Monday, January 24, 2005

Zaha Hadid – First Pritzker woman

Twenty years after achieving independence in 1932, Iraq discovered massive oil reserves in early 1950’s. Before their nationalization in 1972, the oil fields were privately owned by international companies. Seeing tremendous opportunities in Iraqi oil reserves, USA and other western countries became interested in taking control of these oil reserves. For Iraq it became a tragic episode in its political history and for almost 24 years it struggled to attain complete economic freedom.

Iraq saw considerable political unrest during those days. In northern Iraq there lived a Hadid family. Mohammad Hadid was a politician and economist. He earned a bachelor degree in economics from London in the early 1950s and later became a prominent political figure and a businessman. Married to Wajeeha Sabonji, Mohammad Hadid was blessed with two sons and one daughter.

The daughter was Zaha Hadid. Zaha was born on 31st October 1950 in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. She studied in Baghdad and her father played an important role in her creative development. Being a politician and a great patriot, Mr. Hadid always shared his views with his daughter about his country’s future. His progressive views on the industrialization of Iraq, housing issues, and the nationalization of oil production influenced Zaha in her views of the world. Zaha’s childhood experiences encouraged a belief in open communication between different groups of people, along with a strong conviction in Iraqi independence.

Raised in a liberal and open-minded family, Zaha was able to explore new ways of doing things. Apart from political issues her father exposed her to many different cultures while always stressing the importance of her heritage, largely through architecture. Also a friend of the family at that time was designing a home for Zaha's aunt and would bring the models by and show Zaha.

This was probably the reason that she became interested in architecture when she was just eleven. Her mother and father further encouraged her interest by taking her to architectural exhibitions.

She did her basic education from Baghdad and when she was 16 years, she was sent to Switzerland for a year to complete the ‘A’ levels. She completed her second year from London. Zaha’s elementary education in England and Switzerland exposed her to many different cultures. This was also the first indication of marginality in her life. She felt distanced from her Muslim heritage at the school because of its Christian educational style.

In 1968 she came back to her continent and studied in Lebanon and attended the American University of Beirut. In 1971 she completed her B.Sc in Mathematics from Beirut. Her childhood fascination to become an architect was still prominent and the major turning point came when she joined AA School of Architecture, London.

The Architectural Association School of Architecture in London produces some of the most innovative designers in the profession. The school professes to provide a different type of architectural education demonstrated through a new style of pedagogy and emphasis on innovative social programs, materials and structures. The set-up of the school includes a rotating group of teachers from members of the Association who develop close relationships with their students.

The students are encouraged to develop their own educational plan by the school's loose structure. Students are left on their own to design projects and learn to seek out the expertise of their teachers who are generally world-renowned architects; a system of education par excellence found rarely in any Asian country.

This was the environment in which Zaha’s architectural style began to develop from 1972 to 1977 while she was at the Architectural Association. Oscar Niemeyer a legendary architect from South America and a Pritzker laureate was her role model. Niemeyer’s designs show fearlessness. He had designed Brasilia city and many other buildings with a bold visionary form that other architects would not risk. Zaha’s bold nature admired this quality.

After completing her architecture she joined her teacher Rem Koolhaas at his firm called “Office of Modern Architecture”. Koolhaas, a well known architect, was born in 1944 and has won many awards while doing his architectural practice.

A few years later she held prestigious posts at one time or another at the world’s finest universities including Harvard, Yale, and many others. In 1982, The Peak Club of Hong Kong announced an international competition for their new building which was to be a multi-level sports club. Zaha Hadid participated. Though the jury did not consider her radical design and discarded it, one judge who came late pulled her presentation drawings from the rejected schemes. Fascinated by drawings that Zaha Hadid made, especially a painting that read “The Peak” he requested jury members to reconsider it. On his persuasion the jury discussed her design and she was announced as a winner.

For Zaha it was a major breakthrough. Sadly the design was never executed because of logistical reasons with the return of Hong Kong to China. However the competition provided Zaha much acclaim in the world of architecture and soon she opened her office in East of London and started her architectural practice.

She was then involved for some years in minor projects and exhibition designs. Three years later, her next breakthrough came in 1986 when she won the competition for a residential development in Berlin. She won one more prestigious architectural competition for the Art and Media Centre at Düsseldorf in 1989.

Surprisingly all these competitions remained on paper and none of them were constructed. This labeled Zaha Hadid as a paper architect, insinuating that her designs cannot be executed. Comments that she is good for academics and cannot practice became common gossip. Inspite of no major achievements her work of art became popular in museums and by 1990 her works were displayed in almost every architectural exhibition and art museum.

Winning competitions made her a respected architect, and rightly so, because she had won more than 20 competitions by that time. It is also important to note that London never gave her any commissions and the people of this so called great city remained hostile.

It was Germany who provided her a project for Vitra Fire Station that became an immediate need due to a fire that caused tremendous loss some time back. The building was intended to serve all of Vitra's buildings which at the time fell outside the range of neighboring fire districts. Hadid worked for her first building as an architect and completed it in 1993. It was immediately recognized as one of the seminal buildings of late 20th century architecture. Her strong belief was finally on site. But she was a lady.

Times Magazine (issue May 16, 1993) wrote: "Last week, the 42-year-old Iraqi with the volcanic temper finally christened her first building, a startling fire station in Weil am Rhein, Germany." Highly published and contributing men may have a temper too, yet they are not described as having 'volcanic temper' nor is the media vulgar when their accomplishment is announced.

Media described this greatly talented and very persistent and strong woman differently but for Zaha it did not matter and she became stronger than before. She started getting commissions from the Arab community who always appreciated her because of her origins.

The next big turn came in her life when she again won a competition for Cardiff Bay Opera House. The building was to be made in London. How could an Asian lady win this competition? The result; entries were reevaluated after outrage at the idea of actually building it. Ultimately the project was turned down by the Millennium Commission. The British support creative output up to the point of production, then the support collapses because the industry or the financers do not back it further. For example, it took 200 years to convince England that the Euro Tunnel was possible.

Cardiff was to be her masterpiece and for the people of Wales, it was a focus of contemporary cultural pride. The project remained on paper and was never built. In 2004 another architect was hired with a contemporary design to build 103 million pound Opera House.

The Contemporary Arts Center, founded in 1939 organized a competition for its new building at Cincinnati. Again the winner was Zaha Hadid. The foundation accepted the design and ordered her to go ahead. This was next biggest opportunity for Zaha after the Fire Station at Germany. USA has always been open to accept new challenges and because American publications write about new achievements more than any other country, this could change her fate.

And that is what happened. After the completion of project it was named ‘American Beauty’ by the people of America. Zaha became a celebrity architect and by year 2000 she became most favorite architect of students and lady architects. For Zaha the saga of the greatest unbuilt masterpiece of the late twentieth century ended; she became one of the busiest architects. From 1994 to 2003 she made some spectacular structures including the Car Park Terminus at France, BMW Central Building at Germany, Guggenheim Museum at Taiwan, National Centre of Contemporary Arts in Italy and many more. Her buildings are now appearing across the globe, from Europe to the United States, in China and Japan; everywahere except in England where she lives.

In 2004 March she was chosen for the Pritzker Prize by the jury. On 31st May 2004 she was awarded with this most prestigious prize at The State Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, Russia. She was the first lady awardee since the Hyatt Foundation started it and this was the 26th award in succession. She is also youngest architect to receive this award, at the age of 54.

The architectural career of Zaha Hadid has not been traditional or easy. She entered the field with illustrious credentials. Much admired by the younger generation of architects, her appearance on campuses is always a cause for excitement and overflowing audiences.

Her path to world-wide recognition has been a heroic struggle as she inexorably rose to the highest ranks of the profession. Each new project is more audacious than the last and the sources of her originality seem endless.

Zaha Hadid has become more and more recognized as she continues to win competition after competition, always struggling to get her very original winning entries built. Discouraged, but undaunted, she has used the competition experiences as a “laboratory” for continuing to hone her exceptional talent in creating an architectural idiom like no other. Zaha Hadid's moment has arrived.

Chandra Bhushan, Architect
CBS website


At 3:02 AM, Blogger Nothing is All said...

thanks you so much, i like Zaha Hadid,your blog is so good,^^


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