Part 23 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month
Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) was the most famous and sought-after woman architect ever. Like the vast majority of women included in this month’s study, she was born into a privileged family (hers in Iraq) with liberal and artistic leaning. Their support allowed her primary education in England, Switzerland, and Beirut, followed by professional studies at the Architectural Association in London. There, she distinguished herself as a superstar in need of her own firmament. After work with OMA in Rotterdam, she opened her own firm in 1980 and, again like many women here, conjoined teaching and practice (much of it unbuilt work that existed only in publication–like the Peak of 1983, above). She gained even wider renown when she appeared in the name-making Deconstructivism show at MOMA in 1988. Her career quickly took off in the following decade through competitions and commissions in the US, Europe, and the UAE; in the new millennium her reach expanded through Asia (China, Azerbaijan, South Kora, Hong Kong) and into diverse design fields, from shoes to yachts.
The first woman to receive the Prizker Prize (in 2004, having only completed four buildings of relatively small size) and RIBA’s Gold Medal (2015), she also won the Stirling Prize (twice: 2010 & 2011), was knighted (2012), and picked up other significant honors along the way (like the Republic of France’s Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Japan’s Praemium Imperiale).
Hadid’s impact was global; her legacy profound. And yet her identity always included the asterisk, always the modifier, always the adjective (as succinctly stated by Gloria Steinem: Whoever has power takes over the noun – and the norm – while the less powerful get an adjective.) Her explosive creativity was heralded but constantly gendered, even by the press that fawned over her: “queen of the curve,” reminding readers both of the female body and its secondary position to a true ruler (if one associates the phrase with medieval lore, rather than the potential power of the chess piece). Even stupid Wikipedia does her the disservice of including her in a gendered subheading within their entry on “Iraqi Architects” (below). Hadid died knowing that in spite of having achieved everything a male peer might have aspired to (not only as the most prominent woman in practice but also the most famous Arab architect in the world), she remained on the outskirts of a world dominated by fraternities in which she–and so many others–remain unwelcome.