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Figure of the Month: Zaha Hadid: Designing a Bridge between Cultures PDF Print E-mail

Al Waref Figure of the Month
by Alissa Orlando

The Al-Waref Institute recognizes Zaha Hadid as the Figure of the Month for May.  The first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, this Iraqi-born British architect is redefining architecture with her radical deconstructivist designs.

Born in 1950, Zaha Hadid was raised in Baghdad, Iraq.  Hadid earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the American University of Beirut before she studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.  While studying in London, she met Rem Koolhass and Elia Zenghelis who shared Hadid’s passion for experimental European architecture.  Koolhass and Zenghelis evolved from Hadid’s teachers to her co-workers when she became a partner with the Office of Metropolitan Architecture in 1977.  Koolhass considers Hadid his prodigy and describes her as “a planet in her own inimitable orbit.”  In 1979, Hadid established her own London-based firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, which now has over 250 employees. 
Aggressive geometric designs inspire Hadid’s architecture.  Because of her powerful forms and avant-garde designs characterized by instability and movement, she is considered a deconstructivist architect.  However, her radical visions made it challenging to move beyond the sketch-phase and actually construct the buildings she imagined.  One critic described her designs as “beautiful, but unbuildable.”
One such design was for The Peak Club in Hong Kong.  This 1983 competition-winning entry for a recreational center in Hong Kong resembled a “horizontal skyscraper” and jumpstarted her architectural career.  Hadid’s 1994 award-winning design for Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales also garnered international attention but was never realized.
Her reputation as a “paper architect” was shattered with the construction of her first major built project, the Vitra Fire Station.  This building was unveiled in 1993 in Weil am Rhein, Germany.  Many claim it resembles a bird in flight with its sharply angled planes.
Hadid then began work on her first building in the United States, the new Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The museum is a vertical series of cubes and voids with a translucent glass façade that showcases the museum’s collection to passerby.  It was the first American museum designed by a woman.
The critical and popular success of the museum led to several major commissions, including the BMW Central Building in Leipzig, Germany; the Bergisel Ski Jump in Innsbruck, Austria; the National Center for Contemporary Arts in Rome; a high-speed train station in Naples; and the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park in Seoul, South Korea.
Hadid’s flamboyant personality and love of architecture motivates her to share her gift. She has held teaching positions at many prestigious schools, including the Architectural Association, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, Columbia University and Yale University.  She currently teaches at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna.
The Guggenheim Museum in New York presented a retrospective spanning her entire work in 2006.
Hadid has been recognized with several distinguished awards for her service in architecture. In 2003, she was deemed Commander of the Order of the British Empire.  She was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, in 2004.  In 2008, Forbes ranked Hadid 69th on their list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.”  She was also named an influential thinker in 2010 by Time. 
The beauty of Hadid’s architecture transcends cultures and links peoples. Al Waref Institute recognizes Zaha Hadid, the diva of architecture, for her vision, confidence and determination.  As designer Donna Karan said, “She bridges East and West with pure sophistication.  Her designs are comfortable anywhere in the world.  Zaha is a woman and an artist of her time-and yet she is very much ahead of it too.”
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