Women Architects: Part Two


In Part One of this article, I wrote about the overall situation of females in architecture. I guess it is sufficient to say that, upon researching the history of architecture, female’s names do not pop up until the very late 19th century. Indeed, architecture has historically been a male-dominated profession; a situation that lasted millennia. Yet, females have thankfully broken the barriers on the architectural frontier, skyrocketing in one century from oblivion to stardom.

Speaking of stars, no female architect’s star shone more than that of Zaha Hadid, who sadly passed away in 2016 at the age of 66. Often referred to as the “Queen of the Curve”, Hadid was frequently described in the Press as the world’s top female architect. Her unusual and pioneering vision redefined architecture in the 21st century, capturing the imagination worldwide. Her visionary projects combined her unwavering optimism for the future and belief in the power of invention with advanced design, material, and constructional innovation. Her spectacularly unconventional creations reflected social progress like no other work of architecture did. As a result, she received the highest honors from civic, academic, and professional global institutions.

My pride in writing about Zaha Hadid is twofold; for not only was she a female icon in a field traditionally dominated by men, but also an iconic Arab female. It is to be noted though that Zaha was not keen to be characterized as a female architect, or an Arab architect; she wanted to be simply recognized as an architect. On the other hand, throughout her career, she was a dedicated teacher, enthused by the energy of the young; in an interview published in Icon magazine, she said: “I never use the issue about being a woman architect, but if it helps younger people to know they can break through the glass ceiling, I do not mind that”.

That said, however, in an interview with The Guardian, she says: “It is still very difficult for women to operate as professionals, because there are still some worlds women have no access to… There has been tremendous change; half of architecture students are women, and you see respected, established female architects all the time. That does not mean it is easy; sometimes the difficulties are incomprehensible. Architecture is a very tough profession.

In my case, I am a woman and an Arab. Being an Arab woman and a modern architect certainly do not exclude each other; when I was growing up in Iraq, there were many women architects. You cannot believe the enormous resistance I have faced just for being an Arab, and a woman on top of that. It is like a double-edged sword; the moment my woman-ness is accepted, the Arab-ness seems to become a problem. I have broken beyond the barrier, but it has been a very long struggle. It has made me tougher and more precise; maybe this is reflected in my architecture. I still experience resistance but I think this keeps you on the go.”

Check out the complete interview through this link.

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1950, she studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut, before moving to London to attend the Architectural Association (AA) School where she received the Diploma Prize in 1977. She taught at the AA School for the next ten years, and held numerous Chairs and Guest Professorships at universities worldwide. She founded Zaha Hadid Architects in 1979, earning her early reputation with her lecturing, as well as colorful and radical designs and projects, which were widely published in architectural journals, but remained largely unbuilt.

Zaha’s international reputation was greatly enhanced in 1988, when she was chosen to show her drawings and paintings as one of seven architects chosen to participate in the exhibition Deconstructivism in Architecture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. At the end of the 1990s, her career began to gather momentum, as she won commissions for two museums and a large industrial building. She competed against well-known architects for the design of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio (1997–2000), which she won, becoming the first female to design an art museum in the United States.

The project demonstrated Zaha’s ability to use architectural forms to create interior drama, including its central element, a 30 m long black stairway that passes between massive curving and angular concrete walls. Essentially a vertical series of cubes and voids, the Museum’s side that faces the street has a translucent glass facade that invites passersby to look in on the workings of the Museum, thereby contradicting the notion of the Museum as an uninviting or remote space. The building’s plan gently curves upward after the visitor enters the building; Hadid said she hoped this would create an “urban carpet” that welcomes people into the Museum.

In 2004, although she had only completed four buildings, she became the first female to be awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Architecture. In the announcement, Thomas Pritzker, Head of the Jury, announced: “Although her body of work is relatively small, she has achieved great acclaim and her energy and ideas show even greater promise for the future”.

Watch this video: https://www.pritzkerprize.com/video-full-ceremony-zaha-hadid

In 2010, her boldly imaginative design for the MAXXI Museum of Contemporary Art and Architecture in Rome awarded her the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize by the Royal Institute of British Architects for the best building by a British architect completed in the past year. She won a second Stirling Prize the following year for a sleek structure she created for Evelyn Grace Academy, a secondary school in London.


Hadid’s fluid undulating design for the Heydar Aliyev Center, a cultural center that opened in 2012, in Baku, Azerbaijan, won the London Design Museum’s Design of the Year in 2014. She was the first female to earn that award, which judges designs in architecture, furniture, fashion, graphics, product, and transportation. Her other notable works included the London Aquatics Centre, the Michigan State University Broad Art Museum, and the Guangzhou Opera House in China.


Zaha’s architecture was inventive, original, and civic, offering generous public spaces that are clearly organized and intuitive to navigate. Each of her buildings has a place in architectural history for its virtuosic construction, its architectural ideology, and its sheer magnetic presence. Her designs are the embodiment of an enlightened philosophical framework and principle discipline. Her work was the subject of critically-acclaimed exhibitions; in addition to previously-mentioned accolades, she was named “Artist for Peace” by UNESCO, the Republic of France honored her with the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.

Following her passing away in March 2016, Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times wrote: “Her soaring structures left a mark on skylines and imaginations, and in the process, re-shaped architecture for the modern age… Hadid embodied, in its profligacy and promise, the era of so-called starchitects who roamed the planet in pursuit of their own creative genius, offering miracles, occasionally delivering”. Deyan Sudjic of The Guardian described her as “an architect who first imagined, then proved, that space could work in radical new ways”.

For an insightful peak into Zaha Hadid’s legacy, check out this short video: 


*Cover photo Source

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