Woman-made wonders

Woman-made wonders

Defying the traditional architectural syntax, award-winning architect Zaha Hadid has created a new vocabulary for design. Her awe-inspiring buildings have made her one of the most coveted architects in the world, writes Simran Chhibber.

Comprehending the fluidity of matter and being able to create matter merely out of creative faculties, is a rare knack. Architect Zaha Hadid is one of the few in the accomplished league, who has ventured to challenge the rules, smash them, flex them and shape them into what she envisions. 

Zaha was born in Baghdad on October 31, 1950 to an upper-class Sunni Muslim Arab family. Her father, Muhammad al-Hajj Husayn Hadid, the institutor of the left-liberal, al-Ahali group in Iraq, was a cardinal political figure and an affluent industrialist of his time. Her mother, Wajiha al-Sabunji, also hailed from a well-to-do, Mosul family.

As a child, Hadid studied amongst Muslim, Jewish and Christian children in her Baghdad school, that was administered by French Catholic nuns. A part of her secondary schooling also happened in Great Britain and Switzerland and she returned to the Middle East (1968 to1971) to study mathematics at the American University in Beirut. Zaha was thus nurtured in an environment that was liberal, broad-minded and cosmopolitan, the reflections of which subtly trickled in the architectural language she embraced and endorsed.

Her journey in the field of architecture began in 1977, when she received her diploma from the Architectural Association (AA) in London. Studying with contemporaries like Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Elia Zenghelis and Bernard Tschumi, Zaha studied amongst the best of the best and developed a flair for architecture that was different, unorthodox and challenging. Her first job involved her in working with Zenghelis and Koolhaas with whom she later entered into partnership. Zaha found her own architectural firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, in 1980 and also took to teaching, at the reputed AA, London until 1987.

Radical works

Zaha adopted a radical approach to design, her schemes and proposals expressing strong curvilinear forms, heavily-cantilevered elongated structures, fragmented geometry, multi-perspective points and a futuristic approach to design in general. It would be incorrect to say that persuading clients to be in agreement to something so progressive was easy. Zaha countenanced challenges and fought her battles to make space for the kind of architecture she advocates. It was during her design proposition for The Cardiff Bay Opera House in Cardiff, Wales that she learnt this valuable lesson. The client accepted her design twice, but gave in to the local opposition who thought of the design to be too sweeping for the local taste. Thus, she learnt the art of convincing her patrons for accepting offbeat designs and seeing to it that they are built and admired.

Having gained an understanding and insight from her past experiences, Zaha started getting recognition when her design for The Peak’s Spa, Hong Kong got selected in 1982; It was another thing though that the project did not see the light of the day due to the client going bankrupt unexpectedly. Success, was far away as of now. 

It was in 1993 when after a streak of failed projects came up the Vitra fire station in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany. This one too was left by the owners and converted into a museum. The big breakthrough came in 2002 when Hoenheim-North Terminus and Car Park opened in Strasbourg, France, shortly followed by the Bergisel Ski Jump overlooking Innsbruck, Austria. By 2003, Zaha was a big name making waves everywhere. She proved herself not to be a fluke with The Richard and Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio that stamped her style of design with approval and acceptance.

Zaha’s work can be put under the category of deconstructive and neomodernist architecture. She has defied the fact that a living space needs to have floors, walls and ceilings perpendicular to each other. For her, design is something fluid, continuous, smooth and graceful. If put philosophically, one could say that her designs exemplify the chaotic fluidity of one’s daily life. 

Her designs are no short of a sci-fi, with the space ever changing its feel and form as one transcends through it. For some, Zaha’s work is a subtle reflection of the Islamic architecture that she has illustrated in her own vocabulary.The play of light and shadow in her spaces and the multiple interpretations of a singular space bring out the subconscious Islamic tradition within her, whilst the fluidity of forms, daring and bold approach to design reflect the kind of free-thinking and modern environment that she lived in. 

Raining awards

Zaha has learnt a lot in the due course of her career and has a lot to teach in contexts other than architecture too; thriving and flourishing in a male dominated society for one. The first woman to win the famed Pritzer Prize in 2004, Hadid set forth a strong example of success and triumph in front of a million other women. 

The numerous awards that Zaha has been conferred upon attest her architectural stardom. The American Institute of Architects bestowed upon her an honorary fellowship in 2000. She won the Austrian State Architecture Prize and the Tyrolian Architecture Award for the Bergisel Ski Jump in 2002 and was also conferred with the Commander of the British Empire medal for accomplishment and contribution to the field of architecture.

 Her international eminence was certified when she became the 2004 laureate of the very distinguished and prestigious Pritzker Prize, instituted by the Hyatt Foundation. It was for the first time, in the 26-year history of the award, that it was presented to a lady architect.

Zaha rose to the highest ranks in her professional career after a long period of struggle and standing for the principles of designs that she believed in. Her life is an example to all of us who give up on our dreams and beliefs for the fear of disapproval and failure. She did not change her radically distinctive approach to design and her originality.

 Undoubtedly, this woman of substance has a lot to teach us. Zaha has left a mark so profound in the field of architecture that it has cast an unforgettable impression for times to come.

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