Born in Baghdad, Iraq, October 31, 1950; daughter of a politician/businessman. Education: Studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut; Architectural Association School (London), Diploma Prize, 1977.
Graduated from the Architectural Association School, 1977; won design competition for Hong Kong's Peak Club, 1983; completed Vitra Fire Station in Germany, 1993; won design competition for Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales, 1994; designed Bergisel Ski-Jump in Innsbruck, Austria, 1999; completed Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, 2003; two designs chosen for projects in London, 2005.
Awards: Mies van der Rohe Award for contemporary architecture from the European Union, 2003; Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2004.
Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win architecture's highest award, spent years on her profession's avant-garde, better known for her wild designs than for built projects. That reputation grew in the 1990s due to a widely publicized rejection in her adopted home country, Great Britain, and her provocative personality. Her professional breakthrough came in 2003 with the successful construction of her challenging design for a museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. The next year, she won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, and several more of her provocative designs were on their way to being realized by early 2005.
Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1950, at a time when the city was considered cosmopolitan and tolerant. Her father embodied that vision: an industrialist who had studied at the London School of Economics, he was the head of the progressive National Democratic Party, which was dedicated to making Iraq secular and more democratic. Her parents sent her to a Catholic school where students spoke French, and Muslim and Jewish students were welcome. "There was never a question that I would be a professional," she told Newsweek's Cathleen McGuigan. The difference between the Baghdad of her childhood and its years of dictatorship, followed by unrest, pains her; interviewers have described her as struggling to talk about Iraq.
After studying mathematics at the American University in Beirut, Hadid came to London in 1972. She has been based there ever since and is now a British citizen. She studied at the Architectural Association, which was a home for wildly experimental design in the 1970s and 1980s. For her graduation project, called Malevich's Tectonik, she designed a hotel to stand atop the Hungerford Bridge over England's River Thames. After she graduated in 1977, she went to work for one of her teachers, the radical architect Rem Koolhaas.
In 1982 and 1983, she designed a proposed mountainside club, the Peak Club in Hong Kong, and won the design competition. "Her amazing design, a 'horizontal skyscraper,' called for four huge beams to be rammed into a mountainside, yet it looked as sleek as a UFO," wrote McGuigan in Newsweek. The design was never built, though it appeared in a show at New York's Museum of Modern Art.
For years afterward, Hadid's designs and her paintings of them challenged other architects, exciting some and alienating others. She was linked with architecture's radical "deconstruction" movement. "The images of Hadid's buildings became staples of the tide of publications about deconstruction which dominated architectural debate in the late 1980s," Edwin Heathcote wrote in the Financial Times. "Her seductive paintings of fragmented cityscapes became an antidote to the self-referential pomposity of postmodernism and the crushing banality of British development. But Hadid, despite her influence, was often dismissed as a dreamer, whose work was unrealizable and impractical."
Her next big success came in 1993, when she completed what became her first signature project, the Vitra Fire Station for the Vitra Furniture Company in Weil am Rhein, Germany. The angular building is now a museum. Vitra later brought her back to the town for an exhibition to mark the city's garden festival in 1999.
It appeared that Hadid had scored a triumph in 1994 when her design was chosen for the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales. It "called for an inviting glass courtyard around an auditorium within," the Economist explained. "It looked on paper angular and explosive—to the casual glance aggressive even. Critics derided it for disregarding the city and its traditions." The design was both inviting to the passer-by and a tribute to opera's refinement, the article said, but local opinion ran against it, and it was rejected. The money was spent on a stadium instead. Hadid still points to the debacle as an example of the disrespect she has suffered in her career. "When I was in Cardiff they didn't talk to me. Literally. They looked at me sideways, or behind me. Not all of them, but some quite specific people." she told Building Design's Zoe Blackler. Hadid's years of struggle to see her designs realized have left her feeling that she faced more obstacles than other architects. "People were patronizing towards me all the time. They didn't know how to behave with me," she told Blackler. "I don't know whether people responded to me in a strange way because they just thought I was one of those eccentric people, or they thought I was a foreigner or behaved funny or I'm a woman."
The other side of that story is that some people believe she is temperamental and difficult. One example of this opinion is Mickey O'Connor, writing in Architecture about her appearance at the American Institute of Architects' 2000 convention. He found her "strident" and full of "chutzpah," dismissed as griping her complaints in her keynote speech about the obstacles she had faced, and he recounted her clashes with other members of a panel on American architecture. In confrontational, even crass language, she challenged American architects to be bolder, not be intimidated by zoning laws, and not to defer so much to their clients.
"Beloved by journalists and members of her own profession for what is frequently described as her diva presence, Ms. Hadid has only recently found the clients willing to look beyond her reputation for being difficult," New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp wrote in 2004. The reference to her as a diva, a term originally used for female opera stars, can cut both ways. Her critics use it to suggest arrogance, while her admirers adopt it to praise her personal style.
"She cuts a dramatic, voluptuous figure in her black outfits," wrote Mark Irving in the Financial Times, "high heels (sometimes these are glass), jewelry (expensive), above which large heavily lidded eyes and purple-painted lips that always seem to be set in a slightly unsatisfied pout, turn on you like the guns of a well-armored battleship." Hadid herself swats away the diva label as sexism. Visitors to a 2003 retrospective of her work in Vienna, Austria, received free T-shirts at the door that read, "Would they call me a diva if I were a guy?," according to the New York Times' Muschamp.
Hadid's career really began to take a turn when two of her designs were chosen for construction in 1998 and 1999: the new Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati and the Bergisel Ski-Jump on Bergisel Mountain in Innsbruck, Austria. The ski-jump, wrote Richard Lacayo of Time, "signs the sky with a swooping slalom."
The Center for Contemporary Art, Hadid's first building in the United States, opened in 2003. "[It is] the most important American building to be completed since the end of the cold war," raved Muschamp in the New York Times. "Like Hadid herself, the building links traditional cosmopolitan values with the phenomenon of globalization."
Other writers joined in the praise. McGuigan of Newsweek described it this way: "The sidewalk literally continues right into the glassed-in first story, with its concrete floor—the 'urban carpet,' she calls it—inviting passersby to come in and hang out. Then, around the corner, the pavement sweeps up into a curve that ingeniously becomes the building's back wall." Time's Lacayo commented, "This is a building that does not so much sit on its street corner as continuously arrive there."
Hadid explained that variety and surprise are important to her designs. "People don't want to be in the kind of space that they inhabit every day," she told Lacayo in Time. He agreed: "[Hadid] treats right angles as something best left to squares." According to Muschamp of the New York Times, Hadid's interest in "movement, curvature, porosity, [and] extreme horizontal elongation" have made her a major influence on other architects.
Her sudden breakthrough is partially a result of trends catching up to her, Hadid and critics agree. "In the past few years, fantastic visions have become more familiar," she told Lacayo of Time. In other words, radical, challenging architectural designs, such as the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and Daniel Libeskind's plans for the former site of the World Trade Center in New York City have become accepted and led the way for other ultra-creative designs, including hers. Critics sympathetic to her work have also noted that it has become somewhat less jarring and confrontational than her early work.
A year after the Rosenthal Center opened, Hadid won the Pritzker Prize, architecture's highest honor. "Although her body of work is relatively small, she has achieved great acclaim and her energy and ideas show even greater promise for the future," said Thomas J. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, which established the prize, in the press release that announced the award.
Lord Rothschild, chairman of the jury that awards the prize, praised Hadid's "commitment to modernism" and said in the press release that her "always inventive" designs had "shifted the geometry of buildings." She received the award on May 31, 2004, at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Since she is the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, interviewers have asked Hadid, even more often, what it is like to be a female architect. "I think it shows that you can actually break through the glass ceiling," she told Heathcote in the Financial Times. "I don't want to be seen as a woman architect," she added, but she says she is happy if her success helps other women believe they can achieve. "Women would actually come up to me, particularly in New York, in restaurants, to congratulate me. When I lecture all over the world, women come up to me all the time to tell me how encouraged they are."
At the time she won the award, Hadid and the staff of nearly 50 at her London office were working on several new commissions either in construction or design development. They included the BMW Central Building in Leipzig, Germany; the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany; Maxxi, the National Center for Contemporary Arts in Rome, Italy; a station for high-speed trains in Naples, Italy; a plan for a Science Hub, a huge "science city" development in Singapore; a bridge in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates; and the Price Tower Arts Center addition in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, an addition to a tower designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
As 2005 began, Hadid enjoyed another belated professional triumph. She has never seen one of her designs built in England, her adopted home country, except for temporary pavilions and a temporary exhibit at London's Millennium Dome. But in January of 2005, Britain's Architecture Foundation chose Hadid's design for its new exhibition center in London, which will be one of the first new cultural buildings in central London in decades.
She still had not shaken controversy. Robert Booth, in an editorial in Building Design, suggested that "star" architects such as Hadid benefit from a favoritism in competitions that values successful marketing more than pure architectural talent. "Hadid's building hardly stands out as far and away the most fascinating architecture in the context of the competition," he wrote. "However, its presence will bring kudos to the site."
A few weeks later, though, Hadid won a second British competition. Her design was chosen for the Olympic Aquatics Centre, the first sports venue London will build in hopes of attracting the Olympic Games in 2012. The British used to be reluctant to invest in new ideas, she told the Financial Times' Heathcote a few months earlier. "[S]omething has changed radically here recently. There is no resistance to the new any more. Eventually this will filter through into building. England being part of Europe is the most positive thing that could have happened."
Architecture, June 2000, p. 31.
Building Design, January 21, 2005, p. 11; February 4, 2005, p. 8.
Economist, June 19, 1999, p. 85; March 27, 2004, p. 56.
European Report, May 24, 2003, p. 479.
Financial Times, June 29, 2002, p. 7; May 25, 2004, p. 13.
Newsweek, May 19, 2003, p. 78.
New York Times, June 8, 2003; March 22, 2004; January 13, 2005, p. E3.
Time, April 5, 1999, p. 74; June 23, 2003.
"On-line Media Kit," Pritzker Prize, http://www.pritzkerprize.com/2004/mediakit.htm (February 20, 2005).
"Profile," Zaha Hadid Architects, http://www.zahahadid.com/profile.html (February 20, 2005).
"Zaha Hadid chosen to design first Olympic venue," Greater London Authority, http://www.london.gov.uk/view_press_release.jsp?releaseid=4824 (February 20, 2005).
"Zaha M. Hadid," Archinform, http://www.archinform.net/arch/1186.htm?ID=fQImEVKB9vbe4Qd2 (February 20, 2005).
The designs of Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid (born 1950) are daring and visionary experiments with space and with the relationships of buildings to their urban surroundings.
Often named as the most prominent contemporary female architect, or singled out for notice because of her Iraqi Arab background, Hadid is significant beyond these accidents of birth for her intellectual toughness, her refusal to compromise on her ideas even when very few of them were being realized in concrete and steel. For many years, her designs filled the pages of architecture periodicals but were dismissed as impractical or as too radical, and Hadid even thought about giving up architecture after she suffered a major rejection in her adopted homeland of Britain in 1995. Her star began to rise internationally when her design for Cincinnati, Ohio's new Center for Contemporary Art was selected and built, earning worldwide acclaim. By the mid-2000s Hadid employed nearly 150 people in her London office and was working hard to keep up with new commissions that were coming in, offering her a chance to help reshape the world architectural landscape.
Toured Sumerian Ruins
Born in Baghdad, Iraq, on October 31, 1950, Zaha M. Hadid grew up in a well-educated Islamic family oriented toward Western multiculturalism. Her father was an executive and, for a time, the leader of a liberal Iraqi political party. The drawing ability that would later attract attention in art museums was first absorbed from her mother. Hadid's interest in architecture had roots in a trip her family took to the ancient Sumer region in southern Iraq, the site of one of the world's oldest civilizations, when she was a teenager. "My father took us to see the Sumerian cities," she told Jonathan Glancey of London's Guardian newspaper. "Then we went by boat, and then on a smaller one made of reeds, to visit villages in the marshes. The beauty of the landscape—where sand, water, reeds, birds, buildings, and people all somehow flowed together—has never left me. I'm trying to discover—invent, I suppose—an architecture, and forms of urban planning, that do something of the same thing in a contemporary way."
Hadid attended a Catholic school where French was spoken and nuns served as instructors, but which was religiously diverse. As Hadid told Newsweek's Cathleen McGuigan, "the Muslim and Jewish girls could go out to play when the other girls went to chapel." Hadid's family expected her to pursue a professional career, and she studied math at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Her family left Iraq after the rise of dictator Saddam Hussein and the outbreak of war with neighboring Iran, but she has retained ties to both Iraq and Lebanon and has at times had difficulty talking to interviewers about the ongoing violence in her home region.
In 1972 Hadid moved to London (later becoming a British citizen) and enrolled at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. She has never married nor had children. "If [architecture] doesn't kill you, then you're no good," she explained to Glancey. "I mean, really—you have to go at it full time. You can't afford to dip in and out." By 1977 Hadid had received her degree, along with a special Diploma Prize, and she began working for a London firm, the Office of Metropolitan Architecture, founded by one of her key teachers, the similarly daring Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. One of her student projects was a design for a hotel built atop the span of London's Hungerford Bridge.
Hadid opened an office of her own in 1980, but at first her ideas were more in demand than her actual designs. Hadid taught courses at the Architectural Association and filled notebooks with one-of-a-kind ideas, some of which were published in architecture magazines or exhibited in galleries. Hadid began to enter design competitions, some of them research-oriented and others for buildings intended for construction. Her design for The Peak, a sports club jutting out horizontally from one of the mountain slopes that surround the city of Hong Kong, won the top prize in the institution's competition, but the building was never constructed. Hadid's competition entries in the 1980s and early 1990s were little known to the public at large but stirred up interest among her fellow architects, and even after she became famous, her website continued to list her competition prizes before focusing on her actual building projects.
Designed Fire Station
After several small projects, including one for the interior of the Moonsoon Restaurant in Sapporo, Japan, Hadid's first major building was constructed in 1993 and 1994: it was a small fire station, with numerous irregular angles (Hadid has been widely quoted as saying that since there are 360 degrees, she sees no reason to restrict herself to just one), on the grounds of the Vitra Furniture Company in Weil am Rhein, Germany. In 1994 Hadid seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough: her design for the new Cardiff Bay Opera House in Britain's Wales region was selected for construction. It was to be an unorthodox building, with sharp angles and interior spaces that ran into and through one another rather than falling neatly into separate areas, but it was also planned to be inviting to the user, with an auditorium surrounded by glassed-in spaces that gave views of nearby Cardiff Bay.
With Hadid an unknown quantity and Britain's Prince Charles in the midst of a widely publicized campaign in favor of neo-traditional architecture in Britain, the design ran into trouble almost immediately. The design competition was reopened, and Hadid's design was once again named the winner, but the project's funder, Britain's National Lottery, eventually withdrew its commitment. Hadid was devastated. "It was such a depressing time," she recalled to Rowan Moore of the London Evening Standard. "I didn't look very depressed maybe but it was really dire. I made a conscious decision not to stop, but it could have gone the other way."
At the same time, Hadid began to amass a solid core of admirers among her staff, among architecture experts, and among ordinary observers. At the same time the Cardiff project was going down in flames, Hadid designed a temporary pavilion to house an exhibit for the architecture magazine Blueprint at a builders' convention. She had to present the structure, described by Moore as "a thing of flying steel," to a gathering of the magazine's advertisers, most of whom greeted it initially with silence. But an executive from a firm that made portable toilets stood up and said "I think it's bloody marvelous" (according to Moore), and began applauding. The other advertisers joined in, and Hadid gained a moment in the building-trade spotlight.
As clients became more and more fascinated with Hadid's plans, some of the plans advanced from theory to reality. She designed the unique Bergisel Ski Jump on a mountain near Innsbruck, Austria, and a parking garage and transit station in suburban Strasbourg, France, that later won the Mies van der Rohe Award from the European Union. In 1998 came the biggest commission yet: the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, popularly known as the Contemporary Arts Center.
Sidewalk Incorporated into Structure
The new building had to fit the confines of a narrow street corner lot in downtown Cincinnati, but Hadid made a virtue of necessity by linking the museum's internal and external environments: the outdoor sidewalk continued into the building, where it propelled visitors toward a sleek black central staircase that melded dramatically into the structure's back wall. As viewers ascended the staircase they looked into galleries that completely overturned the usual neutral conception of museum display spaces—the galleries had different shapes and sizes, and each one seemed to present something new to those approaching. "Not many people voluntarily walk up six stories anywhere," noted Joseph Giovannini of Art in America, "but Hadid's space so intrigues visitors that few think of bypassing the experience by hitching a ride on the elevator: they sense they would miss chapters." A bonus in Hadid's design was its economy: the building used only common materials, and construction costs came in at a reasonable $230 per square foot.
Hadid's creative fulfillment of a plum commission raised her international profile considerably. Where Hadid had sometimes been considered abrasive and difficult to work with, now she was hailed as a pioneer who had stuck to her vision even while facing difficult obstacles. At times, Hadid ascribed the resistance her ideas encountered to her gender and ethnicity. She also conceded that her work and personality were challenging. "I am eccentric, I admit it," she told Moore, "but I am not a nutcase."
Hadid's next major American commission came from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, site of the Price Tower designed by legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Hadid was hired to design a museum adjoining the Wright building—a choice that made sense, for Hadid was sometimes compared to Wright for her futuristic designs and her visionary rethinking of the relationships between humans and buildings. In 2006 it was one of Wright's most famous structures, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, that played host to a major retrospective of Hadid's work.
Indeed, the links between building and environment, and between building and user, loomed larger in Hadid's thinking as her fame grew and commissions poured into her office. "I started out trying to create buildings that would sparkle like isolated jewels; now I want them to connect, to form a new kind of landscape, to flow together with contemporary cities and the lives of their peoples," she told Glancey. A new factory she designed for German automa-ker BMW was laid out in such a way that workers and management personnel crossed paths more frequently.
In 2004 Hadid was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the profession's highest honor. She was the first woman to receive the award. In the mid-2000s she finally received a full-scale commission in the British Isles, for a cancer-care building called Maggie's Centre in Fife, Scotland. Highly visible Hadid buildings planned or underway included a bridge in the Persian Gulf state of Abu Dhabi, a movie theater complex in Barcelona, Spain, and several new museums. Greater international exposure seemed assured in a project waiting further down the line: the aquatics building for the 2012 Summer Olympics to be held in London. And she seemed to be outdoing herself with each successive design. "Co-curator Monica Montagut quotes Hadid's statement that 'I still believe in the impossible,'" noted Raymund Ryan in his Architectural Review commentary of Hadid's Guggenheim exhibition. "Judging from this display in New York City, there are few limits to what Hadid might do next."
Newsmakers, Issue 3, Thomson Gale, 2005.
Architectural Review, April 2005; July 2006.
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Evening Standard (London, England), August 25, 2006.
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Time, April 5, 1999.
On-line Media Kit, Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2004, http://www.pritzkerprize.com/2004/mediakit.htm (October 20, 2006).
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"Zaha M. Hadid," archINFORM, http://www.archinform.net (October 20, 2006).
Hadid et al. (2001);
Jencks (2002); Mr (1995);
Mönninger et al. (2000);
Schumacher & Fontana-Giusti (eds.) (2004)