Zaha Hadid: A Retrospective On Breaking Architectural Boundaries


Larger than life, playful, flamboyant and incredibly intelligent, Zaha Hadid has made an indelible mark on 21st century architecture. Regarded by many as "real estate royalty" for her pioneering vision and creativity; she built bridges to challenge and overcome the "rules" of geometry, function and perhaps most significantly, gender.

The Greatest Female Architect In The World Today

Dame Zaha Hadid was an Iraqi-born British architect who gained international recognition for her groundbreaking theoretical works. She studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before embarking upon her architectural journey in London in 1972 at the Architectural Association. She opened her own practice in London, namely Zaha Hadid Architects, and her reputation spread like wildfire across the international architectural scene.

Zaha Hadid tragically passed away on 31 March 2016 after suffering from a heart attack at a Miami hospital where she had been admitted for Bronchitis. She was 65 years old.

A groundbreaking visionary

Hadid is praised for breaking the rules; she liberated architectural forms, played with perspective and went beyond the stiff boundaries of geometry, conceptually defying gravity. She built what many believed to be "unbuildable" earning her the reputation she deserved.

A formidable figure and trailblazing architect

Deepti Zachariah, in her moving tribute to the late Zaha Hadid, describes her former tutor and inspiration as "larger than life and intolerant of sloppiness" and despite painting a formidable picture, Zachariah marvels at Hadid's down-to-earth personality: "when she was in the studio, she sat at her table among the rest of us architects and interns. While we were enamoured by her ingenious experiment with modernism, she also had very down-to-earth suggestions: "Keep is simple if you don't know what you are doing," she said to the eager interns who were rearranging furniture."

Architecture for architecture’s sake

Zachariah describes the likes of Hadid as a "dying breed", an architect whose vision, creativity and work to pursue architecture for architecture's sake remained true to the end. Nowadays, architects have to burden the handicap on creativity that is social and environmental consciousness.

Her Projects

Hadid’s first major commission was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil Am Rhein, Germany (1993) and was responsible for earning her international recognition. In London, her major contribution is the London Olympic Aquatic Centre as well as the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in Kensington Gardens, west London.

Her achievements

The role of women in architecture, much like in art and design, has been sadly omitted from the history books as well as by the gatekeepers of culture. It is only in recent years that women have begun to achieve wider recognition in the field of architecture and design, more often than not confined to the western world.

There have only been two female Pritzker prizewinners, the world’s premier architectural prize, since the turn of the millennium; Zaha Hadid was the first woman (and Muslim) to receive the prize in 2004. She has also been awarded the RIBA stirling award, the UK’s most prestigious architectural award, twice in her career.

She was recently awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects 2016 gold medal, making her the first woman to be awarded the prestigious honour in her own right. Hadid said of her achievement: “We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes the challenges are immense. There has been tremendous change over recent years and we will continue this progress.”

Hadid’s commitment throughout her career to challenge architectural norms, hierarchies and gender have not gone unrecognised; in 2008, she ranked 69th on Forbes’ “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” as well as being named in Time’s 100th issue as an influential thinker in the 21st century.

Touching Tributes

Since the announcement of Hadid’s passing reached the media, touching tributes have flooded in from her many admirers.

Sir Peter Cook, a fellow architect felt that Hadid was a very worthy winner of the RIBA gold medal, expressing his admiration for the late architect: “For three decades now she has ventured where few would dare … Such self confidence is easily accepted in film-makers and football managers, but causes some architects to feel uncomfortable. Maybe they’re secretly jealous of her unquestionable talent. Let’s face it, we might have awarded the medal to a worthy comfortable character. We didn’t. We awarded it to Zaha: larger than life, bold as brass and certainly on the case.”