RIBA pays tribute to ‘inspirational’ architect Zaha Hadid

Dame Zaha Hadid (image by Brigitte Lacombe)
Dame Zaha Hadid (image by Brigitte Lacombe)

World-renowned architect Dame Zaha Hadid, whose designs include Glasgow’s Riverside Museum, has died aged 65.

Zaha Hadid Architects, the practice she established in 1979, confirmed that the designer died suddenly in the early hours of of Thursday morning while in hospital in Miami.

She had contracted bronchitis earlier this week and suffered a sudden heart attack while being treated in hospital.

Zaha was recently awarded the RIBA’s 2016 Royal Gold Medal, the first woman to be awarded the prestigious honour in her own right.

She also won the Stirling Prize twice, for the MAXXI Museum in Rome in 2010, and for Brixton’s Evelyn Grace Academy in 2011. In 2012, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

RIBA President Jane Duncan said: “This is absolutely terrible news. Dame Zaha Hadid was an inspirational woman, and the kind of architect one can only dream of being. Visionary and highly experimental, her legacy despite her young age, is formidable. She leaves behind a body of work from buildings to furniture, footwear and cars, that delight and astound people all around the world. It was only last month that I had the enviable task of awarding Zaha the 2016 Royal Gold Medal for architecture – she was delighted to receive the recognition and adds the medal to an amazing collection of awards, not least winning the RIBA Stirling Prize years running. The world of architecture has lost a star today.”

Tony Chapman, RIBA Honorary Fellow and past Head of Awards, added: “Many of us will feel personally diminished by Zaha’s death. Her imagination and her determination - qualities she had in equal measure - made her unique in architecture.And in recent years technology has caught up with that incredible imagination, meaning the world was able to share in the joy of her work, a privilege previously only shared by the cognoscenti. I have had the pleasure to visit a large number of her buildings over the past two decades and they are always far more persuasive and delightful in reality than on the screen or the page. She made beguiling places in a way few others could: witness the dynamism of her elevations in Montpelier, the way the routes in MAXXI and the Vienna University Library inveigle the visitor, or the overhead tracks of BMWs in Leipzig amaze with the strength of a single idea.

“The discrepancy between the expectation and the actuality were perhaps even more marked in the person: many went to meet her in trepidation of her reputation, yet within minutes were won over by her wit and charm. At the time the RIBA finally recognised her unique talent with the Royal Gold Medal, I interviewed her at length for an as yet uncompleted film. Within minutes both our guards were down and we were simply enjoying ourselves, talking of achievements and of what might have been. For a considerable number of her projects never came to fruition and I wonder how many more - for all the brilliance of the team she leaves behind - the world will never now see.”

Glasgow's Riverside Museum
Glasgow’s Riverside Museum

Born in Baghdad in 1950, Zaha Hadid started her architectural journey in 1972 studying at the progressive Architectural Association in London. She joined her former professors, Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, where she became a partner in 1977. By 1979 she had established her own practice in London – Zaha Hadid Architects – garnering a reputation across the world for her trail-blazing theoretical works including The Peak in Hong Kong (1983), the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin (1986) and the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales (1994).

Working with office partner Patrik Schumacher, Hadid’s interest is in the interface between architecture, landscape, and geology; which her practice integrates with the use of cutting-edge technologies – the result is often unexpected and dynamic architectural forms.

Hadid’s first major built commission, one that catapulted her rise, was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil Am Rhein, Germany (1993); subsequent notable projects including the MAXXI: Italian National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome (2009), the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games (2011) and the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku (2013) illustrate her quest for complex, fluid space. Buildings such as the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati (2003) and the Guangzhou Opera House in China (2010) have also been hailed as architecture that transforms our ideas of the future with new spatial concepts and dynamic, visionary forms.

In 2004 Zaha Hadid became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize. She has twice won the UK’s most prestigious architecture award, the RIBA Stirling Prize: in 2010 for the MAXXI Museum in Rome, a building for the staging of 21st Century art, the distillation of years of experimentation, a mature piece of architecture conveying a calmness that belies the complexities of its form and organisation; and the Evelyn Grace Academy, a unique design, expertly inserted into an extremely tight site, that shows the students, staff and local residents they are valued and celebrates the school’s specialism throughout its fabric, with views of student participation at every turn.

Zaha Hadid’s other awards include the Republic of France’s Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Japan’s Praemium Imperiale and in 2012, Zaha Hadid was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She was made Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Fellow of the American Institute of Architecture.

Zaha held various academic roles including the Kenzo Tange Chair at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; the Sullivan Chair at the University of Illinois, School of Architecture; guest professorships at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg; the Knolton School of Architecture, Ohio and the Masters Studio at Columbia University, New York; the Eero Saarinen Visiting Professor of Architectural Design at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut and the University of Applied Arts in Vienna.

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