Women Architects: Part Three


In 2016, Zaha Hadid was one of three Muslim females who received the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The Award is offered every three years to recognize outstanding architectural projects that are designed to enhance the life of Muslim communities around the world. The three females were announced winners among other 348 finalists from 69 different countries.

Issam Fares Institute, American University, Beirut - Zaha Hadid Architects, 2014

Zaha’s winning design was The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs Office. The building was designed after the American University of Beirut held an invited competition for the design of a structure “that was in harmony with the rest of the university, especially mindful of the surrounding greenery, and to preserve, as far as possible, existing sightlines to the Mediterranean.” Hadid’s design created a “floating” room and research space above the entrance. The building was described as “a new building, radical in composition, but respectful of its traditional context”.

Designed in 2005, by Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum, the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque was completed in 2012, and is one of the winning designs. The innovative design consists of “a cylindrical volume [that] was inserted into a square, facilitating a rotation of the prayer hall, and forming light courts on four sides”. To keep the prayer hall ventilated, the outer design of the Mosque consists mainly of absorbent brick walls.


The third winning project is the Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge designed by Iranian architect Leila Araghian. The imaginative design not only connected two parks separated by a highway in northern Tehran, but allowed pedestrians to enjoy the view to the Alborz Mountains. Besides serving its main purpose of providing a passageway for the people to walk between the two parks, the bridge also provides green spaces in which “people can congregate, eat, and rest, rather than just pass through,” and simply stop and enjoy the view.

This is the first time that females in general, and Muslim females in particular, are recognized by the Aga Khan Award in a male-dominant field. “We have had women architects as part of teams of architects or restorers, but never before have there been so many women as [lead] architects,” said Sam Pickens, the Aga Khan Foundation spokesperson.

Zooming in on the Arab culture, it has always had a major influence on design and architecture all around the world. Arab architects draw inspiration from this culture and merge it with the natural surroundings to create amazing designs. Some have made quite a mark on the world of architecture and design, and their names will always be associated with creativity and brilliance. Among these names is Egyptian architect Shahira Fahmy.

Born in 1974, Shahira Fahmy holds a Master’s degree in Architecture from Cairo University (2004). She is the founder and principal of the Cairo-based firm, Shahira Fahmy Architects (SFA), founded in 2005, the same year Shahira won the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Young Architect Award. Since then, the practice has an international presence, with competition wins in Switzerland and London; its work has been publicized and cited worldwide in a range of publications.

Shahira is an architect whose work strives to make a balance between new spatial concepts and existing context: culture, tradition, urban morphology. She is leading the way for Egyptian architecture by demonstrating that architectural design can and should elevate the public realm, with a holistic approach that combines contextual analysis, playful experimentation, and an ethos of social responsibility. She was hailed by Phaidon Press (2011) as one of the “architects building the Arab future”. Her work ranges from architecture and master-planning to product design, and her collaborations—both on projects and exhibitions—reflect her strong belief in the value of teamwork.

In 2015, Shahira Fahmy won the Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design; she is also recipient of the Berkman fellowship of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society for 2016, at Harvard Law School. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia Graduate School of Architecture since 2014.



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