June 19, 2016

Dame Zaha Hadid 1950-2016

Acclaimed for bringing femininity to Modernism

  • Architect Dame Zaha Hadid

Architecture is a man’s world. But Dame Zaha Hadid shaped that world into her own. The Baghdad-born British citizen brought to life futuristic, soaring structures that reshaped skylines and sparked imaginations around the world. Her award-winning architecture was cutting edge and groundbreaking—her often gravity-defying designs and sensuous silhouettes redefining architecture for the modern age.

The iconic designer passed away suddenly on March 31, suffering a heart attack while being treated for bronchitis in Miami. She was 65 years old. Widely considered the greatest female architect in world today, Hadid arrived in 1972 at the Architectural Association in London, a center for experimental design. Her teachers “ignited my ambition,” she would recall, and “taught me to trust even my strangest intuitions.” In 1979 she established Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA). She soon developed several avant garde theoretical works: The Peak in Hong Kong (1983), Kurfürstendamm in Berlin (1986) and the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales (1994), all unrealized at the time because of concrete construction technology’s inability to produce the shapes she designed.

Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany

Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany. Photo Christian Richters.

Hadid’s first major built commission, the Vitra (a furniture company) Fire Station in Weil Am Rhein, Germany (1993), affirmed her international recognition with its winged composition, all sharp angles and protrusions. Subsequent notable projects include the MAXXI: Italian National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome (2009), Guangzhou Opera House in China (2010), and the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku (2013).

Rosenthal Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati

Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, Cincinnati. Photo Roland Halbe.

Her buildings have been hailed as “architecture that transforms our ideas of the future with visionary spatial concepts defined by advanced design, material and construction processes.” When her Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati (2003), a relatively modest project, opened, then architecture critic for The New York Times Herbert Muschamp, declared it “the most important American building to be completed since the end of the Cold War.” The center can, he said, “be experienced as an exercise in heightening the mind-body connection.”

London Aquatics Centre

London Aquatics Centre. Photo Hufton+Crow.

Perhaps her most publicized design and one that quite literally displays her penchant for complex, fluid spaces is the striking London Aquatics Centre (2011) in Stratford, which resembles a wave and features two 50-metre pools and a diving pool. It opened to the public in 2014 after being used for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. “I love the London Aquatics Centre because it’s near where I live,” she said at the time.

In 2012, I was lucky enough to attend the Summer Olympic Games in London and witness several swimming and diving events—all inside Hadid’s marvelous, wave-like structure. Admittedly, I was as mesmerized by the building’s breath-taking silhouette as I was by the world-record-setting athletes competing in front of me! The video below is a wonderful tribute produced by Dezeen that includes some of the world’s greatest architects speaking about her brilliance.

You can also see Zaha receiving her Pritzker Architecture Prize on the organization’s website.

Hadid is known not only for her designs of typically outsized imagination, but also as the first woman to win many architecture prizes—including the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Nobel of architecture, in 2004. She twice won the UK’s most prestigious architecture award, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize. In 2012, Hadid was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.  Just a few months ago, she was awarded the RIBA’s 2016 Royal Gold Medal, the first woman to be awarded the prestigious honor in her own right.

Maison et Objet event

Elastika, a site-specific installation by Hadid for the atrium of the 1921 Moore building, where the 2016 M&O Americas awards ceremony was held.

Dame Hadid was also honored in a multitude of ways outside of the formal design prizes. She was the Designer of the Year in 2008 at Maison et Objet (M&O) Paris, and the first-ever Design Miami/ Designer of the Year 2005, tapped by Craig Robins, developer of the Miami Design District. Robins commissioned a site-specific installation by Hadid, Elastika, for the atrium of the 1921 Moore building, where the 2016 M&O Americas awards show took place.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku. Photo by Hufton+Crow.

Patrik Schumacher, Hadid’s partner at ZHA, played an instrumental and collaborative role in her career. He coined the term parametricism to encompass the computer-based approach that helped the firm’s most extravagant concepts become reality. Hadid called what resulted “an organic language of architecture, based on these new tools, which allow us to integrate highly complex forms into a fluid and seamless whole.”

Sackler Gallery London

Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London. Photo by Luke Hayes.

A few days after her death, ZHA published a statement thanking the public for the outpouring of condolences and their intention to keep moving forward: “Zaha trusted everyone to achieve the potential she saw in them, to never stop questioning, to never stop imagining, to realise the fantastic. Zaha is in the DNA of Zaha Hadid Architects. She continues to drive and inspire us every day, and we work on as Zaha taught us—with curiosity, integrity, passion and determination. With 36 projects in 21 countries under construction or in detailed design development, everyone at Zaha Hadid Architects is committed to continuing this progress.”

In celebration of the four-decade career of the cutting-edge designer, Fondazione Berengo will host an exhibition of her paintings, drawings, and models at the 16th century Palazzo Franchetti in Venice through November 27, coinciding with the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. The exhibition will display the full range of Hadid’s design work—built projects, those under construction, and early, unrealized work.

Dame Zaha Hadid wearing Royal Gold Medal

Zaha Hadid wearing the Royal Gold Medal. Copyright Sophie Mutevelian.

In response to Hadid’s sudden, unexpected death, many in the architecture community have complimented her extraordinary talent, prodigious artistic outpouring, and gravity-defying outlook on life and career. Here’s a small sampling of the many kind words:

“Zaha represented the highest aspirations of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. She combined her vision and intellect with a force of personality that left no room for complacency. She made a real difference.” — Tom Pritzker, Chairman of the Hyatt Foundation which sponsors architecture’s Pritzker Prize

“The world of culture has lost a standard-bearer for the art of architecture. Zaha Hadid fought prejudice all her life with great success. And this, in addition to her genius as an architect, will secure her legacy for all time.”  — Lord Peter Palumbo, the former Chair of the Jury of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

“Dame Zaha Hadid was an inspirational woman, and the kind of architect one can only dream of being. Visionary and highly experimental, her legacy, despite her young age, is formidable. She leaves behind a body of work—from buildings to furniture, footwear, and cars—that delight and astound people all around the world. The world of architecture has lost a star today.” —Jane Duncan, RIBA president

“So sad to hear of death of Zaha Hadid, she was an inspiration and her legacy lives on in wonderful buildings in Stratford and around the world.” —London’s former mayor Boris Johnson on Twitter

“She was bigger than life, a force of nature. She was a pioneer.”— Amale Andraos, Dean of Columbia University’s architecture school

A pioneer, indeed! And one whose voice, vision, and passion for design will be greatly missed. Her influence, imagination, and projects will continue to inspire the architecture community and skylines around the globe. For that, we are thankful.

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