fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

Zaha Hadid’s Monumental Legacy


By Tori Phelps

To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, Zaha Hadid did it her way. The late architect shattered barriers and created a groundbreaking career simply by chasing her passion.

As a woman, the door to architectural success was barely ajar. As an Iraqi, it might as well have been closed. But Hadid either didn’t notice—or didn’t care. Ultimately, her life was punctuated by a series of firsts that won’t be seen again.

She was the first woman and the first Iraqi to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of architecture, and the first woman in her own right to receive the Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Yet Hadid was more than just a remarkable female architect; she was one of the best architects the world has seen. Period.

Born October 31, 1950, in Baghdad to an artist mother and a father who cofounded the National Democratic Party, Hadid did have one advantage: an upper-class family. For her, that meant boarding schools in England and Switzerland and mathematics studies at the American University of Beirut.

In 1972, she returned to England to study at London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture. Hadid clearly impressed her instructors; she joined them at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, earning partner status a short time later. She ventured out on her own in 1979 when she launched an eponymous London-based architecture firm.

Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan. Zaha Hadid Architect Architecture
Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Elnur / Shutterstock

A few years later, Harvard called. Hadid left her adopted home country—she had become a naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom—to accept a Kenzo Tange Professorship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She taught off and on for decades at prestigious institutions like Yale and Columbia University and in cities from Chicago to Hamburg to Vienna.

She taught off and on for decades at prestigious institutions like Yale and Columbia University and in cities from Chicago to Hamburg to Vienna.

Teaching the next generation of architects didn’t slow her creative streak, and in 1988, her inclusion in an architectural drawing exhibition at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art put her on the map. She began racking up commissions in every corner of the world, including standouts like the MAXXI(National Museum of the 21st Century Arts) in Rome, Italy. According to Hadid, the MAXXI, with its curved concrete walls and suspended black staircases, was intended to be “a new fluid kind of spatiality of multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry, designed to embody the chaotic fluidity of modern life.”

China’s Guangzhou Opera House was another feather in her professional cap. Noted for its harmonious integration with its riverside locale, Hadid’s design was influenced by the way erosion changes river valleys.

Then, when the city she loved landed a bid for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Hadid was tapped to design the London Aquatics Centre, which was seen on televisions around the world.

Hadid was a pioneer of parametricism, a style that draws heavily on the principles of her first love, mathematics, but her work is also celebrated for its outside-the-box ingenuity.

Hadid was a pioneer of parametricism, a style that draws heavily on the principles of her first love, mathematics, but her work is also celebrated for its outside-the-box ingenuity. This rare fusion of abilities is, perhaps, why she was drawn to high-profile projects outside of architecture—like upscale furniture, brassware and, in a collaboration with the apparel company Lacoste, an avant-garde boot.

The world took notice of her contributions. Hadid was named to the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful women and as one of Time magazine’s one hundred most influential people in the world.

Not everyone was a fan, however. In its truest form, architecture is an art that reflects a bit of its creator’s soul, and like all art, it invites commentary. Both the public and the critics generally had positive responses to Hadid’s offerings; in fact, they often drew rave reviews. Her critics, though, deemed her structures too grand, too expensive, and too dismissive of ecological concerns. She made no apologies for any of it. Her focus was her art.

The London Aquatics Centre at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, East London River Thames Zaha Hadid Architect Architecture
The London Aquatics Centre at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, East London, was inspired by the fluidity of moving water and the River Thames outside. Photo by Ron Ellis / Shutterstock

In what would be the last years of her life, Hadid’s accumulation of achievements picked up speed, a seemingly impossible feat considering her long list of triumphs. In 2010, the Iraqi government finally commissioned her for a project in her homeland: the new headquarters of the Central Bank of Iraq in Baghdad. In the UK, she also received the Stirling Prize, among the most prestigious architecture awards in the United Kingdom, back to back in 2010 and 2011, and in 2012, she was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. The year 2015 saw the announcement that she had won the RIBA Gold Medal.

Then, in an abrupt end to an astonishing career, while being treated for bronchitis in a Miami hospital, Hadid died on March 31, 2016, at the age of sixty-five. Her London architectural design firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, remains. Most importantly, her innovative ideas and stunning architectural masterpieces live on as enduring testimonies to a trailblazing virtuosa.

— V —

Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine September 2023 Jay Mercado
VIE Magazine - The Art & Design Issue November 2021
VIE Magazine January 2021 Special Commemorative Edition
VIE Magazine September 2020 Wanderlust Issue, Fancy Camps, The Idea Boutique
VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail