(Arabic: زها حديد Zaha Hadid; 31 October 1950 – 31 March 2016) was an Iraqi-British architect.
She was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 2004. She received the UK’s most prestigious architectural award, the Stirling Prize, in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, she was made a Dame by Elizabeth II for services to architecture, and in 2015 she became the first and only woman to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects.
She was described by The Guardian of London as the “Queen of the curve”, who “liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity”. Her major works include the aquatic centre for the London 2012 Olympics, Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum in the US, the MAXXI Museum in Rome, the Guangzhou Opera House in China, and the Beijing Daxing International Airport, also in China. Some of her awards have been presented posthumously, including the statuette for the 2017 Brit Awards. Several of her buildings were still under construction at the time of her death, including the Daxing airport and the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, a venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Zaha Hadid was born on 31 October 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq, to an upper-class Iraqi family. Her father, Muhammad al-Hajj Husain Hadid, was a wealthy industrialist from Mosul. In the 1960s Hadid attended boarding schools in England and Switzerland.
Hadid studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before moving, in 1972, to London to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. There she studied with Rem Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis and Bernard Tschumi. Her former professor, Koolhaas, described her at graduation as “a planet in her own orbit.” Zenghelis described her as the most outstanding pupil he ever taught. ‘We called her the inventor of the 89 degrees. Nothing was ever at 90 degrees. She had spectacular vision. All the buildings were exploding into tiny little pieces.” He recalled that she was less interested in details, such as staircases. “The way she drew a staircase you would smash your head against the ceiling, and the space was reducing and reducing, and you would end up in the upper corner of the ceiling. She couldn’t care about tiny details. Her mind was on the broader pictures—when it came to the joinery, she knew we could fix that later. She was right. Her fourth-year student project was a painting of a hotel in the form of a bridge, inspired by the works of the Russian suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich.
After graduation in 1977, she went to work for her former professors, Koolhaas and Zenghelis, at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Through her association with Koolhaas, she met the architectural engineer Peter Rice, who gave her support and encouragement during the early stages of her career. Hadid became a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom. She opened her own architectural firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, in London in 1980. During the early 1980’s Hadid’s style introduced audiences to a new modern architecture style through her extremely detailed and professional sketches. At the time people were focused on postmodernism designs, so her designs were a different approach to architecture that set her apart from other designers.
She then began her career teaching architecture, first at the Architectural Association, then, over the years at Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge University, the University of Chicago, the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Columbia University. She earned her early reputation with her lecturing and colourful and radical early designs and projects, which were widely published in architectural journals but remained largely unbuilt. Her ambitious but unbuilt projects included a plan for Peak in Hong Kong (1983), and a plan for an opera house in Cardiff, Wales, (1994). The Cardiff experience was particularly discouraging; her design was chosen as the best by the competition jury, but the Welsh government refused to pay for it, and the commission was given to a different and less ambitious architect. Her reputation in this period rested largely upon her teaching and the imaginative and colourful paintings she made of her proposed buildings. Her international reputation was greatly enhanced in 1988 when she was chosen to show her drawings and paintings as one of seven architects chosen to participate in the exhibition “Deconstructivism in Architecture” curated by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. This, a conference at the Tate in London and some articles written about her began to not only get her name out into the Architecture world, but allowed people to associate a particular style of architecture with Hadid.