The sudden death of Dame Zaha Hadid DBE in Miami on 31 March 2016 has shocked the architecture and design community within which she was a giant of modern times.
Hadid was widely regarded to be the greatest female architect in the world today. Born in Baghdad in 1950, she studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before starting her architectural journey in 1972 at the Architectural Association in London.
By 1979, she had established her own practice in London – Zaha Hadid Architects – garnering a reputation across the world for her ground-breaking theoretical works including The Peak in Hong Kong (1983), the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin (1986) and the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales (1994).
Working with office partner Patrik Schumacher, her interest was in the interface between architecture, landscape, and geology, which her practice integrates with the use of innovative technologies often resulting in unexpected and dynamic architectural forms.
Hadid’s first major built commission – and the one that earned her international recognition – was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil Am Rhein, Germany (1993). Subsequent notable projects including the MAXXI Italian National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome (2009), the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games (2011) and the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku (2013) illustrate her quest for complex, fluid space.
Buildings such as the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati (2003) and the Guangzhou Opera House in China (2010) have also been hailed as architecture that transforms our ideas of the future with visionary spatial concepts defined by advanced design, material and construction processes.
In 2004, Zaha Hadid became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize. She twice won the UK’s most prestigious architecture award, the RIBA Stirling Prize, firstly in 2010 for the MAXXI Museum in Rome, a building for the staging of 21st century art, the distillation of years of experimentation. She also won the honour the following year for the Evelyn Grace Academy, a unique design expertly inserted into an extremely tight site and which celebrates the school’s specialism throughout its fabric, with views of student participation at every turn.
Zaha Hadid’s other awards included the Republic of France’s Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Japan’s Praemium Imperiale and in 2012, Zaha Hadid was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She was made Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Fellow of the American Institute of Architecture.
She held various academic roles including the Kenzo Tange Chair at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; the Sullivan Chair at the University of Illinois, School of Architecture. Hadid also taught studios at Columbia University, Yale University and the University of Applied Arts in Vienna.
Zaha Hadid was recently awarded the RIBA’s 2016 Royal Gold Medal, becoming the first woman to be awarded the prestigious honour in her own right.
Although a less prominent part of her extensive portfolio of work, product design was also an important aspect to her creativity, having worked with manufacturers around the world on products that each embraced her highly distinctive visual style, including furniture for B&B Italia, taps for Triflow, and shoes for Lacoste among many other projects.
However, it is for the unmistakable style of architecture that Hadid will be best remembered, not just for the bold, impossibly flowing aesthetic of her buildings, but also as someone with the inspiration, vision and determination to turn these almost dream-like spaces into reality.