The Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, whose futuristic designs included Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed bridge and the swooping aquatic centre for the 2012 London Olympics, died yesterday at the age of 65.
Hadid’s firm said she suffered a heart attack at a Miami hospital where she was being treated for bronchitis contracted earlier this week.
In London, where she lived and worked, mayor Boris Johnson tweeted that “she was an inspiration and her legacy lives on in wonderful buildings” at the Olympic Park and around the world.
Hadid had spoken with The National's Ashley Lane in late February for an upcoming article, in which she revealed her interpretation of style and confessed to her sometimes bluntness.
She was born and raised in Baghdad and studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before enrolling at the Architectural Association in London in 1972. She worked for the groundbreaking Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus before setting up London-based Zaha Hadid Architects in 1979.
Hadid was noted for her striking designs around the world, including the innovative BMW plant in Leipzig, Germany; sleek funicular railway stations in Innsbruck, Austria; the glittering Guangzhou Opera House in China; MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome; and the strikingly curved Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan.
In the UAE, she also designed the Performing Arts Centre on Saadiyat Island, which has not yet been built.
"Good style appears of its time and yet, is essentially timeless, losing none of its freshness or quality of invigoration as it ages," Hadid said her interview with The National.
She twice won Britain’s Stirling Prize for architecture and in 2004 became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, known as the Nobel Prize of architecture. The jury praised her unswerving commitment to modernism and defiance of convention.
Like all architects, Hadid sometimes struggled to have her ambitious designs built. She acknowledged that some of her early designs had posed engineering challenges.
“I used to like buildings floating,” Hadid told the BBC last month. “Now I know that they can’t float.”
She also had a reputation of being blunt and forthright.
"I must admit that diplomacy is not my best talent," she told The National. "Because I don't play up to people, because I don't pander to people's egos and constantly compliment, some people perceive me as rude. I think, as a woman, I am judged a lot more harshly, as the norm is to be very polite and obedient. If someone bothers me, I tell them. I think people are not used to that."
Her forthrightness came up again when she was awarded the Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects earlier this year. Architect Peter Cook said in his citation that “in our culture of circumspection and modesty her work is certainly not modest, and she herself is the opposite of modest”.
“Such self-confidence is easily accepted in filmmakers and football managers, but causes some architects to feel uncomfortable,” he said. “Maybe they’re secretly jealous of her unquestionable talent.”
Hadid told The National she was proud to receive the award, "in particular, to be the first woman to receive the honour in her own right".
“We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy,” she said. “Sometimes the challenges are immense, but there has been tremendous change over recent years and we will continue this progress.”
But she also credited colleagues for her success: “Architecture is certainly not a solo act. I have wonderful collaborators in the office that I’ve worked with for many years. Architecture isn’t about competition; it’s about collaboration and how many different practices and processes can contribute to one another.”
Asked whom she most admired, she said: “Anyone who works hard. Success should depend not on gender or ethnicity, but only on the scope of your dreams and your hard work to achieve them.”
She also voiced concern about raising the quality of living spaces across all social strata.
“Having a home is a crucial issue for everyone in society – not only in terms of a shelter and the basics, but also for well-being, for a better life,” she said. “So we must be committed to raising standards.
“Social housing has always been based on the concept of minimal existence – that shouldn’t be the case today. Architects now have the skills and tools to address these critical issues – and many communities around the world are committed to resolving them.”
However, she had yet to build a home for herself.
"I would love to build a house for myself one day, she told The National. "Normally, architects build houses for themselves either early in their careers, when they have fewer inhibitions and can make mistakes without being judged too harshly, or when they're about to retire – and I'm not ready to retire yet."
* With reporting from Associated Press