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Commemorating Zaha Hadid, Queen of the Curve

by Farah Hashem
Illustration by Ali Al Madalawi

From Riyadh to Beijing, Zaha Hadid’s distinctive buildings have revolutionised architecture around the world. Known as the “Queen of the Curve”, the late Iraqi-British architect will be remembered for her bold, fluid designs and modern, “curved” buildings.

March 2018 marks two years since the Arab world lost one of its shining, prominent women who made a global impact in a field traditionally subjugated by men. Zaha Hadid, whose designs are instantly identifiable in some of the most prestigious locations in the world, was one of the most celebrated and iconic architects of our time.

Born in 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq, Hadid pursued her college studies in Mathematics at the American University of Beirut and later started her education in architecture in London at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London (AA).

Hadid then taught at the AA until 1987, and held numerous chairs and guest professorships at universities around the world including Yale, Harvard and Columbia. She founded Zaha Hadid Architects in 1979 and was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize (considered the Nobel Prize of architecture) in 2004.


Zaha Hadid began her career as the architect who couldn’t get anything built. She was known as a “paper architect” in the beginning of her profession, meaning her designs were too avant-garde to move beyond the sketch phase and actually be built. This impression of her was heightened when her beautifully rendered designs— often in the form of exquisitely detailed coloured paintings—were exhibited as works of art in major museums. Now, from the Olympic Aquatics Centre to a new Serpentine gallery, from Beijing to Baku, Zaha Hadid’s buildings are everywhere, she became someone who couldn’t stop building.


Hadid also left an inventive mark in the Middle East through her “iconic” unconventional buildings which made her an ambassador of contemporary architecture to the region. Some of her most prominent designs in the region include King Abdullah Petroleum Research Center in Saudi Arabia, the Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in the American University of Beirut and Al Wakrah football stadium in Qatar.


Zaha Hadid was a very strong-minded person, who earned her fame not only through talent, but through her personality as well. Hadid was someone who would test the boundaries, determined to get things her way. To some architects, her work is “unbelievably arrogant” and “oppressive”, as if not caring what it’s like to actually be in one of her buildings. To others, she was a “genius” and a “hero”. The only ground common to all these views being a remark once made by her mentor, Rem Koolhaas, that she is “a planet in her own inimitable orbit”.

Her temper provoked fear, but also inspired admiration. Where many leading architects seem robotic, Hadid is human – funny, frank, unafraid to show her emotions. Aaron Betsky, writer, museum director, says: “People wonder why anyone works for her, given that she can be a stern taskmaster, but she can also show incredible loyalty and support, and passion for what she does.” She has never married or had children, although she has denied that she sacrificed family life to her work. “I’m sure I could have managed,” she told the Observer in 2008.


At the age of 62, Hadid had won all the biggest awards in her business. She was a continuously renowned figure, a phenomenon who had connections with world leaders and celebrities. Her aspiration and devotion to her designs turned them from stunning drawings into soaring structures and an office that now boasts 400 staff and 950 projects in 44 countries.

Hadid’s outstanding contribution to the architectural profession has been acknowledged by professional, academic and civic institutions around the world including:

· The Forbes List of the ‘World’s Most Powerful Women’

· ‘Praemium Imperiale’ from the Japan Art Association

· The Stirling Prize, one of architecture’s highest honours, by the Royal Institute of British Architects

· UNESCO named her as an ‘Architect for Peace’

· The Republic of France honoured her with the ‘Commandeur de l’Ordre des Artes et des Lettres’

· TIME magazine included her in the world’s top thinkers of 2010

· Hadid was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012

· The Royal Gold Medal in February 2016


On 31 March 2016, Hadid passed away of a heart attack.

The statement issued by her London-based design studio announcing her death read: “Zaha Hadid was widely regarded to be the greatest female architect in the world today”. She is buried between her father Mohammed Hadid and brother Foulath Hadid in Surrey, England.

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