Zaha Hadid was an Iraqi-British architect who became the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the first woman to be awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in her own right.
Hadid was born in 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq. She attended boarding schools in England and Switzerland before continuing her education at the American University of Beirut where she studied mathematics. Her family left Iraq after the rise of dictator Saddam Hussein and the outbreak of war with Iran. In 1972, she moved to London to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. 5 years later, she graduated with both a degree and a special Diploma Prize.
Hadid worked for the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) until 1980, when she opened her own architectural design firm, Zaha Hadid Architects. Hadid’s concepts were initially far more in demand than her actual designs, and some of her ideas were published in architecture magazines or exhibited in galleries. In 1983, she won the top prize in the prestigious competition for the Hong Kong Peak Club, a leisure and recreational center but it was never constructed. Hadid gained international recognition for her design, and although many of her radical designs in the 1980’s and early 90’s made her well-known amongst her fellow architects. In 1993 – 1994, Hadid’s first major building was constructed – the Vitra Fire Stationa fire station which utilised many irregular angles and resembled a bird in flight. In 1994, her design for the Cardiff Bay Opera House was chosen for construction not once, but twice after Prince Charles expressed his preference for net-traditional architecture. Funding for the build was withdrawn, and the building was never realised. Despite this setback, Hadid was able to continue to build a solid reputation for design, and was able to see more projects through to completion including the Bergisel Ski Jump near Innsbruck, Austria and a a parking garage and transit station in suburban Strasbourg, France, that later won the Mies van der Rohe Award from the European Union.
In 2000, Hadid’s design for the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio began construction. It was the first American museum to be designed by a woman, and employs Hadid’s signature use of a dynamical, sculptural form of architecture. In 2006, Hadid was honoured with a retrospective of her work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 2010, Hadid’s design for the MAXXI museum of contemporary art and architecture in Rome earned her the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize for the best building by a British architect completed in the past year. In 2010, Hadid was commissioned to design a new building for the Central Bank of Iraq, making this her first project in the country of her birth.
Hadid continued to create innovative architectural designs, and won a second Stirling Prize in 2011 followed by the London Design Museum’s Design of the Year in 2014 award for the Heyday Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan. Hadid was the first woman to win the award, which recognises design in architecture, furniture, fashion, graphics, product and transportation. That same year, she was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest honour in architecture. She was the first woman, and the first Muslim to receive the award.
In addition to her work as an architect, Hadid branched out into furniture design, including fluid furniture installations within the Georgian Home House private members club in Marylebone. She also designed interiors, like the Mind Zone at the Millennium Dome in London and worked on set design, most notably for the 2014 Los Angeles Philharmonicproduction of Mozart’s Così fan tutte. Hadid taught architecture at a number of institutions, including: the Architectural Association; Harvard University – where she held the Kenzo Tange Professorship; the University of Chicago and Yale University.
Hadid received many awards for her work, including being appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). She was named an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Architects. She was on the board of trustees of The Architecture Foundation and received honorary degrees from a number of institutions. In 2016, Hadid died in a Miami hospital, her work will be continued by her architectural firm, which has grown to employ around 400 people.