Five Important Days in Zaha Hadid’s Life

June 6, 2017 Alashhar No comments exist

 “Architecture is no longer a man’s world.

This idea that women can’t think three dimensionally is ridiculous.”

– Zaha Hadid, Veuve Cliequeote Ceremony (Business Woman Award).[1]

Written by Sara Ben Lashihar – Sara is the original author of this article.

Precisely! This Mosul-Born woman had demonstrated her saying by designing more than 950 projects in more than 44 countries[2]. She entered the history of architecture with a fame spread vastly throughout the world. Her name sparkled in the sky of the architecture as a megastar! Her path was not straight, it was rocky, narrow and full with obstacles. She has gone to a lot of effort and expense to be what she is now; she won prestigious prizes that even presidents never dreamed of. The most recent one was the 2016 Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), which made her the first female who awarded this honor [3].

Courtesy of The Hyatt Foundation.
Courtesy of The Hyatt Foundation.

Have you ever wondered what made Zaha became the Dame Zaha Hadid today? Is she normal person? Of course she is! She is exceptional, but she is ordinary human being. She explained the secret of her success in one of her interviews: “… it is working hard”[4]. She passed through critical times; she failed and she succeeded, she lost and she wan, as any common life. All these facts led us to the big question; What are the important days in her life?

Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation.

“I had a fabulous childhood…” Zaha described her life in Iraq when it was in 1950’s in its peak. Greatest architects at that time; Wright and Le Corbusier were invited to design in Iraq, and Gropius did built [1]. Iraq in those years was bright and pride as the meaning of Zaha’s name in Arabic. Liberal parents raised Zaha; her father studied in the U.K, and headed the Iraqi National Democratic Party. She was very curious child and her father was so patient with her unstoppable questions. Her parents gave her the freedom of choice and making her own decisions even in buying her own clothes. Such environment has promoted her personality and has improved her self-confidence to the extent that she announced at 11 years old her desire to study architecture[1].

Zaha Hadid's Parents

Zaha Hadid’s Parents.

Day 1# The Absolute Decision

Her obsession of being an architect was rising during her adolescence; her mother gave her the right to redesign the interior of the guestroom, and to have special design for her own bedroom[1]. Her insistence to study architecture was the debate topic of her family “We have a better idea for you Zaha…You can become the first Iraqi astronaut!” One of her brothers was teasing her [4]. However, she studied mathematics at the American University in Beirut. As soon as she graduated, she traveled to London and joined the Association of Architecture (AA) in 1972.

Zaha, the Child!

Zaha the Child!

 Day 2# The Graduation

At the first three years of her study at AA, Zaha did not find herself in architecture, she was lost and bored, and she acted like a regular student. In her fourth year, she decided to make a difference in the stable architecture movements in that time. “It was very anti-design. It was almost a movement of anti-architecture. The focus was that previous artists did not work, let us have alternative life.” Zaha described [1]. Her teachers, Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, have noticed her aptitude “… it was very clear from the very first moment that she would be a name in the history of architecture.” Elia stated. Her designs were influenced by Supertamism movement, especially with the paintings of the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich[5]. It was clearly shown in her graduation project in 1977. She used abstraction and fragmentation techniques that were derived from one of Malevich’s models[6]. The concept was based on deconstructing the mass to its basic geometries, then rearranges them to create new block. This project was her first step towards success. After graduation, she was assigned as an assistant lecturer in the AA, and became a partner with her teachers in their office. In 1979, she decided to launch her own studio, and work on her special design approach.

Photo via A/N Blog.

Day 3# The “Peak”

At the beginning of the eighties, Zaha worked hard; she was teaching in the morning, and dedicated herself for her office in the evening. In 1982, she participated in an international competition “Peak” in Hong Kong to design a leisure club[7].

This competition was an encouragement to Zaha to push herself beyond her limits. She devoted herself in the 80’s for participation in architectural contests. She believed it is the only way to express her trend and spread her design theory freely[8]. This period of her life was a chapter of self-proving. She went through fire and water, and faced criticism about her ambiguity, which labeled her “Paper Architect”. Moreover, she was classified in 1988 within “Deconstructivism” when she exhibited her “Peak” in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York[9]. She commented: “Deconstructivism is a word that somebody, somewhere hatched up…”[4]

Painting – Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects.

Day 4# The Rejection

After ten years of diligence and sleepless nights, Zaha won the competition of designing Vitra Fire Station in Germany in 1990. Her design was a pure concrete block with angularity edges as if it was stretched to a focal point. It was called “Movement Frozen” [10]. “…it has to be concrete, heavy but free and light. So, it was amazing. She has created an incredible signature.    Concrete became something else, I think, after her.” Helene Binet, The photographer of the design described the building [1].

Vitra Fire Station – Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects.

Vitra Fire Station – Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects.

Subsequently, her design for Cardiff Bay Opera House in 1994 got the first prize[11]. This victory aroused substantial controversy; she received criticism and harsh reviews about her design under the pretext that it is not buildable! “… we were treated very badly. But they didn’t want us… I do not know what they wanted, actually. .. Many people thought the drawings we did were so obscure and very difficult to understand. But we do drawings of every kind. The plaza sections are not the same as a normal building. It is not a square building. Or a rectangle. That project was easily… Could be easily done.”  Zaha complained [1].

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects.

Cardiff Bay Opera House

This attitude caused her deep sadness and depression that she decided to leave the discipline, but her partner Patrick was a great motivator and supporter to return her back to work[5]. Zaha considers Cardiff‘s case a curse that drove her studio to a great recession in the nineties, and forced her to work harder to get on her feet again [1].

Courtesy of Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects. Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects. Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects. Courtesy of

Day 5# The Glamour

The glamorous days for Zaha started in the 2000s, specifically when she honored with the Pritzker Award in 2004[12]. This honor is recognition from the architectural world of her superiority and excellence. She was the first female architect who awarded this prize, and her name entered the history of architecture. Since then, Zaha is deemed an icon shines in the sky of architecture.

Courtesy of The Hyatt Foundation.Courtesy of The Hyatt Foundation.

Written by Sara Ben Lashihar

Architect, Autodesk Revit Trainer, Graphic Designer.

Architect, Autodesk Revit Trainer, Graphic Designer.

Ms. Ben Lashihar is the original author of this article, she wrote it in November 2015 for  known magazine.Unfortunately, the article was infringed and attributed to other authors.


[1] Hadid, Zaha. “Zaha Hadid: Who Dares Wins.” Interview with Alan Yentob. BBC One, July 30, 2013.

[2] Zaha Hadid Architects.

[3] RIBA. “Royal Gold Medal 2016 – Zaha Hadid.”

[4] Hadid, Zaha. “Waraa Alwojooh.” Interview with Ricardo Karam. Almostakbal TV, March 24, 2012.

[5] Furman, Andrew. “The Walkability of Architecture: Conceptual Diagrams of Circulation in the work of Zaha Hadid.” Ryerson University, Ontario, Canada.

[6] “Malevich Tektonik.” Zaha Hadid Architects.

[7] “The Peak Leisure Club.” Zaha Hadid Architects.

[8] Pritzker Architecture prize citations. The Hyatt Foundation, Los Angles, 2004.

[9] AbdUllah, AmatalRoaf, Ismail Bin Said, and DilshanRemaz Ossen. “Zaha Hadid’s Techniques of Architectural Form-Making.” Open Journal for Architectural Design, Sciknow Publications Ltd.2013.

[10] “Vitra Fire Station.” Zaha Hadid Architects.

[11] “Cardiff Bay Opera House.” Zaha Hadid Architects.

[12] “Zaha Hadid Laureate 2004.” The Pritzker Architecture Prize.

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