This pioneering figure of 21st-century architecture is known for creating radical, flamboyant buildings across the globe. A British-Iraqi architect, designer, and artist, Zaha Hadid achieved great influence and received honours from worldwide academic and professional institutions. Her practice, Zaha Hadid Architects, is renowned for being at the forefront of innovation for almost 40 years.
Early life and career
Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid was 65 when she died from a heart attack in 2016 in the USA. She grew up in Iraq where her father was a politician, at a time of social reform. Architects including Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier were working on projects in the capital then and may have influenced her early years.
Hadid was sent to an English boarding school, she then gained a maths degree at the American University of Beirut before attending the Architectural Association (AA) School in London, where she was awarded the Diploma Prize in 1977.
She then taught at the AA School until 1987 and held various positions at universities around the world. Zaha Hadid Architects was founded in 1979 and became one of the world’s most important architectural practices with global projects ranging from art museums and skyscrapers to an aquatic stadium, a car factory, and an opera house exhibition centre.
During her early architectural career, her work contained acute angles and was often considered to be too difficult to build, too radical, and expensive, and many schemes were never built. However, her later style developed to embrace curving, flowing forms and gravity-defying buildings, and her reputation rapidly grew. Together with business partner Patrik Schumacher, Hadid established a flourishing company and started to win awards.
The floating curve
A big personality, Zaha Hadid was always inventive and interested in advanced design and construction ideas. Her contemporary architecture often distorts form and perspective, she explored movement in architecture and wanted buildings to shape how space makes people move.
Hadid was very aware of a building’s location and how it was to be used. Before her, architecture was dominated by straight lines and traditional materials, but Hadid was interested in exploring movement in architecture. When technology such as the 3D design process was introduced, she embraced it and said:
I can now believe that buildings can float.
The technology brought new creativity to her mathematical skills, and she began to create ever more innovative designs, often involving sweeping curves.
Hadid’s buildings often contain huge public spaces and curved lines, creating structures that appear to float. Her work became associated with the floating curve. Her structures were often built using concrete, glass, and steel.
Zaha Hadid made the UK her home for many years and her buildings here include the London Aquatics Centre built for the Olympics, which is now a neighbourhood swimming pool; Maggie’s Centre, Kirkcaldy; The Glasgow Riverside Museum of Transport; The Evelyn Grace Academy Brixton which won the Stirling Prize in 2011, and restaurant and exhibition space at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London.
Hadid won an international competition to design the Cardiff Bay Opera House in 1994, but the Millennium Commission decided against it.
The Zaha Hadid Foundation revealed plans to open a permanent gallery and study centre in London six years after her death. The charity preserves and shows her work and supports talented architects from diverse backgrounds. Zaha Hadid has left a huge legacy on contemporary architecture and is widely regarded as the greatest female architect.
Awards and international recognition
Zaha Hadid’s contribution to architecture has been recognised around the world by academic and professional bodies.
- She was the first woman to win the prestigious architecture award, the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004.
- Hadid joined the Forbes List of the World’s Most Powerful Women.
- The Japan Art Association presented her with the Praemium Imperiale.
- Twice she was awarded the Stirling Prize by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
- UNESCO named her an `Artist for Peace’.
- The Republic of France awarded Hadid the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
- TIME magazine included Hadid in their list of the `100 Most Influential People in the World’, naming her the world’s top thinker of 2010.
- Queen Elizabeth II made her a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012.
- Zaha Hadid received the Royal Gold Medal in 2016.
9 iconic buildings by British architect Dame Zaha Hadid
Al Janoub Stadium
Built in Qatar between 2014-2019, the stadium was commissioned for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar. The brief was for a 40,000-seat football stadium which could be reduced to a 20,000-seat capacity after the tournament and it should reflect the dhow, the area’s traditional boat. The roof design is based on the hulls of dhows turned upside down to provide shade.
The roof beams reflect the interior structure of a dhow. The tapered facades of the stadium slant outwards reflecting sails. Passive design principles were used to make the venue comfortable for players and spectators. It has a retractable roof and a cooling system powered by solar harvesting to enable its use in the hot summer. The structure is located on the coast in Al Wakrah, 23km from Doha, and is also known as the Al Wakrah Stadium.
Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Centre
This vast building incorporates five theatres, a music hall, a concert hall, and an opera house with a combined seating of 6,300. It has a total floor area of 62,770m2 and measures 62m in height and 490m in length. It stands in the 270-hectare cultural district of Saadiyat Island, developed by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and was commissioned by the Tourism Development and Investment Company of Abu Dhabi. The structure has panoramic views of the sea and the Abu Dhabi skyline, and the design involves a sculptural intersection of pedestrian pathways spreading via branches.
33-35 Hoxton Square, London
This design is based on a prism which responds to light. The aim of the structure was to give the building’s inhabitants views while maximising daylight. The design involves interwoven planes, to recognise neighbours’ need for light and views. This mixed-use structure replaced two existing buildings with a new building housing a gallery, offices, and flats. The main construction materials are sand-blasted aluminium and glass. The building is designed to maximise passive solar heating and natural ventilation.
Heydar Aliyev Centre
This iconic building in Baku, Azerbaijan, with its curved flowing style, was designed to house a cultural centre. It appears to be built from swooping shapes achieved with the help of hidden complex extreme engineering. Built from a grid of glass-fibre-reinforced polyester panels, the 57,500m2 Heydar Aliyev Centre is approached over a zigzag pathway that climbs to the start of the contours of the exterior.
Visitors then enter the vast white hall inside which has a feeling of suspended gravity. The Centre, which houses a museum, library, and conference centre, won the Design Museum’s `Designs of the Year’ award in 2014.
Port Authority Building in the harbour of Antwerp, Belgium
This government building, built between 2009-16, is the headquarters of the Antwerp Port Authority. The design involved renovating and repurposing a derelict fire station into new headquarters for the port. The structure has a total height of 46m and a site area of 16,400m2.
The glass-covered façade is made up of triangular facets, and concrete pillars and steel hold the glass structure above the former fire station, which now contains a library and reading room. The design is said to resemble the hull of a sailing ship. The site houses 500 employees.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Designed as a cultural hub in Seoul, South Korea, this building includes space for exploring new technologies, along with public rooms, exhibition halls, design labs, and conference facilities. Its futuristic architectural design involves curving lines. A mushroom-shaped building, it appears to float over the ground and is made from concrete, aluminium, steel, and stone.
The interior combines plaster, acoustic tiles, acrylic resin stainless steel, and polished stone. A popular tourist destination, it’s open 24 hours a day and has a park on its roof. The design includes solar panels and a water recycling system.
520 West 28th Street Condominium Residences
Built along the High Line in New York, this 11-storey residential housing project includes 39 houses. Its steel façade involves interlocking chevrons. The living spaces have 11-foot-high ceilings and amenities include a spa, pool, sculpture garden, and entertainment suite.
Guangzhou Opera House
Built between 2004-10 in Guangdong Province, China, this is an example of Zaha Hadid creating deconstructivist architecture. The building is shaped to resemble two pebbles on the bank of the Pearl River, which it overlooks. The design is influenced by the interplay between architecture and the natural landscape, erosion, and geology.
It has a unique twin boulder design and contoured profile, forming a promenade connecting to the riverside and dock areas. It houses a 1,800-seat theatre, a multifunctional hall, and rehearsal rooms. The interior spaces are lined with panels made from glass-fibre-reinforced gypsum to create a flowing surface and the building is filled with natural light.
Galaxy Soho Building
This urban complex with shops and offices in Beijing, China, opened in 2014. It covers 330,000m2 of retail, office, and entertainment space created from four main domed structures. These are linked by bridges and platforms around a series of public courtyards. There are 18 floors, three of which are underground, along with restaurants and bars on the higher levels. The building is clad in aluminium and stone and the interior spaces are made from glass, terrazzo, and stainless steel.