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Why Zaha Hadid is the world’s greatest starchitect

It’s difficult to name a female architect more iconic than Zaha Hadid. She may have been 65 (a young age in architecture years) when she passed on in 2016, but the impact she has left on the world is profound.

Known as the “Queen of the Curve“, Hadid was known for her signature bold designs and even bolder opinions. Her trademark style can be found in various parts of the globe, defying a male-dominated industry with her unconventional, and at times gravity-defying vision.

To commemorate her 68th birthday, we take a look at how she started her career, her impact on the architecture world, and her most prominent buildings.

Hadid was born in Baghdad on 31 October 1950 to an upper-class Iraqi family. She received a prestigious education, attending boarding schools in England and Switzerland. Her role model was her incredibly successful father, a leader of the Iraqi Progressive Democratic party. “There was never a question that I would be a professional,” she famously said.

Zaha Hadid.

Perhaps her passion for architecture can be attributed to her childhood home. She lived in one of Baghdad’s first Bauhaus-inspired buildings during an era in which “modernism-connoted glamour and progressive thinking” in the Middle East. “I miss aspects of being in the Arab world — the language — and there is a tranquillity in these cities with great rivers,” she once said. “Whether it’s Cairo or Baghdad, you sit there and you think, ‘This river has flown here for thousands of years.’ There are magical moments in these places.”

Yet, it’s hard to imagine a talent like her bound to one place. In 1972, she moved to London to study architecture at the Architectural Association, where she met several professors and students that led her to become a partner at the ‘Office for Metropolitan Architecture” in 1977. This was what jumpstarted her career.

Guangzhou Opera House.

While Zaha Hadid Architects is now one of the biggest architectural firms in the world, its beginnings can be traced back to 1980, when Hadid began her eponymous practice.

The Queen of the Curve 

“There are 360 degrees, so why stick to one?” Hadid once said. Her highly expressive style, marked by organic, sweeping fluid forms of multiple perspective points, while was initially criticised, is now regarded as a pioneer in contemporary avant-garde architecture styles. Her striking Baroque-style architecture, inspired by natural landforms, grace the skylines of major metropolitan cities, while her product designs, including furniture, jewellery, lighting, and shoes, can be found in homes around the world.

“It started off through figuring out what to do with lightness or flight. Later it had to do more with topography and landscape, emulating a natural form,” Hadid told Time in 2012.

The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Her impact on woman architects
“Women are always told, ‘You’re not going to make it, its too difficult, you can’t do that, don’t enter this competition, you’ll never win it’,” she once said. “They need confidence in themselves and people around them to help them to get on.”

Never one to be boxed up in conventions, she proved society wrong. She received her first award, the ‘Gold Medal Architectural Design’ for her British Architecture in 1982. Since then, she has received over 100 prestigious awards and donors; and was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, making a name for herself and paving the way for female architects at the same time.

The Queen of the Curve.
Making her mark as a Muslim woman
It was hard enough to be taken seriously as a female architect and even harder as a Muslim female architect.
“I remember her telling me how hard it was for her as a woman, a Muslim, and an Arab, going to [the Architectural Association] in London, which was really an old boy’s club,” said Kathryn Hiesinger, Kathryn Hiesinger, the curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art who worked closely with Hadid on the 2011 exhibit, Zaha Hadid: Form in Motion, in an interview with Wired. “She must have looked like a creature from another planet, and she arrived with a headscarf, which she says she lost quickly. It distinguished her in a way she didn’t want.”

Her most prominent buildings
Hadid has contributed to some of the most major skylines around the world. In 2003, she completed the building of the ‘Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art,’ the first American museum designed by a woman. The centre has also been proclaimed the ‘most important American building to be completed since the cold war’ by New York Times.

The Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza.

The Sheikh Zayed Bridge, an 842-metre bridge with its swooping arches and curves intended to emulate the rippling of sand dunes, Leeza SOHO, which boasts the largest atrium in the world, and The Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, her first completed bridge. The later is a half pedestrian walkway, half exhibition area, and was inspired by gladioli and the waterway beneath it, throwing 280 metres of fibre-glass reinforced concrete across the river Ebro.

In 2010, her Maxxi building design in Rome was awarded the Stirling Prize. The national museum was said to be “a masterpiece fit to sit alongside Rome’s ancient wonders.”

Nassim Villas in Singapore.

Her signature style can also be seen in Singapore, with buildings that contrast against the city’s swanky skyscrapers. The cutting-edge Nassim Villas emerges naturally from the hilly terrain on which it stands, high above the Singapore Botanic Gardens. There’s also d’Leedon, a residential project made up of seven skyscrapers with flower-shaped plans. Finally, The One North Masterplan, the city’s 500-acre technology quarter, an ongoing project which was laid out by the late architect.

Hadid may be gone, and her influence short-lived, but the profound impact she has had on aspiring woman architects and the architecture industry as a whole, is here to stay.

Dewi Nurjuwita
Senior Writer
Dewi Nurjuwita is a travel and design writer who can be found exploring the streets of foreign cities with passport in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.