Zaha Hadid: Architect and Role Model

The tragic death of famed architect Zaha Hadid on March 31 echoed across the architecture community — from Zaha’s hometown of Baghdad to cities like Rome and Copenhagen, where some of her most prominent structures have been built. The England-based architect was born in Baghdad on October 31, 1950 to a political family involved in a progressive party urging for democracy and secularism in Iraq. Throughout her upbringing, Baghdad was a cosmopolitan center of modern ideas and perspectives; in fact, Zaha attended a Catholic school where students of all religions spoke French. After graduating, she studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut and eventually moved to London in 1972 to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. The effect of Zaha’s global upbringing is unmistakable in her cross-cultural archite

cultural style; her signature curves and angles are present in buildings throughout a multitude of countries such as Germany, England, Japan, China, and Lebanon.

Zaha Hadid was a visionary — she liberated architectural geometry and volume. In the 1980’s and 1990’s Zaha’s flamboyant sketches featured curvature that could not technologically be constructed — only twenty years later were her sketches finally realized with the advent of modern building techniques. Zaha utilized innovative technologies to create rich and dynamic volumes, earning herself the nickname, “Queen of the Curve.” One of Zaha’s main principles was that a building could always be in motion.

Zaha Hadid Photo courtesy of Marco Grob

Zaha Hadid
Photo courtesy of Marco Grob

Zaha’s reputation is full of contradictions. Although many associate Zaha with dramatic and elaborate architecture, the versatile architect also designed more practical spaces, such as the King Abdullah Financial District Metro Station in Saudi Arabia, a BMW plant in Germany, and a cancer counseling center in Scotland. Similarly, many critics say that Zaha’s works are impractical; however Zaha stated that, “I think that people want to feel good in a space. Architecture on the one hand is about shelter, but it’s also about pleasure, and I think the more you carve out of city civic spaces and the more it is accessible to a much larger mass and public, then it is about them enjoying that space. That makes, you know, life much better.”Zaha’s first design to be built was a fire station on the campus of Vitra in Weil am Rhein, Germany, constructed in 1994. With its sharp angles, protrusions and optical illusions, the fire station launched Zaha’s career of emulating the 1980’s deconstructivism style. Zaha was inspired by the landscape of the site; the narrow structure of the building serves as a continuation of the landscape. Furthermore, Zaha kept the building alive and in motion by bending, tilting, and breaking the concrete pieces. The fire station emits an air of uncertainty and instability due to its slipping horizontal planes and off balance floors. The station embodies many of Zaha’s principles as an architect — to combine form and function, to create a complex experience with simple and clean lines, and to evoke a sense of uncertainty as well as newness.

One of Zaha’s most notable structures was the MAXXI Museum in Rome. In this structure Zaha truly spoke to her power as an architect; in a city known for its history and artifacts, Zaha captivated the audience with her modernity and progressiveness. Zaha emphasized connection in this center for art with flowing staircases, overlapping pathways, and curved concrete walls. Zaha’s play with light in this building is phenomenal; she included thin concrete beams, glass covering, and filtering systems to introduce the maximum amount of natural light. The MAXXI is the first na- tional museum of contemporary art in Italy, thus finally bringing contemporary relevance and identity to Roman architecture.

Despite Zaha’s architectural successes, she faced sexual discrimination in the male-dominated field. In an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Zaha stated that, “If I went to a meeting with even an assistant of mine, to the side they will talk to him and not talk to me. I mean, there’s a world which you, as a woman, no matter how successful you are, you can’t enter into. You are not part of a network.”

According to a 2014 study conducted by the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 1⁄3 of women drop out of the architecture profession due to a lack of role models and 70% of all female architects have experienced sexual discrimination, harassment, or bullying while at work.

However, despite these hardships, Zaha took control of a typically male-dominated field — in fact, she was the first woman to win the famed Pritzker Prize in 2004 — and served as an inspiration to women throughout the world.

Thus, Zaha’s death has been particularly significant to many women. Zaha symbolized a “rare beacon of hope” for the success of women in archi- tecture and the surpassing of gender boundaries in the field. Although Zaha’s influence on the skylines of international cities is well-known, her imprint on the imagination of female architects and professionals is just as profound.

According to an interview in the New York Times, Amale Andraos, the dean of Columbia University’s architecture school, stated that “[Zaha was] a woman architect who never wanted to be called a woman architect — she was just an architect and one of the best ones. But clearly she broke new ground by being a woman, by not being Western, by being educated all over the world — there is so much she enabled.”

Zaha Hadid Architects will continue on. The firm issued a statement that “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.”

In fact, Zaha’s first post-humous project, a maritime terminal, was inaugurated in Salerno, Italy. The inauguration served as a celebration of Zaha’s immense effect on the architecture world. The city of Salerno honored her by posting her portrait throughout the city and 200 members of her Lon- don team visited the event in a collegial tribute.

The MAXXI Museum in Rome Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The MAXXI Museum in Rome
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This project was a true culmination of Zaha’s talents as an architect. Zaha found a brilliant balance between form and function. While the terminal features Zaha’s signature forms and contradictions in the rippling roof and juxtaposed interior ramps and balconies, the terminal includes arrival and departure areas, administrative offices, and building services, highlighting also the more practical angle of Zaha’s work.

Like Amale Andraos said, Zaha was an enabler. For women, for the imaginations of worldwide architects, and for the possibility of future skylines.

Posted in Arts & Leisure | 6 Comments »

About Elena Moore

Elena, a junior at Lick-Wilmerding High School, is one of the co-editors of the Arts and Leisure section of the Paper Tiger. Along with writing, she is an avid reader and recently finished the Elena Ferrante series (which she highly recommends). In her free time, she enjoys working at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, eating delicious and local food, and spending time walking around San Francisco.

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