Six Great Moments From the Life of Zaha Hadid

Photo: Christopher Pillitz/Getty Images

Zaha Hadid, the first female architect to ever win the Pritzker Prize, died on Thursday following a heart attack in a Miami hospital, where she was being treated for bronchitis. Hadid was 65 and at the top of her game. As New York’s architecture critic Justin Davidson wrote today, “She was an anomaly in many ways: an Iraqi-born woman in a profession that has traditionally privileged European men, and a fierce visionary in a business that runs on compromise.” 

Davidson also points out that her career — which spanned nearly 40 years and was punctuated by honors including a gold medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects — was marked by controversies that often felt tinged with misogyny. “Hadid’s problems became as famous as her successes, partly because both took place on a grand scale, and partly because when she perceived injustice, she fired back,” he writes. Most recently, a critic for The New York Review of Books wrongly reported that 1,000 workers had died in the construction of a Hadid-designed stadium in Qatar, despite the fact construction had not yet begun. While her response to the controversy — “I have nothing to do with the workers” — left some unsated, she won a defamation suit against TNYRB and gained a retraction regardless.

In architecture, Hadid’s bullishness was remarkable and noted often because of her gender. In a recent study published in Architect’s Journal, 70 percent of women in the field reported having experienced sexual discrimination in their industry. Hadid frequently tried to shed the “female architect” title, but as she got the question so often, she grew to embrace it. Here are five great moments in the life of a woman who was committed to being nothing if not exactly herself.

On rejecting, then accepting, the word female before the title of architect
“I used to not like being called a woman architect, because I’d say ‘I’m an architect, not a woman architect.’ Guys used to tap me on the head and say, ‘You’re okay for a girl.’ But I see the incredible amount of need from other women for reassurance that this could be done. So I don’t mind it at all.”

On people comparing her soccer stadium to a vagina:
“It’s really embarrassing that they come up with nonsense like this,”  she said. “What are they saying? Everything with a hole in it is a vagina? That’s ridiculous.”

On the way she was treated in Wales in the ’90s after some called her designs for the Cardiff Bay Opera House “elitist”:
“It was disgusting the way I was treated. These British women would tell little jokes. ‘Where’s your husband?’ they’d ask. I’d say, ‘I don’t have a husband.’ ‘Oh, is he in jail? Tee-hee!’ It was awful. ‘We don’t want a fatwa! Tee-hee!’” She added, “There were people who wouldn’t look me in the eye.”

On the boys’ club in architecture (and everywhere, really):
“I think it’s a boys’ club everywhere. And I’m not privy to that world so much — they go fishing, they go golfing, they go out and have a drink. And as a woman you’re excluded from that bonding. It’s a big difference.”

On having a reputation for being intimidating:
“There is nothing I can do about that. I don’t think they are used to many women being in this role. There is a fixated view about how you should be. I don’t necessarily abide by these rules.”

Oh, and ruminate on this:

Six Great Moments From the Life of Zaha Hadid