Though Zaha Hadid has been maligned in the architecture, critical and fashion worlds alike, nothing speaks louder than the Pritzker Foundation awarding her the 2004 Pritzker Architecture Prize. The Pritzker which known as the ‘Nobel of Architecture’ is the most prestigious award in the field of architecture. The awardee receives a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion as well as credibility in the aesthetic and sometimes superficial world of architects. Also, Ms. Hadid is the first woman who has won the award and shatters all preconceptions about architecture being a man’s domain and her place as a prominent Middle Eastern (Iraqi) woman has been sealed.
Her designs are notoriously called deconstructionist in the vein of certain Japanese fashion designers such as Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto and also of fellow architects Frank O. Gehry and Daniel Libeskind. The literary term is thus misused and does not begin to put into diction what her work represents for architecture. Her work is beauty conceptualized and captured at precisely perfect moment, much as a photograph that freezes time and maintains the instant for posterity as the following built projects demonstrate: Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany; LFone Landesgartenschau, Weil am Rhein, Germany; Car Park and Terminus, Strasbourg, France; Berisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria; The Richard and Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, Cincinatti, Ohio, United States.
Ms. Hadid was born and bred in Baghdad, Iraq and studied at the University of Beirut and then the Architectural Association in London under Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas whose office she joined upon graduation. Besides excellent credentials, one is presented with a woman with a strong personality who has been described as difficult, divaesque, and willful and has been known to walk out of meetings according to an article in International Design. “Her presence was nonetheless substantial,” “She is a large woman, and there was something arresting about the way her feet were squeezed into a pair of pointed, spike-heeled gold pumps…” wrote Nicholas Fox Weber in Vogue. The picture we are presented is one wherein Ms. Hadid is the extreme opposite of what she creates, unaesthetically pleasing, and therefore not to be taken as seriously as an architect which is highly disrespectful.
Her designs are highly conceptual and visually awe-inspiring and most are confined to countless drawings, paintings beautifully designed interiors of various worldwide locales as well as furniture. Her career has been fraught with difficulty since some of her greatest projects including the The Peak (Hong Kong), Cardiff Opera House (Wales) were never built. Still even though some critics view her as more of an academic than an architect, since she won many research-based design competitions from 1983-2002, Ms. Hadid’s vision has not faltered and she forged ahead also in the academic realm by publishing her drawings and paintings. Also, she accepted guest professorships at Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, the Knolton School of Architecture, Ohio, and the Masters Studio at Columbia University and was honored by being bestowed the Kenzo Tange Chair at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard and the Sullivan Chair at the University of Chicago School of Architecture.
Even with all of the difficulties Ms. Hadid has had in her career nothing, not her size or her feisty personality can take away from her creative genius and her own words echo the sentiment, “Would they call me a Diva if I were a guy?”
Teresa Camacho is a writer, editor, translator and critic of books of fiction, art, culture, history and religion from the Middle East focusing on Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, Algeria, Palestine, Spain, Mexico and Latin America. Camacho is a Comparative Literature (Spanish, French, and Italian) graduate of UC Berkeley and current student of Iranian/Middle Eastern Studies.
This was originally published in Women's Art News in 2005 and is the copyrighted intellectual property of Teresa Camacho.