Celebrating Zaha Hadid - First Woman to Win the Protzer Architecture Prize

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Thursday, May 23, 2019
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Architect Zaha Hadid captured the world's attention and shattered glass ceilings (in addition to designing some) by becoming the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. She was also the first woman awarded the Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects. ​Initially dubbed the “paper architect”, Dame Zaha Hadid’s plans were once perceived to be unbuildable.  She died in London at the age of 65 of a heart attack in March, 2016.


 zaha lead.0.0


For years, her designs struggled to move beyond the sketch phrase and be transformed into bricks and mortar. Nevertheless, this did not last long. Thanks to her unshakeable determination and fierce dynamism, the Iraqi-born British architect became known for building the unbuildable.



Born in Iraq in 1950, Hadid learned about abstract art and architecture at the Architectural Association in London.  There, she found inspiration in unconventional forms. Before computers made her designs easier to put on paper, Hadid's studio was known to use the photocopier in creative ways to bend lines and create new shapes. Today's architecture finds inspiration in Hadid's energetic sketches, which explored both form and function.


 Zaha Hadid Architects Baku 1


Hadid broke new ground on modern architecture using the surrounding landscape for building inspiration. The straight lines and sharp angles of the Vitra Fire Station in Germany were inspired by nearby vineyards and farmland, while the roof of the London Aquatic Centre forms the shape of a wave. You can see the London Aquatic Centre and some of Hadid's other impressive work in Google Earth's interactive exhibit.


abu dhabi performing arts centre by zaha hadid 

Zaha Hadid's Abu-Dhabi Performing Arts Center Project



Hadid's Outstanding Buildings in Pictures:  From the swooping space-age shopping mall to the Z-shaped school with a running track through it, here are the buildings that Zaha Hadid will be remembered as the "Queen of the Curve." 


Vitra Firestation, Weil am Rhein (1994)


Hadid’s first completed project – a complex construction of tilted and clashing planes – looks very different from her later, organic designs. “A clear demonstration of the rhetorical power of architecture – and the possibility of achieving impressive effects with modest means,” said the Architectural Review, admiring the “gestural, pointy porch that yells ‘Emergency!’” Its daring geometries proved too much for the firemen, who moved out, leaving the building to become an events space.


Phaeno Wolfsburg 1


The Phaeno science centre “condenses a lot of the things that have been in my work for a long, long time”, Hadid said, while a critic described it as “an astonishing, exhilarating concrete and steel vortex of a building – somewhere you go to experience the operatic power of space”. Raised on fat concrete cones, it is a cathedral of jagged angles, looming curves, fractured planes and daring protrusions, its 154 metre length seeming to hover in the air.


 orbitz Zaha Hadid phaeno science center wolfsburg germany

Science Centre Phaeno in Wolfsburg, Germany


Bridge Pavilion, Zaragoza (2008) 


Inspired by gladioli and the waterway beneath it, Hadid’s first completed bridge throws 280 metres of fibre-glass reinforced concrete across the river Ebro. Half pedestrian walkway, half exhibition area, the covered structure was built to link the La Almozara neighbourhood to the site of the 2008 Zaragoza Expo.


Athlets running

Evelyn Grace Academy, London (2008)


schueco evelyn grace academy 016 scaled1000


This Z-shaped school in Brixton, south London – with a running track tunnelling right through it and out the other side – beat another hot favorite to win the Stirling Prize. Given that the hot favourite was the Olympic velodrome, this was the year when Hadid – whose office was a former school – finally felt she was being acknowledged in Britain.


Glass structure
Guangzhou opera house, Guangzhou, China (2010)


 Guangzhou Opera House interior

“Like pebbles in a stream smoothed by erosion,” was how Hadid herself described this £130m building, which was designed to blend in perfectly with its riverside setting. Regarded as one of the most alluring opera houses ever built, it boasted a folded, flowing glass structure that let light flood in.


Guangzhou Opera HouseNear


The creation was inaugurated with the first ever performance in China of Puccini’s Turandot, a controversial opera in the country. But the “erosion” was a little more severe than planned: a year after the building opened, cladding panels were already falling off. 


Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Abu Dhabi (2010)


With its swooping arches and curves intended to emulate the rippling of sand dunes, this 842-metre bridge hangs on the horizon like a frozen scribble. Named after the country’s principal architect and former president, the £200m structure – spanning the Maqtah channel – is perhaps at its best at night, when coloured lighting floods its spine. 



 Riverside Museum Glasgow

Riverside Museum, Glasgow (2011)

Hadid’s first major building in Britain, dubbed “Glasgow’s Guggenheim” and winner of the 2013 European museum of the year award. Beneath a stunning zinc-clad zigzag roof, a 36m-high glazed frontage overlooks the river Clyde.


First Project

The steel-framed structure, built on the site of an old shipyard, houses a column-free, 7,000 square metre exhibition space. Costing £74m, it has been criticised for its display strategy – in which many exhibits are placed high up on the wall too far from view.




London Aquatics Centre, Stratford (2012)


The “most jaw-dropping municipal swimming pool in the world”, according to the Guardian. Originally built for the 2012 Olympics at a cost of £269m, this cathedral-like space seats houses two 50-metre pools and seats for 2,500 spectators.


London Olympics Aquatic Center 2012 02


The London Aquatics Center is part of the olympic Park in Stratford and its wave of a roof rests on just three concrete supports, and huge windows let the light flood in.


Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku
Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, Baku in Azerbaijan (2012)


All swooping curves and flowing space, this 619,000-square-foot complex in the capital of Azerbaijan won the London Design Museum award in 2014; one judge called it “as pure and sexy as Marilyn’s blown skirt”. The softly folded roof shelters a museum, an auditorium and a multi-purpose hall. Reports put the cost at $250m. Human rights groups have criticised the project for seeing families forcibly evicted from their homes on the site.


Soho Beijing 

Galaxy Soho, Beijing China (2012)

Possibly the most space-age-looking of all Hadid’s works, this spooling creation comprises four domed structures linked by a ravishing mixture of bridges and platforms flowing around what can only be called a central canyon.


ZH Galaxy Soho 013


Like a smoothed off mille-feuille, the 18-storey retail, office and entertainment colossus boasts interior courts intended to reflect traditional Chinese architecture – although it has been criticised by local heritage groups for flattening an area of historic hutongs.


galaxy soho lit


miami architecture roundup zaha hadid oma rem koolhaas herzog de meuron designboom 04

Zaha Hadid Miami Skyscraper on the Bay