In March of this year, one of the greatest architects of our time (some would argue of all time), Zaha Hadid, died unexpectedly at 65. Although it’s always difficult to lose great artists and thinkers, I was taken aback by how strongly I felt this loss.
I distinctly remember the first time I saw one of Hadid’s buildings – it was an image of the Guangzhou Opera House in Guangdong Province, China. I was convinced it was a rendering, that it wasn’t real - but it was, and it completely blew my mind. I could not believe that such an ambitious design could actually be brought into the world – it was an incredible feat of architecture and engineering.
Hadid was born in Bahgdad, Iraq in 1950 and eventually moved to London in 1972 to study architecture at the Architectural Association. She began her own practice in London in 1980 and the magic began - over three decades of incredible architectural and industrial design.
She spoke at times of the challenges of being a woman and an Arab in a predominantly white male field – at the same time, she transcended it all, once quoted as saying “Your success will not be determined by your gender or your ethnicity, but only by the scope of your dreams.”
Perhaps Rem Koolhaas put it even more succinctly when describing Hadid’s legacy, “I think she was obviously very proud of what she achieved as a woman but in the end, there's no need for special pleading or for treating her architecture on that basis. Yes, I think she made an enormous contribution as a woman, but her greatest contribution is as an architect.”
I don’t want to wax philosophical here about beauty – whether there is such as thing as objective or universal beauty, or if it is purely subjective – but in my own experience, when something strikes me as being beautiful I have a visceral reaction, and that’s exactly what Hadid’s designs elicited from me. Utter awestruck admiration and inspiration.
Her designs are unapologetically feminine, imbued with a sensuality that belies their incredible strength. Whether buildings, furniture or jewelry – she pushed the boundaries of the status quo across many disciplines, with an incredibly distinct vision and style. As she so eloquently put it, “I don't think that architecture is only about shelter, is only about a very simple enclosure. It should be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think.” And that is exactly what everything Hadid created did – in spades.
I for one am incredibly sad that the world has lost the creations that one or two more decades would have brought forth from this incredible artist - but at the same time, I’m deeply grateful for everything Zaha made possible during her lifetime, and the immeasurable beauty she has left behind.