First Lady of Architecture

Zaha Hadid is indisputably one of the world’s greatest creative talents. Whether applying her now famous aesthetic to buildings or furniture designs, the skill and drive of architecture’s first lady is unmatched.

In her sun-filled apartment, perched casually on a Verner Panton chair as she’s having her portrait taken by Mary McCartney for Established & Sons and whilst a swarm of more photographers gather in her hallway waiting for their allotted time to capture her image, Zaha Hadid is musing over the stratospheric celebrity of the Beckham’s. ‘I mean — they’re everywhere. They’re so internationally famous.’

It’s more than a little ironic that Hadid is lazily discussing the cult of celebrity in such a detached fashion when her own fame is currently so healthy. Hadid has achieved something that few architects ever manage to; a notoriety beyond her buildings. Her uncompromising character and her career trajectory are well known beyond the incestuous architectural and design worlds, they colour the way in which we all view Hadid’s projects. Most people could tell you a little about Hadid the person even if they couldn’t ruminate on the specifics of her architectural style. This must have assisted in the recent (ten years really isn’t very long in architectural years) rise and recognition of Hadid whose gravitas is currently on par with the greatest architects, past and presence.

There’s a genuine fascination with Hadid; how she works, how she thinks, and a current scramble for her signature style that is leaving her already substantial London-based studio heaving at the seams. There’s an interest in her image too — her trademark portrait is as recognisable as her artworks, her buildings or her designs. Which is why it’s a rare treat to be allowed into the architect’s home and given the opportunity to photograph her now. Hadid has said before that public acceptance of her work and of her as an Iraqi-born, female radical has done more to earn coveted commissions than her many industry accolades have. What’s unique is that both forms of approval; pedestrian and professional, seem to be running concurrently. On the professional side you can count winning the Pritzker prize in 2004 (Hadid is the first female architect to have won the coveted award), Rizzoli’s substantial three book monograph on Hadid’s work and a huge retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York in 2006 as some of the highlights. At 56, and with the aforementioned only twelve years of building experience, Hadid was relatively green to be awarded such a reverential show.

Page 461 1505 Abu Dhabi Arts Centre Page 451 1504 Phaeno Science Centre Page 453 1508 Aqua Table

Of course, the first twenty years of Hadid’s career are infamous for their lack of built projects. But fame came Hadid’s way nevertheless and she quickly received acclaim whilst at London’s Architectural Association and during the early years of establishing her own practice for her teachings, competition entries and drawings.

Many models, artworks, sketches and drawings took up a sizeable portion of the Guggenheim rotunda during Hadid’s retrospective in 2006 and rightly so as they were the tools which won over the architectural world and have become such a staple of Hadid’s language. Hadid’s work — as preoccupied with new spatial concepts and intensifying existing urban landscapes as it is — has grown to include many non-architectural projects including product and furniture designs, exhibition and even concert design — the strength and flexibility of Hadid’s oeuvre being exactly the reason for this particular accolade.
The famous watershed in Hadid’s career came in 1993 when the Vitra Fire Station was inaugurated. Since then completed buildings such as the Contemporary Arts Centre in Rome, Ordrupgaard Museum extension in Copenhagen, BMW headquarters in Leipzig, Bergisel Ski Jump and Museum for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati have all gone a long way to affirm Hadid’s worth. There have been high-profile projects such as the Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion and many column inches won in the international design (and more impressively) mainstream press. It’s also worth noting that at present Hadid and her team of no less than 250 employees are currently on-site with projects like the London Aquatic Centre and Nuragic and Contemporary Art Museum in Cagliari, in Italy.

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Words by Laura Houseley
Portrait photography by Mary McCartney
Photography of Aqua Table by Dan Tobin Smith,
Nekton by Philip Karlberg,
Phaeno Science Centre by Werner Huthmacher

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