A mathematician, architect, painter, thinker, teacher, designer – enough talents to share among many people. Worldwide known for her gravity-defying designs – Zaha Hadid.
Born in Iraq in 1950, Zaha Hadid was growing up in an extraordinary family. Her father was a politician of the liberal party in Iraq. Both parents were open-minded and culture-oriented. They ran open house, full of interesting people, exchanging ideas. All that for sure influenced Zaha as a child. But her parents also took care of her official education. Although being Muslim, she went to the Catholic school and was raised by nuns in Bagdad and later on in Switzerland and England. From an early age she was exposed to multiculturality. The Mosaic built from Arab and Western influences reoccurred in her architectural style later on.
“Because I am a non-European I have a different system of thinking, my order is different.”
Zaha Hadid’s first fascinations with architecture began in Iraq, a magic land located between Tigris and Euphrates, which was a very important spot on the ancient world map. As a child she was impressed by the remains of Sumerian cities, the first cities in the history of the world.
After she had graduated from the American University in Beirut with a degree in Mathematics, she continued her education in England, studying Architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. It was the best place for her to be at that time. Teachers like Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis made this place extraordinary, where experimental and innovative ideas were born.
During the studies she was under a big influence of philosophy of Russian Suprematist Kazimir Malevich. Based on this knowledge she designed her master thesis – a hotel on the Hungerford Bridge across the river Thames – as a joining two different architectural styles on two banks of the river. Thanks to interest in Malevich’s works, she discovered painting as a tool for transferring her visions into visualizations. It was a very important moment in her career. Hadid coped with the limitation of architectural tools and spread her wings. But the biggest lesson she took from school was to never give up and strongly believe in own vision. Soon after studies she had to prove how strong her motivation was. The beginnings were no easy.
In 1980 she decided to start her own studio. She designed very interesting project of Leisure Complex in Honk Kong – The Peak. It was a dynamic structure, which from the bird’s-eye perspective seemed to be affected by seismic movement. Although she won the competition, it was never constructed because of logistical reasons.
Zaha’s second win, the Cardiff Bay Opera project, also brought her more troubles than glory. The sponsor withdrew from the project. Loosing the second chance, she was derided by the critics who called her projects ‘brilliant but unbuildable’.
She was very well-educated with lots of energy to change the world’s landscape, but the success wasn’t coming. She was working as a teacher and fighting for her moment on a main stage. The more problems she met, the more energy and time she was investing to overcome the impasse.
After 10 years of struggling, her time was to come. It turned out that her visionary ideas outstripped the development of technology and finally she found clients brave enough to trust her vision. The first implemented project was the Vitra Fire-station, which looks more like a sculpture than a building. But the success wasn’t full: the building was converted into a museum and never used as a fire station.
The most important breakthrough came in 2004 when she won Competition for Rosenthal Museum for Contemporary Arts in Cincinnati. Zaha Hadid showed herself not only as a great designer, but also as a great thinker. The whole concept of the Museum was called by her “the Urban Carpet”. Zaha Hadid wanted to keep the continuity of spaces. The pavement is like a living surface, wrapping on the building to become its back wall. And the lobby was designed to be a part of public square. There are no stairs, no barriers, and no monumental impression. Thanks to the glass walls, the inside is visible from outside, infects people passing by with contemporary art and tempts them to enter. Among buildings on a very tiny space she created a solid, which became her big success.
“Space enlightens the same way as music, art
Along the time straight lines transformed into curves, revealing one of Hadid’s biggest inspirations – nature. Ovoid shapes, clusters, cells and organic lines – all that make her projects seamless part of the landscape. The sense of liquid form has been palpable in Hadid’s projects. Its shape corresponds to the surrounding and makes the building united with location. One of the most splendid examples is Galaxy Soho.
An example of Hadid’s smaller masterpiece is Bach pavilion in Manchester. She created amazing space-within-a-space. An ordinary box from outside, surprises from inside by second layer – the liquid-like plastic ribbon, which makes the sound sliding and enhance feeling of diving into the music.
It shows beauty of combining form and function. She is continuously searching for new challenges – designs furniture, shoes and even exclusive yacht.
Her visionary projects led her to gaining The Pritzerker Prize in 2004, a kind of Nobel in Architecture. She was the first woman in the history of this competition to be awarded this prestigious prize as well as the youngest recipient of this coveted award at the age of 53. The place where the prize was given to her was also meaningful. It was Petersburg, the city were her master Malevich used to live and create.
Today after all these years of hardship, finally she gained recognition and became a worldwide brand. Busy as never before, she still finds time to inspire young people all over world and teach them how important the profession of architect is. She tells them about persistence on the career path and does not hide the big cost of achieving success, especially for a woman, in this profession. Being a woman and being a foreigner did not help her to build credibility. But her intransigence and persistence in struggling for projects led to change in the world’s landscape forever. Finally, she managed to embellish the world by her future-born buildings. Her clients are from all over the world: China, Europe and the United States. However, it was only a couple years ago that she was finally appreciated in her own country – the UK.
Although being called Diva of Architecture, Hadid is more like a Master of this domain, who earned her triumph twice harder than others. Zaha Hadid’s story is a beautiful lesson of how to believe in a success and how to wait for it.