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Zaha Hadid, groundbreaking architect, dies at 65

In 2004, she became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s Nobel; the first, on her own, to be awarded the RIBA Gold Medal, Britain’s top architectural award, in 2015

1 April 2016, 7:35am
Zaha Hadid
Zaha Hadid
Dame Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born British architect whose soaring structures left a mark on skylines and imaginations around the world and in the process reshaped architecture for the modern age, died in Miami on Thursday. She was 65.

Hadid contracted bronchitis earlier this week and suffered a sudden heart attack while being treated in the hospital, her office, Zaha Hadid Architects in London, said.

She was credited with having liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity. Her buildings elevated uncertainty to an art, conveyed in the odd ways one entered and moved through those buildings and in the questions her structures raised about how they were supported.

In 2004, she became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s Nobel; the first, on her own, to be awarded the RIBA Gold Medal, Britain’s top architectural award, in 2015.

Inevitably, she stirred nearly as much controversy as she won admiration, provoking protests from human rights advocates when her $250 million cultural centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, forced the eviction of families from the site.

Zaha Hadid was born in Baghdad on 31 Octoober, 1950. Her father was an industrialist, educated in London, who headed a progressive party advocating for secularism and democracy in Iraq. She attended a Catholic school where students spoke French, and Muslims and Jews were welcome. After that, she studied mathematics at the American University in Beirut (she would later say her years in Lebanon were the happiest of her life).

In 1972, she arrived at the Architectural Association in London, a centre for experimental design.

Her graduation project at the Architectural Assocation, called Malevich’s Tectonik, was a proposal for a hotel atop Hungerford Bridge over the Thames.

In 1994, her first real commission came along, a fire station in Weil am Rhein, Germany. It inspired a design of typically outsized imagination: a winged composition, all sharp angles and protrusions. Architects were impressed. The firefighters, not so much. They moved out, and the station became an event space.

Projects followed, like the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany; the Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, Spain; and an opera house in Guangzhou, China, whose rock crystal-shaped design she likened to “pebbles in a stream smoothed by erosion.”

It took years before Hadid won major commissions in Britain, where she became a citizen and established a thriving office. Her Aquatics Centre in London, built for the 2012 Olympics, was a cathedral for water sports, with an undulating roof and two 50-metre pools.

Robert A.M. Stern, the dean of the Yale Architecture School, where Hadid was a visiting professor this semester, described her legacy on Thursday as “an architecture that I could never have imagined, much less imagined getting built.” He remembered her as “the master of a cutting remark about another architect’s work, but also astonishingly warm, generous and radiant,” he said. “She was like the sun.”

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