The Real Deal New York

Zaha Hadid, who bent skylines, dies at 65

Iraqi-British starchitect, first female Pritzker winner, was a polarizing figure in the world of design

March 31, 2016 11:17AM
By Kathryn Brenzel

Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid (credit: (Credit: Angela Pham for BFA)

Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-British architect whose sinuous designs pushed the limits of  building shapes, and who became the first female recipient of the Pritzker Prize, died Thursday. She was 65.

Hadid died suddenly of a heart attack at a hospital in Miami, where she was being treated for bronchitis, her company, Zaha Hadid Architects, confirmed.

Over the last few years, Hadid’s name has often come up in the same breath as giants of architecture such as Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Frank Lloyd Wright. An obituary released by her firm describes Hadid as the “greatest female architect in the world” whose interest lay in the intersection between “architecture, landscape and geology.”

“She was a great architect and a great friend. I will miss her,” Gehry said in a statement provided to The Real Deal.

Some of her most notable projects include the MAXXI: Italian National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome and the London Aquatics Center built for the 2012 Olympic Games. She is also the designer behind the upcoming Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, which will be used for the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

The London Aquatics Centre

The London Aquatics Centre

In New York, Hadid designed 520 West 28th Street, a spaceship-like condo rising over the High Line that is being developed by the Related Companies. In Miami, Hadid designed One Thousand Museum, an under-construction luxury condo tower being developed in downtown.

Louis Birdman, a co-developer of One Thousand Museum, said Hadid “knew how to push the bounds of design.”

Ismael Leyva, an architect who worked alongside Hadid on the 520 West 28th Street project, said in a statement to TRD that “her loss will be felt by all those who value the outstanding contributions she made to the built environment.” Jeff Blau, CEO of Related Cos., said in a statement that Hadid’s impact “is sure to be felt for decades to come.”

505 West 28th Street

A rendering of 520 West 28th Street

Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid went on to study mathematics at the American University of Beirut before moving to London to enroll at the Architectural Association in London in 1972. After graduation, she joined the Office of Metropolitan Architecture, and it was there that she worked under Rem Koolhaas. The Dutch architect once famously described the flamboyant Hadid as “a planet in her own inimitable orbit.”

Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas in the 1970s

Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas in the 1970s

“When he said it at the time, I was upset,” Hadid told CNN in 2014. “But in a way he was right — I should not have a conventional career and he was absolutely spot on.”

When Hadid won the Pritzker in 2004, the jury wrote of her work: ““Each new project is more audacious than the last and the sources of her originality seem endless.” In 2015, she became the first woman to win the RIBA Gold Medal, Britain’s top architecture prize.

Hadid started her own practice, Zaha Hadid Architects, in London in 1979. In her early years, she drew attention for her theoretical designs, such as a recreational center on the Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, which incorporated the cliffside into the building. Her design won the competition for the recreation center in 1983, but the vision was never realized. Further acclaim followed with her first major commission, the Vitra Fire Station in Germany in 1993, and the Guangzhou Opera House in China in 2010.

But the scale and ambition of her visions proved problematic at times. Late last year, her design for the 2020 Olympic stadium in Tokyo was thrown out amid spats over the $2.5 billion price tag. Her Qatari stadium project has drawn criticism for the alleged mistreatment of migrant workers, but Hadid said at the time that “it’s not my duty as an architect to look at” the issue.

A rendering of the Al-Wakrah stadium in Qatar Credit: Zaha Hadid Architects

A rendering of the Al-Wakrah stadium in Qatar Credit: Zaha Hadid Architects

Her status and demeanor in a male-dominated profession often earned her the label of a “diva” — to which her response was usually a variation of an early famous quote: “Would they still call me a diva if I was a man?”

Architect Peter Cook once described Hadid as “larger than life” and “bold as brass.” He called her immodest and a fierce critic of “poor work and stupidity,” but also a loyal friend. In his 2015 citation commemorating the Gold Medal, he said her early style eventually evolved from “spiky” lines inspired by Russian Constructivism, to the dreamlike, flowing lines that characterize her best-known work.

“For three decades now, she has ventured where few would dare: If Paul Klee took a line for a walk, then Zaha took the surfaces that were driven by that line out for a virtual dance and then deftly folded them over and then took them out for a journey into space,” Cook wrote at the time.

In a 2011 interview with Newsweek, Hadid explained her view of her profession.

“I don’t think that architecture is only about shelter, is only about a very simple enclosure,” she said. “It should be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think.”

Ina Cordle contributed reporting. 

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