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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Zaha Hadid Leaves an Architectural Design Legacy Behind

April 4th, 2016 by Susan Smith

Dame Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect who was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize for architecture,  died last Thursday in Miami at the age of 65. Hadid died of a sudden heart attack while being treated for bronchitis in the hospital, according to her office, Zaha Hadid Architects in London.


Jochen Luebke/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In 2004, Hadid was named the “first woman architect” to win the Pritzker prize, architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, and also awarded the RIBA Gold Medal, Britain’s top architectural award, in 2015. The media handled this as though she was somehow hampered by gender, perhaps given that the remaining handful of renowned architects in the world are men. The award was bestowed because of her supreme vision and ability to realize it, with her imaginative and wild structures gracing the skylines of the world’s cities and challenging the institution of architecture itself to think outside the box.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Azerbaijan 2013

Heydar Aliyev Center, Azerbaijan 2013, photo by Sergey Ponomarev, for the New York Times

“I am non-European, I don’t do conventional work and I am a woman,” she once told an interviewer. “On the one hand all of these things together make it easier — but on the other hand it is very difficult.”

She was up there among the star architects: Frank Gehry and Sir Norman Foster, who break the rules of architecture with new geometric shapes and possibilities, challenging form and the ability to build unusual yet stable structures. These architects use parametric design, once solely the province of mechanical designers, to bend the rules and expectations of the built environment. Hadid was known as the “Queen of the Curve” with her expressive, fluid designs that were an art form in and of themselves, challenging how buildings were supported and interacted with.

Oak-paneled Auditorium inside the Aliyev Center - photo by Helene Binet

Oak-paneled Auditorium inside the Aliyev Center – photo by Helene Binet

Her work was also significant because she stood as a role model for female architects, many of whom had become disenchanted by the male-dominated field of architecture.

“I used to not like being called a woman architect: I’m an architect, not just a woman architect,” Hadid said after winning the award, in an interview with CNN. “Guys used to tap me on the head and say, ‘You are O.K. for a girl.’ But I see the incredible amount of need from other women for reassurance that it could be done, so I don’t mind that at all.”

Female Architects on the Significance of Zaha Hadid, The New York Times

Born in Baghdad on Oct. 31, 1950, Hadid viewed herself first as an Arab woman, who lived in London. Her father was an industrialist, educated in London, who headed a progressive party advocating for secularism and democracy in Iraq. At that time, Baghdad was a cosmopolitan hub of modern ideas, which influenced Hadid’s growing up. She attended a Catholic school where students spoke French, and Muslims and Jews were welcome. Later, she studied mathematics at the American University in Beirut.

Hadid came under fire when one critic falsely reported that 1,000 workers had died building her stadium for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar — before construction had even begun. She won a settlement and an apology. She also was cited for human rights violation when families were forcibly evicted from the site of her $250 million cultural center in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Al Wakrah Stadium, Qatar, in progress, photo Zaha Hadid Architects

Al Wakrah Stadium, Qatar, in progress, photo Zaha Hadid Architects

It’s not unusual for architects to be criticized either for taking on clients who have a notorious lack of interest in human rights, or ignoring conditions in countries where the labor force may not be well protected by safety regulations. Many industry watchers criticize architects for having a neutral view of their impact on building projects, and not taking adequate responsibility. Many architects do feel that they are a neutral party, that politics should not impact the building. Others feel that to introduce new ideas and possibilities into authoritarian countries via the vehicle of architecture is a good thing. The architect Liz Diller said that the architect’s responsibility was to “use architecture as an instrument of positive change.”

Ghangzhou Opera House, China 2010

Ghangzhou Opera House, China 2010

All things considered: Zaha Hadid left an indelible mark on the architectural community, spanning the globe with her eye-opening designs and techniques, changing it irrevocably, not only for the world of art and architecture, but for women architects who reveled in having a role model. While the world is saddened by the loss of her great talent, today buildings with unthinkable design and stature inform city and landscapes with an avant-garde message, largely due to the influence of Hadid and her progressive approach to the world of infrastructure – and her untiring vision of what was possible.

Architectural Showcase Featured Architects: Zaha Hadid

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