For many years renowned architect Zaha Hadid has been described as innovative, exuberant, radical, revolutionary. She has won many design competitions, but in the early years she had to work hard to get her distinctively original entries built. When she became the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, one juror said that even without building, Zaha Hadid would have "radically expanded architecture's repertoire of spatial articulation." With building, he went on, her innovative power is "fully revealed." While many of her winning designs were being shelved in the early years, Hadid nevertheless persisted; she never gave up, seeing her failure to build as a "laboratory" for continuing to develop her exciting architectural innovations.
She was born in Baghdad in1950 into a liberal, secular Iraqi family; her parents and brothers encouraged her, and at the age of eleven she had already designed furniture for her own bedroom. After some part-time study in mathematics at the American University of Beirut, she moved on to the renowned Architectural Association of London.
There she studied and later collaborated with architectural giants Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis. Her graduation project at the AA, "Malevich's Tektonic," directly influenced by the Russian modernist Kasimir Malevich, was never built, but to Malevich she attributed her adoption of painting as a design tool and her novel view of space. Her 1983 design for the hills above Hong Kong, a sports club named The Peak, brought her initial fame, but it, too, remained on paper. Engineers and clients were not yet ready for her radically new open forms, her "ferociously inquisitive and inventive approach." According to architect/critic Joseph Giovannini in his Pritzker Prize tribute, the Peak proposal radically broke new ground in the field: it "suspended weight in the same way dramatists suspend disbelief," creating a "visual connection between the sky and the ground." Hadid's approach was so strange to people in the eighties that they wrongly believed she used a computer for her designs.
The built projects reveal Hadid's remarkable versatility. Her design tools consisted of painting, transparencies, and other techniques; she created products, furniture, interiors, and stage sets. The Peak sports club was soon followed by a startling variety of architectural projects: a fire station, garden show facilities, artistic museum installations, a ski jump, an opera house, museums, bridges, city master plans, restaurants, housing projects, and private residences.
Her first major realized project was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany, in 1993, a powerful design said to "split" space. This work and her next project, the main building for a garden show in the same city, the LFone Landesgartenschau (1999) share, according to Giovannini, her "methodology of deriving designs from larger site considerations." Among her sometimes shockingly innovative works are a house in the Hague, the prize-winning design for the Cardiff Opera House in Wales (1994), the Mind Zone at the Millennium Dome in London (1999), a Car Park and Terminus in Strasbourg, France (2001), the Bergisel Ski Jump in Innsbruck (2002), the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati (2003), and the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany (2005). Hadid's radical approaches to space and the urban landscape reveal her dedication to the vitality of the city. Her buildings never ignore, but rather embrace the street as she manipulates her structures in her rare approach to space. Her revolutionary Rosenthal Center in Cincinnati in mid-America, completed in 2003, creatively overcame the challenges of building on a street corner. The sidewalk actually moves into the building on the ground floor, then curves upward and becomes the back wall, something she called "the urban carpet," bringing the motion, excitement, and life of the city inside the museum. Hadid once stated, "A museum conceived as a neutral white box is an oxymoron. No space is neutral."
For Hadid, the architecture of today must reflect the values of modern society. For her, a "building could be as complex as society itself." Architecture "is ultimately all about the creation of pleasant and stimulating settings for all aspects of social life. . . contemporary society is not standing still. Spatial arrangements evolve with the patterns of life." She relates the complex innovations of modern architecture to "what is new in our epoch. . .a new level of social complexity." "The dynamism of contemporary life" and this complexity, she says, "cannot be cast into the simple platonic forms provided by the classical canon. . . We have to deal with diagrams that are more complex and layered."
The novelty of Hadid's vision has, understandably, sometimes produced reactions of bewilderment and even hostility. But her radical approach has made her a much honored cult figure. She, herself, insists that the "sense of abstractness and strangeness" often perceived in her work "is unavoidable and not a sign of personal willfulness." Pritzker juror Karen Stein wrote, we do not "admire the radical merely for its own sake, but rather recognize here a particularly exquisite balance of extremes that is indeed revolutionary. The work, like the person, is not easily categorized: outrageous yet thoughtful, otherworldly yet deeply rooted in historical tradition, one of a kind yet a role model for a generation. . . , but above all characterized by a daring restless energy that stretches known limits of architecture and soars." In addition to the Pritzker, Zaha Hadid has won countless prizes in a variety of countries including not only numerous architectural competitions, but also honorable membership in several international architectural associations. In 2002 she was made Commander of the British Empire. A much sought after speaker, she has lectured in the United States, South America, Europe, and Asia. She has held teaching posts at major American universities-Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, UCLA, Wisconsin, and Yale, as well as at Cambridge, Oxford, London, and Edinburgh. She has also published widely in international architectural reviews, journals, and newspapers all over the world.
Hadid's own architectural firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, has expanded widely in recent years. The diversified projects of 2004 included a ferry terminal for the Italian city of Salerno; a plaza for Barcelona, Spain; the Guanghou Opera House in China; and an extension to the Price Tower Arts Center in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In 2005 Hadid emphasized the importance of her international projects, "especially those in Spain and Italy followed by. . . projects in Russia, Germany, China, and France." The Central Building at BMW's factory in Leipzig was completed in 2005, and at the beginning of this year, the Phaeno Science Center won the 2006 Stirling Prize awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Recent projects include the Abu Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi, featuring "extreme proportions in concrete and steel"; a controversial Aquatics Center for the 2012 London Olympics, with an undulating wave-like roof, and an opera house in Dubai.
In February of this year Hadid was named the winner of the design competition for AUB's Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, to rise on the site of the present Gulbenkian Infirmary. Her building design, according to competition juror Jala Makhzoumi, coordinator of AUB's Landscape Design and Eco- management Program, fits the University's image concerns in terms of both AUB and the Issam Fares Institute. Makhzoumi said the way Hadid's design "dialogues with the surroundings, how it relates to movement along the campus, its expression, and especially the quality of space with which she incorporates all aspects of the institute," won the competition.
An exhibition of Zaha Hadid's work is currently on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and will continue through October 25, 2006.