A year after Zaha Hadid won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, she told The Wall Street Journal that her work as an architect had changed entirely. Winning the Pritzker, she said, opened the door to clients who might otherwise have judged her designs to be too alien, too exaggerated, and, perhaps, too feminine.
Hadid, who died of a heart attack at 65 on Thursday, shattered many glass ceilings in the field of design. She was the first woman and Muslim to win the Pritzker, and the first woman and Muslim to earn the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize. She was anointed by Queen Elizabeth II and Glamour alike. For better and for worse, Hadid was the world’s first woman starchitect.
Hadid pushed theory to the forefront of global practice. The Iraqi-born British architect was a respected voice in design well before Zaha Hadid Architects completed its first major commission. More than any other architect’s work, her curvilinear designs and laser-sleek geometry marked the transition from the 20th to the 21st century. Hadid’s later and most significant works—some of which are still underway—pushed the field toward notoriety.
She met the world with an agnosticism that made her a lightning rod. One of Hadid’s signature accomplishments, the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, raised sharp questions about the propriety of visionary architects accepting commissions from regimes known for human-rights abuses. Hadid’s swelling curve of a concert hall, which was named the Design of the Year for 2014 by London’s Design Museum, was preceded by forced evictions and expropriations, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.