Zaha Hadid Biography


Born in Baghdad, Iraq, October 31, 1950; daughter of a politician/businessman. Education: Studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut; Architectural Association School (London), Diploma Prize, 1977.

Addresses: Office —Zaha Hadid Architects, Studio 9, 10 Bowling Green Lane, London EC1R OBQ, United Kingdom. Website —


Graduated from the Architectural Association School, 1977; won design competition for Hong Kong's Peak Club, 1983; completed Vitra Fire Station in Germany, 1993; won design competition for Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales, 1994; designed Bergisel Ski-Jump in Innsbruck, Austria, 1999; completed Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, 2003; two designs chosen for projects in London, 2005.

Awards: Mies van der Rohe Award for contemporary architecture from the European Union, 2003; Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2004.


Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win architecture's highest award, spent years on her profession's avant-garde, better known for her wild designs than for built projects. That reputation grew in the 1990s

Zaha Hadid
due to a widely publicized rejection in her adopted home country, Great Britain, and her provocative personality. Her professional breakthrough came in 2003 with the successful construction of her challenging design for a museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. The next year, she won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, and several more of her provocative designs were on their way to being realized by early 2005.

Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1950, at a time when the city was considered cosmopolitan and tolerant. Her father embodied that vision: an industrialist who had studied at the London School of Economics, he was the head of the progressive National Democratic Party, which was dedicated to making Iraq secular and more democratic. Her parents sent her to a Catholic school where students spoke French, and Muslim and Jewish students were welcome. "There was never a question that I would be a professional," she told Newsweek 's Cathleen McGuigan. The difference between the Baghdad of her childhood and its years of dictatorship, followed by unrest, pains her; interviewers have described her as struggling to talk about Iraq.

After studying mathematics at the American University in Beirut, Hadid came to London in 1972. She has been based there ever since and is now a British citizen. She studied at the Architectural Association, which was a home for wildly experimental design in the 1970s and 1980s. For her graduation project, called Malevich's Tectonik, she designed a hotel to stand atop the Hungerford Bridge over England's River Thames. After she graduated in 1977, she went to work for one of her teachers, the radical architect Rem Koolhaas.

In 1982 and 1983, she designed a proposed mountainside club, the Peak Club in Hong Kong, and won the design competition. "Her amazing design, a 'horizontal skyscraper,' called for four huge beams to be rammed into a mountainside, yet it looked as sleek as a UFO," wrote McGuigan in Newsweek. The design was never built, though it appeared in a show at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

For years afterward, Hadid's designs and her paintings of them challenged other architects, exciting some and alienating others. She was linked with architecture's radical "deconstruction" movement. "The images of Hadid's buildings became staples of the tide of publications about deconstruction which dominated architectural debate in the late 1980s," Edwin Heathcote wrote in the Financial Times. "Her seductive paintings of fragmented cityscapes became an antidote to the self-referential pomposity of postmodernism and the crushing banality of British development. But Hadid, despite her influence, was often dismissed as a dreamer, whose work was unrealizable and impractical."

Her next big success came in 1993, when she completed what became her first signature project, the Vitra Fire Station for the Vitra Furniture Company in Weil am Rhein, Germany. The angular building is now a museum. Vitra later brought her back to the town for an exhibition to mark the city's garden festival in 1999.

It appeared that Hadid had scored a triumph in 1994 when her design was chosen for the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales. It "called for an inviting glass courtyard around an auditorium within," the Economist explained. "It looked on paper angular and explosive—to the casual glance aggressive even. Critics derided it for disregarding the city and its traditions." The design was both inviting to the passer-by and a tribute to opera's refinement, the article said, but local opinion ran against it, and it was rejected. The money was spent on a stadium instead. Hadid still points to the debacle as an example of the disrespect she has suffered in her career. "When I was in Cardiff they didn't talk to me. Literally. They looked at me sideways, or behind me. Not all of them, but some quite specific people." she told Building Design 's Zoe Blackler. Hadid's years of struggle to see her designs realized have left her feeling that she faced more obstacles than other architects. "People were patronizing towards me all the time. They didn't know how to behave with me," she told Blackler. "I don't know whether people responded to me in a strange way because they just thought I was one of those eccentric people, or they thought I was a foreigner or behaved funny or I'm a woman."

The other side of that story is that some people believe she is temperamental and difficult. One example of this opinion is Mickey O'Connor, writing in Architecture about her appearance at the American Institute of Architects' 2000 convention. He found her "strident" and full of "chutzpah," dismissed as griping her complaints in her keynote speech about the obstacles she had faced, and he recounted her clashes with other members of a panel on American architecture. In confrontational, even crass language, she challenged American architects to be bolder, not be intimidated by zoning laws, and not to defer so much to their clients.

"Beloved by journalists and members of her own profession for what is frequently described as her diva presence, Ms. Hadid has only recently found the clients willing to look beyond her reputation for being difficult," New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp wrote in 2004. The reference to her as a diva, a term originally used for female opera stars, can cut both ways. Her critics use it to suggest arrogance, while her admirers adopt it to praise her personal style.

"She cuts a dramatic, voluptuous figure in her black outfits," wrote Mark Irving in the Financial Times, "high heels (sometimes these are glass), jewelry (expensive), above which large heavily lidded eyes and purple-painted lips that always seem to be set in a slightly unsatisfied pout, turn on you like the guns of a well-armored battleship." Hadid herself swats away the diva label as sexism. Visitors to a 2003 retrospective of her work in Vienna, Austria, received free T-shirts at the door that read, "Would they call me a diva if I were a guy?," according to the New York Times ' Muschamp.

Hadid's career really began to take a turn when two of her designs were chosen for construction in 1998 and 1999: the new Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati and the Bergisel Ski-Jump on Bergisel Mountain in Innsbruck, Austria. The ski-jump, wrote Richard Lacayo of Time, "signs the sky with a swooping slalom."

The Center for Contemporary Art, Hadid's first building in the United States, opened in 2003. "[It is] the most important American building to be completed since the end of the cold war," raved Muschamp in the New York Times. "Like Hadid herself, the building links traditional cosmopolitan values with the phenomenon of globalization."

Other writers joined in the praise. McGuigan of Newsweek described it this way: "The sidewalk literally continues right into the glassed-in first story, with its concrete floor—the 'urban carpet,' she calls it—inviting passersby to come in and hang out. Then, around the corner, the pavement sweeps up into a curve that ingeniously becomes the building's back wall." Time 's Lacayo commented, "This is a building that does not so much sit on its street corner as continuously arrive there."

Hadid explained that variety and surprise are important to her designs. "People don't want to be in the kind of space that they inhabit every day," she told Lacayo in Time. He agreed: "[Hadid] treats right angles as something best left to squares." According to Muschamp of the New York Times, Hadid's interest in "movement, curvature, porosity, [and] extreme horizontal elongation" have made her a major influence on other architects.

Her sudden breakthrough is partially a result of trends catching up to her, Hadid and critics agree. "In the past few years, fantastic visions have become more familiar," she told Lacayo of Time. In other words, radical, challenging architectural designs, such as the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and Daniel Libeskind's plans for the former site of the World Trade Center in New York City have become accepted and led the way for other ultra-creative designs, including hers. Critics sympathetic to her work have also noted that it has become somewhat less jarring and confrontational than her early work.

A year after the Rosenthal Center opened, Hadid won the Pritzker Prize, architecture's highest honor. "Although her body of work is relatively small, she has achieved great acclaim and her energy and ideas show even greater promise for the future," said Thomas J. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, which established the prize, in the press release that announced the award.

Lord Rothschild, chairman of the jury that awards the prize, praised Hadid's "commitment to modernism" and said in the press release that her "always inventive" designs had "shifted the geometry of buildings." She received the award on May 31, 2004, at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Since she is the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, interviewers have asked Hadid, even more often, what it is like to be a female architect. "I think it shows that you can actually break through the glass ceiling," she told Heathcote in the Financial Times. "I don't want to be seen as a woman architect," she added, but she says she is happy if her success helps other women believe they can achieve. "Women would actually come up to me, particularly in New York, in restaurants, to congratulate me. When I lecture all over the world, women come up to me all the time to tell me how encouraged they are."

At the time she won the award, Hadid and the staff of nearly 50 at her London office were working on several new commissions either in construction or design development. They included the BMW Central Building in Leipzig, Germany; the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany; Maxxi, the National Center for Contemporary Arts in Rome, Italy; a station for high-speed trains in Naples, Italy; a plan for a Science Hub, a huge "science city" development in Singapore; a bridge in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates; and the Price Tower Arts Center addition in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, an addition to a tower designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

As 2005 began, Hadid enjoyed another belated professional triumph. She has never seen one of her designs built in England, her adopted home country, except for temporary pavilions and a temporary exhibit at London's Millennium Dome. But in January of 2005, Britain's Architecture Foundation chose Hadid's design for its new exhibition center in London, which will be one of the first new cultural buildings in central London in decades.

She still had not shaken controversy. Robert Booth, in an editorial in Building Design, suggested that "star" architects such as Hadid benefit from a favoritism in competitions that values successful marketing more than pure architectural talent. "Hadid's building hardly stands out as far and away the most fascinating architecture in the context of the competition," he wrote. "However, its presence will bring kudos to the site."

A few weeks later, though, Hadid won a second British competition. Her design was chosen for the Olympic Aquatics Centre, the first sports venue London will build in hopes of attracting the Olympic Games in 2012. The British used to be reluctant to invest in new ideas, she told the Financial Times ' Heathcote a few months earlier. "[S]omething has changed radically here recently. There is no resistance to the new any more. Eventually this will filter through into building. England being part of Europe is the most positive thing that could have happened."



Architecture, June 2000, p. 31.

Building Design, January 21, 2005, p. 11; February 4, 2005, p. 8.

Economist, June 19, 1999, p. 85; March 27, 2004, p. 56.

European Report, May 24, 2003, p. 479.

Financial Times, June 29, 2002, p. 7; May 25, 2004, p. 13.

Newsweek, May 19, 2003, p. 78.

New York Times, June 8, 2003; March 22, 2004; January 13, 2005, p. E3.

Time, April 5, 1999, p. 74; June 23, 2003.


"On-line Media Kit," Pritzker Prize, (February 20, 2005).

"Profile," Zaha Hadid Architects, (February 20, 2005).

"Zaha Hadid chosen to design first Olympic venue," Greater London Authority, (February 20, 2005).

"Zaha M. Hadid," Archinform, (February 20, 2005).

—Erick Trickey

User Contributions:

Rand Kubaisi
21st of July 2015

Dear Sir/Madame,
I am a student of Cammeray public school Sydney, NSW, Australia In my school there is a night called “Night of Notables”. On this night we year 6’s are meant to dress up as a person who has impacted Australia, and I have chosen Zaha Hadid because I think that her designs are amazing and that she has done a lot of great things to our society. I was just wondering if you could give me any source of contact of Zaha Hadid, so i have more information for mty research.
Kind regards,
Rand Kubaisi,
Student of Cammeray Public School

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: