Dame Zaha Hadid DBE is an Iraqi-British architect who has designed some of the most famous and controversial buildings in the world, including the Aquatic Centre for the London 2012 Olympics. We take a look at her life and works…

The word ‘first’ is often used when describing Zaha Hadid’s accomplishments: the first woman, the first Muslim, the first British-Iraqi – emphasising just how pioneering her remarkable career has been. Another word that is regularly linked with her name is ‘influential’ – in recent years she has been listed in the top 100 ‘world’s most influential’ lists in Time, Forbes and the New Statesman (not to mention featuring in the Guardian’s recent best dressed list of people over 50). Hadid’s extraordinary architectural vision has ensured that she has been a trailblazer for her entire professional life and has been behind some of the world’s most iconic modern structures.

Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid was influenced from an early age by the Bauhaus style architecture and the boom of modernist design that surrounded her home in Bagdhad. In the 1970s she came to London to study architecture (having completed a maths degree in Lebanon), and in 1980 established her own practice, which is still active today and employs over 350 people. She has also taught architecture and design at a range of prestigious universities including the Harvard, Yale and Columbia, and is currently Professor of Applied Arts in Vienna and works as a consultant on a range of educational projects and award bodies.

Guangzhou Opera House

Hadid has received too many awards to list here, but some of the most prestigious include the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011. In 2004 Hadid was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize – often described as the architecture equivalent to the Nobel Prize, and she made architecture history as both the first woman and the first Muslim to win the coveted award. She was also the 2013 recipient of the Veuve Cliquot Business Woman award – a highly prestigious honour – which celebrates the accomplishments of individual women in the business world. Her work has been the subject of exhibitions at the Guggenheim museum in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Design Museum in London, to name just a few.

Hadid’s vision is powerfully futuristic. Her signature architectural style is bold and commanding, using dramatic curves contrasted against angular geometry to create a vast chambers of jutting lines and sweeping, elegant curves. Her designs have courted some controversy – her asymmetric, ultra-modern designs have angered fans of more traditional architectural design, and some of her designs have not been seen through to construction (such as the Cardiff Bay Opera House, which failed to secure adequate funding amid criticism of being ‘elitist’ and too radical).

maxxi museum

This sort of criticism is to a degree inevitable in such ambitious projects, and creative minds with an eye to the future are often criticised for being too radical by their contemporaries. However, even those who loathe her architectural style must surely admire Zaha Hadid’s extraordinary accomplishments – first and foremost as an industry-leading architect, and secondly for her determination and success in what has traditionally been a male-dominated profession. Trailblazing, visionary, highly influential – Zaha Hadid is a true female icon and undoubtedly one of Britain’s – and the world’s – most fascinating women.