Hadid, Zaha (1950–)

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Hadid, Zaha

Zaha Muhammad Hadid is a world-renowned Iraqi architect based in London, and the only woman among today's high profile, elite international architects.


Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq, on 31 October 1950 to an upper-class family of Sunni Muslim Arabs. Her father, Muhammad al-Hajj Husayn Hadid, was a wealthy industrialist from Mosul, Iraq. He was a founder of the left-liberal al-Ahali group in Iraq in 1932, which was a significant political organization in the 1930s and 1940s. He later was vice chairman of the National Democratic Party in Iraq from 1946 to 1960, and served as minister of finance for the government of General Abd al-Karim Qasim after he and fellow army officers overthrew the monarch in July 1958. Zaha Hadid's mother, Wajiha al-Sabunji, also hailed from a wealthy Mosul family.

Zaha Hadid was educated in Baghdad at a school run by French Roman Catholic nuns, and pursued part of her secondary education in Switzerland and Great Britain. She returned to the Middle East to study mathematics at the American University in Beirut from 1968 to 1971. After receiving her degree, she returned to Britain and received a diploma from the Architectural Association (AA) in London in 1977. While there, she studied with Rem Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis, Daniel Libe-skind, and Bernard Tschumi, among others. After completing her architectural studies, she became a partner with Koolhaas' and Zenghelis' Office for Metropolitan Architecture. She also taught at AA and, until 1987, led her own studio there.

In 1980 Hadid formed Zaha Hadid Architects. She has gone on to produce internationally acclaimed designs for structures around the world. Hadid also has taught at a number of institutions. In 1994 she held three teaching positions in the United States: the Kenzo Tange Chair at Harvard University's School of Design, the Sullivan Chair at the University of Illinois's School of Architecture, and the Master Studio at Columbia University. Since 2001 she has been a professor at the University of Applied Arts Vienna in Austria.


Name: Zaha Hadid

Birth: 1950, Baghdad, Iraq

Family: Single, no children

Nationality: Iraqi, also holds British citizenship

Education: B.S. (mathematics), American University of Beirut, 1971; diploma, Architectural Association, London, 1977


  • 1977: Completes study at Architectural Associates, London; becomes partner with Office for Metropolitan Architecture
  • 1980: Establishes Zaha Hadid Architects
  • 1982: First accepted project, The Peaks Spa, Hong Kong (never built)
  • 1993: Vitra fire station in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany opens
  • 1994: Teaches in the United States: the Kenzo Tange Chair at Harvard University's School of Design, Sullivan Chair at the University of Illinois's School of Architecture, and Master Studio at Columbia University; design for Cardiff Bay Opera House accepted, then rejected
  • 2000: Honorary Fellowship, the American Institute of Architects
  • 2001: Begins teaching at University of Applied Arts Vienna
  • 2002: Hoenheim-North Terminus and Car Park opens in Strasbourg, France; opening of Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria; receives CBE from British government; receives Austrian State Architecture Prize and the Tyrolian Architecture Award
  • 2003: The Richard and Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art opens in Cincinnati, Ohio
  • 2004: Awarded the Pritzker Prize
  • 2007: Awarded the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture


As a person, Hadid was influenced by the liberal and cosmopolitan upbringing she had in Iraq and Europe. Even as a child, she was exposed to a broad outlook on life: attending school in Baghdad with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish classmates, for example. As an architect, she was influenced by the designs of Russian suprematist architecture, as well as constructivist artists. She also has stated that she admires the particular work of architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Erich Mendelsohn, and le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret).

Experientially, Hadid also has learned many lessons in her work as an architect, from how to succeed in a male-dominated profession, to how to ensure that a client accepts a radical design. She has pointed to the lessons she learned after a famous incident in which one of her designs was accepted and then rejected by the sponsors. In 1994 planners for the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Cardiff, Wales, twice accepted her design for the building. However, they ultimately backed out after local opposition decried the design as too radical for Welsh tastes. She later noted that the experience, although jarring, helped her learn the politics of how to get a design accepted and built.

Success came slowly for Hadid. Her first accepted design was for The Peaks, a spa in Hong Kong, in 1982, but it was never built because the developer went bankrupt. Projects in Düsseldorf and West Berlin also failed to materialize. Hadid's first completed project, the Vitra fire station in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany, did not come until 1993. Even then, the fire department ultimately left the building, which later became a museum. She then designed the Hoenheim-North Terminus and Car Park, which opened in Strasbourg, France, in 2002. That same year, the Bergisel Ski Jump overlooking Innsbruck, Austria, was unveiled. In 2003 Hadid's career broke wide open. The Richard and Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio, which she designed and which opened that year, helped put to rest her reputation as someone who produced daring designs that never could be built.

Hadid has said of architecture that buildings should keep you dry and feed the soul. Her style has been described with terms such as Deconstructivist and Neomodernist. Britain's Design Museum discussed her work as follows, noting the degree to which her Arab identity and background has affected her designs:

You could call her work baroque modernism. Baroque classicists like Francesco Borromini shattered Renaissance ideas of a single viewpoint perspective in favour of dizzying spaces designed to lift the eyes and the heart to God. Likewise, Hadid shatters both the classically formal, rule bound modernism of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier and the old rules of space: walls, ceilings, front and back, right angles. She then reassembles them as what she calls "a new fluid, kind of spatiality" of multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry, designed to embody the chaotic fluidity of modern life.

Zaha Hadid's architecture denies its own solidity. Short of creating actual forms that morph and change shape—still the stuff of science fiction—Hadid creates the solid apparatus to cause us to perceive space as though it morphs and changes as we pass through. Perhaps wisely, she talks little about theory. Unlike, say, Libeskind, she does not say that a shape symbolizes this or that. And she wears her cultural identity lightly. Noticeably, and uncharacteristically diplomatically, she has declined to comment on the situation in Iraq. Instead, Hadid lets her spaces speak for themselves. This does not mean that they are merely exercises in architectural form. Her obsession with shadow and ambiguity is deeply rooted in Islamic architectural tradition, whereas its fluid, open nature is a politically charged riposte to increasingly fortified and undemocratic modern urban landscapes.


Hadid's creative, novel designs that stress multiple points of perspective and geometric designs have earned her considerable fame and even controversy—almost as much as her forceful personality has. In fact, for a while she was more famous for the designs that were not built as for those that were. One critic called them brilliant, but unbuildable. Perhaps the most famous example of her uncompleted works was the Cardiff Bay Opera House. Yet even by that time, Hadid was recognized for her vision. Her work was featured in a 1988 exhibition on Deconstructivist architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. By the first years of the twenty-first century, however, she had risen to architectural superstar status. The Richard and Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, for example, was described by the New York Times as the most important new building in America since the Cold War.


Rem Koolhaas (1944–). Dutch architect, urbanist, and architectural theorist Rem Koolhaas established the OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) in London in 1980 along with Elia Zenghelis, Zoe Zenghelis, and Madelon Vriesendorp. Zaha Hadid soon joined OMA as well. Koolhaas is a professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, and in 2005 he cofounded Volume magazine.

A disappointment is the fact that she has not yet designed a major building in her adopted land of three decades, Britain. She attributes this to a lack of vision among the British. After all, Prince Charles, who maintains a lively interest in London's architecture, once described the Architectural Association where she was trained as the Frankenstein Academy. Hadid herself lamented to Caroline Frost in her BBC Four documentary, "there isn't a belief in the fantastic [in Britain]. They don't think it's possible."

The numerous awards Hadid has received attest to her recognition. The American Institute of Architects awarded her an honorary fellowship in 2000. In 2002 the British government conferred the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) medal upon her for services to architecture. In 2002 she received both the Austrian State Architecture Prize and the Tyrolian Architecture Award for the Bergisel Ski Jump. Her international stature was recognized when she became the 2004 laureate of the highly prestigious Pritzker Prize, established by the Hyatt Foundation—the first time in the twenty-six-year history of the award that it was given to a female architect. Her award citation read in part:

Her path to worldwide recognition has been a heroic struggle as she inexorably rose to the highest ranks of the profession. Clients, journalists, fellow professionals are mesmerized by her dynamic forms and strategies for achieving a truly distinctive approach to architecture and its settings. Each new project is more audacious than the last and the sources of her originality seem endless…. The full dimensions of Ms. Hadid's prodigious artistic outpouring of work is apparent not only in architecture, but in exhibition designs, stage sets, furniture, paintings, and drawings.

The following year, Hadid was chosen to design the offices and gallery for the Architecture Foundation in London. More recently in the United States, the Guggenheim Museum in New York dedicated an exhibition to her work in 2006, and in 2007 she was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the University of Virginia's School of Architecture.


Zaha Hadid is the most famous Middle Eastern architect at work in the early twenty-first century, and one of the most celebrated architects anywhere in the world. Her daring, innovative style already has set new standards in the field, and will continue to do so with a number of her designs awaiting completion in the coming few years.


Betsky, Aaron. Zaha Hadid: The Complete Buildings and Projects. New York: Rizzoli, 1998.

Frost, Caroline. "Zaha Hadid: Behind the Façade." BBC Four Documentaries. 25 June 2004. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour.

Gross, Terry. "Audio Interview with Zaha Hadid on National Public Radio's 'Fresh Air' show." 26 May 2004. Available from http://www.npr.org.

Zaha Hadid Architects's official Web site. Available from http://www.zaha-hadid.com.

                                         Michael R. Fischbach


It's a matter of giving life to a space which, in a whole variety of ways, offers people pleasure, fun, comfort and well-being…. The basic problem is really that of adding something to our lives.


It would be very interesting to design objects for everyday life, something where the ideas that are expressed can be launched into society. With products the form is almost the finished piece, but with architecture its not. I've also always been interested in combining architecture with a social agenda, and I really think you can invest and be inventive with hospitals and housing.