The first woman to receive the Pritzker Prize, Zaha Hadid leaves behind a legacy of spectacular buildings around the world, including the Jockey Club Innovation Tower in Hong Kong.
The architectural profession was stunned by Hadid’s sudden death on March 31 at the age of 65 while being treated for bronchitis in a Miami hospital. Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize – often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture – and the first woman to win the RIBA Gold Medal in her own right since its inauguration in 1848.
She was born in Baghdad in 1950 and studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before going on to study architecture at the Architectural Association in London. She worked at the prestigious Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture before establishing her own firm, Zaha Hadid Architects in 1980.
In an era dominated by selfies and characterized by “wow-factor” architecture, her designs suited society’s appetite for spectacle. With their distinctive curves and sense of motion, Hadid’s buildings were often featured on magazine covers, from the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 London Olympics to the Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan.
One of her earliest projects was her competition winning entry for a sports club and spa on the Peak in Hong Kong (1983). Walls, floors and roofs clash and merge with each other to create a dynamic building, a concept that continues in her first realized project, the Vitra Fire Station at Weil am Rhein. Although users of the building have said the slanted walls and misaligned planes sometimes create a sense of seasickness, the unconventional interpretation of building elements placed her into the architectural spotlight.
She went on to design buildings around the world, picking up momentum in the 2000’s as her work became more and more sought after. When the opportunity finally came for her to design in Hong Kong again, she delivered a building that was instantly recognizable as coming from her office. The Jockey Club Innovation Tower for the Hong Kong Polytechnic University abandons the university’s signature red brick design for Hadid’s white aluminium panels and exposed concrete.
Situated at the edge of the university campus and adjacent to the high velocity of traffic on the West Kowloon Corridor, her design slants towards the expressway almost as if the energy flowing through the road has helped shape the building, not unlike the effect water has on rocks in a fast-flowing river. While the form of the building differs from that for the Peak competition in 1983, the underlying concept remains the same.
More recently, her design for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium was scrapped by the Japanese government citing rising construction costs in a controversial decision that saw the project go to a more cost effective design by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
Hadid was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2002 and made a Dame in 2012 for services to architecture. She won the Pritzker Prize in 2004.