On March 31st, the architectural community lost one of its greats. Zaha Hadid was ground-breaking, innovative, influential and quite often, controversial (it is difficult to be the first two things without being the latter).
The remembrances have been, for the most part, glowing. The architectural community is well aware of the immense talent that was lost too soon. One can’t help but notice, however, that she is often remembered, even by the AIA, as a female architect specifically. Her whole life and career, Hadid fought the image of her as a woman first and architect second. Still, she did not shy away from highlighting that her gender played a role in biases against her. In her own words: “My work is not within the accepted box. Maybe because I am a woman. Also an Arab. There was a certain prejudice about these things” (Hadid).
In the face of discrimination, based on her gender and culture, she was fierce. Her public persona often overshadowed her groundbreaking work. Herein lies the paradox for one of the most prominent architects of a generation: her actions were interpreted through the lens of how women are expected to behave. After her passing, she was described in one article as a “rude” and “narcissistic”(Mount). One can’t help but wonder if a male would be remembered the same way, or if her attitude and personality were especially jarring because of a gender bias.
Hadid did not behave as expected, and would not act as an “obedient partner” (Hadid). Her work pushed boundaries, assertively moving the practice of architecture out of the moment of modern architecture into something new that could neither be described as historisticst nor postmodernist. Hadid would define a new architecture. According to Architecture Critic Joseph Giovannini, she had “invented a new anti-gravitational visual physics. She suspended weight in the same way dramatists suspend disbelief. ”(Giovannini)
In 2004, Hadid became the first woman ever to receive a Pritzker Prize, a resounding recognition of her revolutionary work. The executive director of the Pritzker prize, architect Bill Lacy, described “Only rarely does an architect emerge with a philosophy and approach to the art form that influences the direction of the entire field. Such an architect is Zaha Hadid who has patiently created and refined a vocabulary that sets new boundaries for the art of architecture.”("Zaha Hadid Becomes the First Woman to Receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize.")
Perhaps we are lucky that Hadid possessed the very traits she has been criticized for, as they may have been necessary traits for a woman trying to excel in an unfriendly profession. If she had been in anyway different, we might have missed out on some of the greatest architecture of our time.
We would do well to remember Zaha Hadid thoroughly. We should not forget that she paved the way for women after her, but our own tendencies to remember her as a woman first, in spite of her immense contribution, prove there is work to be done in our thinking, in our practice. We should not forget that she was strong-willed and controversial. We should not forget that regardless of gender or personality, she gave us a new architecture: optimistic, bold, and profoundly awe-inspiring. On Zaha Hadid, there is much to remember, much for the architectural community to miss.
Giovannini, Joseph. "The Architecture of Zaha Hadid." The Pritzker Architecture Prize. The Hyatt Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
Hadid, Zaha. Interview by Alain Elkann. “Zaha Hadid: It’s Tough Being an Arab Woman in the Architecture Business." The Huffington Post. N.p., 09 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
Mount, Harry. "Zaha Hadid Was One of Architecture's Greatest Narcissists | Coffee House." Coffee House. The Spectator, 04 Apr. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
"Zaha Hadid Becomes the First Woman to Receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize."
The Pritzker Architecture Prize. The Hyatt Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.