The life and career of Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid

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Introduction

Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid was hands down the most famous female architect in the world, and for good reason. Her work changed the face of modern architecture and revolutionized the way we build. Many architects today owe the fact that they are practicing architecture to the inspiration that was Zaha Hadid.

Here is a look at her amazing life and career…

Quick Facts:

  • Born: Zaha Mohammad Hadid, 31 October 1950, Baghdad, Iraq

  • Died: 31 March 2016 (65 years old), Miami, Florida, United States

  • Nationality: Iraqi, British

  • Occupation: Architect

  • Parent(s): Mohammed Hadid, Wajeeha Sabonji

  • Practice: Zara Hadid Architects

  • Website: www.zaha-hadid.com

Zaha Hadid was arguably the best female architect in the world by the time of her death. Called “The Queen of the Curve”, she revolutionized modern architecture by designing some of the most iconic buildings such as the Guangzhou Opera House in China and the MAXXI Museum in Rome.

Her work earned her some of the most prestigious awards in architecture, including the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Zaha was born on 31 October 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq, to Mohammed Hadid and Wajeeha Sabonji. She then moved to London in 1972 to study architecture, and became a citizen of the United Kingdom after staying there for several years.

At the time of her death, Hadid had amassed a lot of wealth. According to the Architect’s journal, she had accumulated a fortune of over 70 million pounds.

Family

Zaha was born to an influential, wealthy upper-class Sunni Muslim Arab family which was oriented towards Western multiculturalism.

Her father, Mohammed Hadid was an Iraqi economist and cabinet minister while her mother, Wajeeha Sabonji was an artist from Mosul. She also had two brothers, Fulath Hadid, a writer and an expert on Arab affairs, and Haithem Hadid.

Early life

Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq. However, she lived abroad through most of her childhood, attending Catholic boarding schools in Switzerland and England which she described as religiously diverse, before studying mathematics at the American University of Beirut.  

Her father, Mohammed Hadid, was a politician who co-founded the left-liberal al-Ahali group in 1932. Due to her father’s involvement in politics, she used to make trips to the ancient Sumerian cities in southern Iraq, which she once mentioned in an interview, sparked her interest in architecture.

The family however had to leave Iraq because of the Iranian war and the Saddam Hussein conflicts.

Education

During her early schooling, Zaha Hadid attended Catholic boarding schools in Switzerland and England, which she described as progressive as they included French, Muslim and Jewish students, even once stating that the Jewish and Muslim students were allowed to go play when the Christian students were attending mass.

Zaha Hadid’s family expected her to pursue a professional career. Most people would assume that she always considered studying architecture from the beginning. She however began her secondary education career at the American University of Beirut where she studied Mathematics, later changing her major to architecture.

She then moved to London in 1972 to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, where she studied under renowned architects Elia Zenghelis, who described her as the best pupil he had ever taught and the inventor of the 89 degrees, and Rem Koolhas, who described her as “a planet in her own orbit”.

Architecture career

Zaha Hadid graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in 1977. She then went and worked for her former professors Rem Koolhas and Elia Zenghelis, at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

While working under Koolhas, Hadid met with Peter Rice, an architectural engineer, who mentored her by giving her support and encouragement during the early stages of her career. She worked under Koolhas and Zenghelis for three years, becoming a naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom in the same period.

In 1980, Zaha Hadid left the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, to start her own architectural firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, in London. Initially, her ideas were at a higher demand than her actual designs, some even describing her as a paper architect. In the early 1980s, architectural audiences were introduced to Zaha Hadid’s professional and intricately detailed sketches depicting new modern architecture styles.

Her first major architectural victory, was the design for the Hong Kong Peak Club in 1983. Although she won the competition and the top prize, her design was never realized. Her ideas were exemplary and out of this world, with most of them being published in architectural magazines and displayed in galleries during exhibitions.

She took part in many architectural competitions for both conceptualized architectural designs and for structures which were to be built. She won most of the competitions, creating a reputation for herself through her futuristic designs which depicts multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry.

In 1988, she was among the seven architects chosen to participate in an architectural exhibition known as Deconstructivsm in Architecture, which took place at the New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition, which was curated by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, greatly enhanced her reputation in the international market.

By the early 1990s, Zara Hadid’s reputation had begun to grow among her fellow architects, stirring up interest among them especially since she was entering many design competitions and winning a majority of them. Her experimental styles and her innovative designs started gaining international recognition and she was well on her way to establishing herself a world renowned architect.

In 1994, she competed in an architectural design competition for the Opera house in Cardiff. Her design was selected by the jury as the winning entry of the international competition. However, the joy was short-lived since Hadid’s design for the opera house in Cardiff, known as the “Millennium project” was cancelled by the Welsh Government.

Zaha’s design for the opera house, which was set to become a landmark in Wales, was cancelled on 22 December 1995, even after winning the competition for its design twice. This was after the project’s funder, Britain’s National Lottery, withdrew its commitment from her designs, describing them as too avant garde, giving the commission to a less ambitious architect.

The decision left Zara Hadid devastated since it would have been her breakthrough then. It was to be an idiosyncratic building, whose interior spaces would have sharp angles that ran into and through each other, unlike conventional buildings. It was planned to be inviting with views of the Cardiff Bay. The decision almost made her quit her career, but she persevered, a decision she did not regret.

The rejection of Hadid’s design caused an uproar among many architects, both local and international. The rejection really was a blessing in disguise since she amassed a solid core of admirers among the people working under her, fellow architects and ordinary observers. This helped to increase her popularity and reputation among fellow architects, both locally and internationally.

As Zaha Hadid’s reputation grew, more and more of her plans and designs advanced from just being ideas and sketches to reality.

Early Projects

In her fourth year at the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AASA), her student project was a painting of a hotel in the form of a bridge, which was engaged with the early Russian avant-garde inspired by the works of Kasimir Malevich, a Russian suprematist artist. This clearly expressed her interest in the concept of fragmentation and deconstructing of ideas.

Vitra Fire Station (1991-1993)

Zaha Hadid’s first major building was constructed between 1993 and 1994. It was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany. The building was to be a small fire station for Vitra, which was a Swiss furniture farm. The building was made of glass and raw concrete and had numerous irregular angles, clearly showcasing her radical design. The building was the launching pad to her architectural career.

The Contemporary Arts Centre, Cincinnati (1997-2000)

The next project on Zaha’s portfolio was the Contemporary Arts Center, in Cincinnati, the United States, which took place between 1997 and 2000. She competed against her professor Rem Koolhas, among other well-known architects, and won the rights to design the arts centre. This was her first project in the United States.

She was also the first woman to design an art museum in the United States. This was her first of many major successes. The project gained her two awards; the Royal Institute of British Architects Award in 2004 and the American Architecture Award the following year.

Bergisel Ski Jump (1999-2002)

Her next project was the Bergisel Ski Jump, in Innsbruck Austria, which was constructed between 1999 and 2002. The project was to be an improvement of an older structure which was constructed in 1926, and used in the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. Hadid faced a lot of criticism from traditionalists who wanted the older structure to be preserved.

The new structure was however better than the older one since apart from the ski jump, the new building was to contain a café having 150 seats, providing a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. The structure stands 48 metres high.

Phaeno Science Center (2000-2005)

In 2000, Zaha Hadid participated in an international competition for the design of the Phaeno Science Center, which was to be constructed in Wolfsburg, Germany. This was a more ambitious project for Hadid, since the museum was to be larger than the one she designed for the Contemporary Arts Centre. The design of the building was also not as reserved as the arts centre in Cincinnati.

The Phaeno Science centre was constructed to resemble a gigantic ship. Every element of the structure is avant-garde, from its sloping walls, its windows which are scattered in an asymmetric fashion, with a roof made of exposed steel framework. The building itself gives the illusion of being inside a ship. The construction of the building was completed in 2005.

Ordrupgaard Museum extension (2001-2005)

In 2001, Zaha Hadid designed the extension of the Ordrupgaard Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. The extension was designed to be in harmony with its surrounding, redefining the relationships between buildings and gardens allowing visitors an unfragmented between the construction route,  collections and gardens in a smooth and continuous interaction between the different elements of the place.

BMW Administration Building (2001-2005)

In 2002, Zaha Hadid participated in a competition for the design of a new administration building for BMW, in Leipzig, Germany. The design of the building concentrated on the concept of joining three units of the BMW plant; the fabrication of raw auto bodies, the paint shop and the final assembly building.

Hadid’s central building has received numerous architectural awards for its innovative design. The building received the RIBA European Award in 2006. It was also on the shortlist for the Stirling prize.

Major Projects

Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion (2005-2008)

One of the major projects of Zaha Hadid was the designing and building of the Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion. This took place between 2005 and 2008.  The bridge is 85 metres long and connected an Island on the Ebro River to the mainland.  The structure was designed to be both a bridge and an exhibition hall for the Expo 2008, whose main theme was water and sustainable development.

Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (1997-2010)

Another major project Zaha Hadid constructed was the Sheikh Zayed Bridge, which was to connect the Island of Abu Dhabi to the mainland of Abu Dhabi and the international airport. The ambitious structure comprises several arching waves of reinforced concrete, which support a four lane highway.

The main bridge arch rises to a height of 60 metres above water level, with the road surface reaching a height of 20 metres above water level. The bridge is also illuminated with colored lights along the bridge. The design and construction of the bridge took place between 1997 and 2010.

National Museum of Arts of the 21st Century (MAXXI), Rome, Italy (1998-2010)

Another iconic project by Zara Hadid was the design and construction of the National Museum of Arts of the 21st Century, or MAXXI for short, which took place between 1998 and 2010. The design by Zaha Hadid is woven into the city’s fabric with an architectural arrangement based on the idea of an urban campus. Hadid described the building “not an object-container, but rather a campus for art”.

In the building’s interior, the main elements of the design are discernible; from the intricate curvature of the walls, the suspension of stairs and the natural light, clearly expressing Zara Hadid’s intention: ‘a new fluid kind of spatiality of multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry, designed to embody the chaotic fluidity of modern life’.

Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou China (2003-2010)

 In 2002, Zara Hadid took part in an international competition for the design of the Guangzhou Opera House and won. This was her first project in China. The building was the realization of Zaha Hadid’s exploration of contextual urban relationship, integrating it with the cultural traditions of Guangzhou.

The design of the building aimed at mimicking the natural landscape, engaging the principles of geology, erosion and topography especially what is experienced in the transformation of river valleys through erosion. The open access to the Pearl River and its dock areas creates a new dialogue with the emerging town. The construction of the Guangzhou Opera House was from 2003 to 2010.

Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Scotland (2004-2011)

From 2004 to 2011, Zaha Hadid designed and constructed the Riverside museum in Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow is located where the Kelvin joins the Clyde. The design of the building aimed to mimic the dynamic relationship of Glasgow with the ship-building, seafaring and industrial legacy of the river Clyde, where the museum is the voice of both.

London Aquatics Centre, London, England

The London Olympics Aquatics Centre was designed and constructed by Zaha Hadid between 2005 and 2011. The concept for the design of the building was inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment in sympathy with the river landscape of the Olympic Park.

The Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan (2008-2012)

The Broad Art Museum located in East Lansing, Michigan, was Zaha Hadid’s second project in the United States. The building is located at the northern edge of the Michigan State University campus. The museum has a parallelogram shape that seems to be falling over, producing a structure that changes as visitors move past and through it, creating a great curiosity among its visitors.

Galaxy Soho, Beijing, China (2008-2012)

Another of Zaha Hadid’s projects in Asia was the Galaxy Soho, located in Beijing, China. The complex was designed and constructed between 2008 and 2012. The Galaxy Soho is made up of four continuous, flowing volumes which coalesce to create an internal world of continuous open spaces. The four major structures are joined by multiple curving passageways on several levels.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan (2007-2013)

In 2007, Zaha Hadid participated in an international competition for the design and construction of the Heydar Aliyev Centre building and won. The structure is the largest cultural hub in Azerbaijan located in Baku. The structure has a fluid shape whose design was intended as a reaction to the rigid architectures of the Soviet era as well as the Islamic calligraphy and to elements of the traditional Azeri architecture.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul, South Korea (2007-2013)

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza was designed and constructed by Zaha Hadid between 2007 and 2013. It is one of the largest buildings in South Korea located in Seoul. The name Dongdaemun means the “Great Gate of the East”, referencing the old walls of the city. The main objective of the design was to create a fluid ensemble of open-air areas and public structures open to all.

Library and Learning Centre, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria (2008-2013)

Zaha Hadid also designed the Library and Learning Centre for Vienna University of Economics and Business, located in Vienna, Austria between 2008 and 2013. The exterior of the building exudes a sense of fluidity and solidity while the stark and offset interior space gives the feeling of lightness. Zaha Hadid described the interior as a free form interior canyon, describing its layered rock-like interior formation.

Jockey Club Innovation Tower, Hong Kong (2007-2014)

The Jockey Club Innovation Tower, which is part of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, was also designed and constructed by Zaha Hadid, from 2007 to 2014. Located on a narrow irregular site, the tower dissolves the typical typology of the tower into a more fluid composition.

Port Authority Building, Antwerp, Belgium (completed 2016)

In addition, Zaha Hadid also designed the Port Authority in Antwerp, Belgium, whose construction was completed in 2016, the year that she died. The Port Authority was the only government building that Zara Hadid designed. The building has a ship like structure and also resembles a diamond, referring to Antwerp, which is a big player in the trade of diamonds in the European continent.

The Port Authority building in Antwerp Belgium was one of the last buildings designed by Zaha Hadid. A square in front of the building was named after her to commemorate her death. The square was renamed Zaha Hadidplein, or Zaha Hadidsquare. The other buildings designed by Zaha Hadid were completed after her death, with some being still under construction.

Projects after her death

Salerno Maritime Terminal, Salerno, Italy (2000-2016)

The first major project to be completed after the death of Zaha Hadid was the Salerno Maritime Terminal, which is located in Salerno, Italy. Hadid participated in an international competition to design the maritime terminal in 2000 and won. The construction however was delayed due to insufficient funding and was completed in 2016 shortly after her death.

The building was designed to resemble an oyster, whose hard, asymmetric shell protects the softer elements within; sheltering the passengers from the intense Mediterranean sun during the popular tourist season.

Other buildings designed by Zaha Hadid are yet to be completed. They are;

  • The Scorpion Tower of Miami, Florida, United States

  • A skyscraper on the 666 Fifth Avenue of New York City, United States whose construction began in 2015

  • The Grand Theatre de Rabat, Morocco, which is set to host the largest cultural events of the Moroccan capital. Construction began in 2014 and is yet to be completed.

  • The 2022 World Cup stadium in Qatar

  • The King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Buildings Zaha was most famous for designing.

Zaha Hadid was famous for designing many unique and iconic buildings which won her many awards every year. Her most iconic buildings which increased her fame were; the Heydar Aliyev Center, the MAXXI museum of contemporary art, the London Olympics Aquatics centre, the Guangzhou Opera House, the Galaxy Soho and the Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

Top 10 buildings designed by Zaha Hadid:

  1. The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan

  2. The Galaxy Soho in Beijing, China

  3. The Guangzhou Opera House in Guangzhou, China

  4. The National Museum Of Arts of the 21st  Century (MAXXI) in Rome, Italy

  5. The London Olympics Aquatics Centre

  6. The Riverside Museum in Glasgow, Scotland.

  7. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea

  8. The Jockey Club Innovation Tower at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University

  9. The Port Authority building (Havenhuis) in Antwerp, Belgium

  10. The Broad Art Museum in East Lansing, Michigan, United States

Interior & product designer career

Besides her stunning achievement in architecture, Zaha Hadid has undertaken some high-profile interior design and product design work. Some of her work include the Mind Zone at the Millennium Dome in London. She also created fluid furniture installations within the Georgian surroundings of Home House private members club in Marylebone.

She also helped design the Z.CAR, a hydrogen-powered three wheeled automobile. In 2009, Zaha Hadid worked with the clothing brand Lacoste, to create a new, high fashion, and advanced boot. In the same year, she collaborated with the brassware manufacturer Triflow Concepts to produce two new designs in her signature parametric architectural style.

In 2007, Zaha Hadid designed the Moon System Sofa for leading Italian furniture manufacturer B&B Italia and in 2013 designed Liquid Glacial, which comprises a series of tables resembling ice-formations made from clear and colored acrylic. Their design embeds surface complexity and refraction within a powerful fluid dynamic.

Zaha Hadid’s top 10 projects

  1. The Qatar FIFA World Cup Stadium.

  2. The King Abdullah Financial District Metro Station.

  3. The Heydar Aliyev Center.

  4. The One Thousand Museum Tower.

  5. The Messner Mountain Museum.

  6. The CMA CGM Headquarters.

  7. The Vienna Library and Learning Centre.

  8. The Serpentine Gallery.

  9. Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

  10. The London Aquatics Centre for 2012 Summer Olympics.

Zaha Hadid Architects

Practice Philosophy

Hadid stated that her architectural designs were not intended as a personal stamp on the world, or an act of self-indulgence. Rather, addressing 21st-century challenges and opportunities is the cornerstone to Zaha Hadid’s style and creations.

Architecture, she claimed, "must contribute to society's progress and ultimately to our individual and collective wellbeing." The buildings born of her vision and the collective genius of her firm Zaha Hadid Architects, may sometimes seem fantastical, triumphant and even a bit loud, but they all stem from architecture’s base function – to facilitate and even perform everyday life.

Zaha Hadid Architects has a staff of 450 members from the Senior Partners to Associate architects and lead architects and designers. The firm has completed over 950 projects in 55 nations.

Teaching career

Zaha Hadid also taught and gave lectures in many universities and institutions. In the 1990s she was a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Architecture. She was also a guest professor at the Hochschule fur bildende Kunste Hamburg, the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University, the Masters Studio at Columbia University, Yale School of Architecture among others. 

The materials in her projects

Zaha Hadid made brilliant use of composite materials because they did not resist her imagination, they validated it. In the construction of the Heydar Aliyev Center for example, she used Glass Fibre Reinforced Polyester (GFRP) to create an almost seamless flowing exterior. The Galaxy Soho is clad in aluminium and stone, while the interior features glass, terrazzo, stainless steel and GFRP.

Architecture Style

Zaha Hadid’s earlier designs were influenced by Kazimir Malevich and the Suprematists. Her aggressive geometric designs are characterized by a sense of fragmentation, instability and movement. This fragmented style led her to be grouped with architects known as “deconstructivists,” a classification made popular by the 1988 exhibition, Deconstructivist Architecture, held at the Museum of Modern Art.

She however wasn’t limited to one particular architectural style since she preferred not to limit her practice to a specific movement. Known as the “Queen of Curves,” she is well known for her use of geometric shapes to create dynamic, fluid structures.

Awards and honors won

  • 1982: Gold Medal Architectural Design, British Architecture for 59 Eaton Place, London

  • 1994:Erich Schelling Architecture Award

  • 2001: Equerre d’argent Prize, special mention

  • 2002:Austrian State Prize for Architecture for Bergiselschanze

  • 2003:European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture for the Strasbourg tramway terminus and car park at Hoenheim in Strasbourg, France

  • 2003: Commander of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) For services to Architecture

  • 2004:Pritzker Prize

  • 2005:Austrian Decoration for Science and Art

  • 2005: German Architecture Prize for the central building of the BMW plant in Leipzig

  • 2005: Designer of the Year Award for Design Miami

  • 2005: RIBA European Award for BMW Central Building

  • 2006: RIBA European Award for Phaeno Science Centre

  • 2007:Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture

  • 2008: RIBA European Award for Nordpark Cable Railway

  • 2009:Praemium Imperiale

  • 2010: RIBA European Award for MAXXI

  • 2010: Stirling Prize for MAXXI

  • 2011: Stirling Prize for the Evelyn Grace Academy

  • 2012:Jane Drew Prize for her “outstanding contribution to the status of women in architecture”

  • 2012: Jury member for the awarding of the Pritzker Prize to Wang Shu in Los Angeles, CA.

  • 2013: 41st Winner of the Veuve Clicquot UK Business Woman Award

  • 2013: Elected international member, American Philosophical Society

  • She was also on the editorial board of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Reputation

Zaha Hadid had a reputation of being a truly fearsome architect. Zaha Hadid enjoyed a reputation as an architect of visionary talent while still a student, but took the better part of two decades to persuade the world that her fearsomely individual designs could be translated into workable buildings. She is widely regarded to be the greatest female architect in the world today.

Net Worth

Zaha Hadid was one the highest paid architect in the world. It is estimated that during her lifetime she made approximately 215 million dollars from architecture, stock investments, a fashion line, restaurants and cosmetic deals. At the time of her death, she left behind holdings worth over 70.8 million pounds, according to documents obtained by architect’s journal.

Death

Zaha Hadid died on 31 March 2016 of a heart attack at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, Miami Beach, Florida, United States, where she was being treated for bronchitis. She died at