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  • May 31, 2017

Zaha Hadid: The woman who reshaped modern architecture

Renowned architect, builder of numerous iconic buildings and recipient of prestigious prizes.

Dame Zaha Hadid was a pioneering architect who rethought the way buildings are shaped. From an arts centre with no straight lines to a museum atop five stilts, she toyed with traditional forms in her postmodern designs.

Hadid died unexpectedly of a heart attack last year with many projects left unfinished. Just over a year after her death, Hadid’s life and work is being remembered with a Google Doodle

She also received the UK’s most prestigious architectural award, the Stirling Prize, and she became the first woman to be awarded the 2016 Royal Gold Medal in architecture by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Today Zaha’s ongoing legacy is featured by Google, who is paying homage to a woman who captured the world’s attention and shattered glass ceilings.

Early years

The British architect Zaha Hadid was born in Iraq in 1950 into a prominent family in Baghdad during the last years of the Hashemite monarchy and lived abroad for much of her childhood. She went to boarding schools in England and Switzerland as a child before studying maths at the American University of Beirut.

She grew up in the aftermath of the military coup led by Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qassim, and left for Beirut to continue with her college education in mathematics, before moving to London to study architecture.

“Hadid took a fistful of everything that was good and beautiful in her homeland … and with it she signed her signature on every corner of the globe she visited,” Hamid Dabashi wrote.

Despite early signs of an inventive style, Hadid didn’t complete her first architectural project until she was 44 years old. Many thought her unique style was unworkable until Vitra, a furniture manufacturer, commissioned her first building in the 90s.

In the 20 years that she worked as an architect, Hadid designed scores of buildings across the world, including the London 2012 Olympic Aquatics Centre and the Riverside Museum in Glasgow.

In 1979, she established her own practice in London, the Zaha Hadid Architects. She was a woman in a field dominated by men, but her passion was in pushing the limits of design.

“I never use the issue about being a woman architect,” she said in an interview to Icon magazine, “but if it helps younger people to know they can break through the glass ceiling, I don’t mind that.”

The artist reshaped modern architecture using the surrounding landscape for building inspiration. She was known for her neofuturistic design.

The lines and sharp angles of the Vitra Fire Station in Germany were inspired by nearby vineyards and the roof of the London Aquatic Centre forms the shape of a wave.

“She was truly a pioneer in the field of architecture. She represents the highest aspirations of the Pritzker Architecture Prize,” Chicago-based Pritzker Architecture Prize organisation said.

She received a host of accolades for her work. In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II made her a Dame for her services to the profession.

Hadid died of a heart attack in March 2016. By the time she passed away she had accrued a fortune worth more than £70 million.

Best-known buildings

1. Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan

The Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan was completed in 2013

A cultural and conference centre in Baku, the Heydar Aliyev Centre contrasts with the Soviet-era blocks that surrounded it. It spans 10,081 square metres and doesn’t contain a single straight line.

Describing the building’s design, Hadid said: “Its fluid form emerges from the folds of the natural topography of the landscape and envelops the different functions of the centre.”

2. Guangzhou Opera House in Guangdong, China

The Guangzhou Opera House in China was also finished in 2010

Hadid’s first project in China, the Guangzhou Opera House covers 70,000 square metres and cost $300 million. It contrasts with the sky scrapers that surround it and was inspired by natural earth forms. Hadid described it as the “two pebbles”.

3. Galaxy Soho building

A visitor walks at the newly opened Galaxy Soho building, designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, in Beijing

 4. Olympic Park showing the Aquatics Centre and the Water Polo Arena

Aerial view of the Olympic Park showing the Aquatics Centre and the Water Polo Arena


Unfinished work

When Hadid died in 2016 she left a host of unfinished buildings including designs and projects under construction. They include the 2022 FIFA World Cup Al Wakrah Stadium in Doha and the Salerno Maritime Terminal in Salerno, Italy.

Shortly before her death she also finished the designs for a 1,400 foot skyscraper that could replace the 666 Fifth Avenue building owned by Kushner Companies. In March the company said it plans to construct the $12 billion building, which could be complete by 2025.

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