate the misogynistic, racist and anti-female architect environment she encountered.
The Iraqi woman was an outsider. A woman in a male-dominated field, she was frank about the unfair treatment she experienced because of her gender. In a field that often disregards women, and where many women have feared to tread, instead, opting to drop out after their studies or become anonymous assistants, Hadid soldiered on, becoming a force to reckon with and gaining international acclaim. Her career was a ray of hope, a beacon of light for many female architects, women in general and minorities.
She fought the discrimination at great personal cost. The media and colleagues devoured her mercilessly for anything they perceived as a fault, whether it had to do her personality, style of dressing or manner of delivering a lecture. They sneeringly gorged her, labelling her a tyrant, diva, short-tempered and impersonable, all banalities that would not have come up had she been a man.
Ms Hadid told the Architects’ Journal: “There is still stigma against women. It’s changed – 30 years ago, people thought women couldn’t make a building. There is still enormous prejudice, though.”
Architect Peter Cook who taught her reckoned that self-confidence such as Hadid exuded, “is easily accepted in film-makers and football managers, but causes some architects to feel uncomfortable. Maybe they’re secretly jealous of her unquestionable talent.”
Ms Hadid did not allow the jealousy and prejudice to stop her. In 2004, she became the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which is seen as “architecture’s Nobel” and “the profession’s highest honour”. The award is given annually to honour a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of talent, vision, and commitment. In its 34-year history, it has only been awarded to a woman twice.
In 2010 and 2011, Hadid won UK’s most prestigious architecture award, the RIBA Stirling Prize for her design of the Maxxi Museum of Modern Art in Rome and the Evelyn Grace Academy in London.
In February this year, just a month before she died, she was awarded the Royal Gold Medal, an award given in recognition of a lifetime’s work. The award is approved personally by the queen and is given to a person, or group of people, who have had a significant influence “either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture”. She was the first woman to received the prestigious award in her own right.
Honouring Ms Hadid on receiving the Royal Gold Medal, her former teacher, architect Cook wrote; “In our current culture of ticking every box, surely Zaha Hadid succeeds, since 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 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. In her earlier, ‘spiky’ period, there was already a sense of vigour that she shared with her admired Russian suprematists and constructivists – attempting with them to capture that elusive dynamic of movement at the end of the machine age.”
RIBA president and chair of the selection committee Jane Duncan, said: “Zaha Hadid is a formidable and globally-influential force in architecture. Highly experimental, rigorous and exacting, her work. from buildings to furniture, footwear and cars, is quite rightly revered and desired by brands and people all around the world. I am delighted Zaha will be awarded the Royal Gold Medal in 2016 and can’t wait to see what she and her practice will do next.”
Her mentor, Rem Koolhaas, called her “a planet in her own inimitable orbit”.
The other awards she received included France’s Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Japan’s Praemium Imperiale. In 2012, Hadid was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). She was also an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and fellow of the American Institute of Architecture.
Ms Hadid suffered a heart attack while undergoing treatment for bronchitis in Miami, US. She was 65.
A look at some of her buildings reveals that she has left a gaping hole that will not be easy to fill.
She died too soon, leaving numerous projects mid-construction, awaiting approval with some still on the drawing board. In Africa, work is yet to begin on most of her approved designs.