It is hard to believe that Zaha Hadid was once an unknown outside architecture’s inner sanctum. For years, the London-based, Iranian-born architect was better known, even within creative circles, for her beautiful if enigmatic drawings, than for any of her buildings.
The reality was that few clients anywhere had the nerve to commission her work, until the likes of Ralf Fehlbaum, the enlightened owner of Vitra, started to give her small architectural projects. Even then she was famously ousted from the Cardiff Bay Opera House project in the mid-1990s, despite having won the architectural competition for the job.
Now she appears to be everywhere, alongside practice partner Patrik Shumacher, with amazing buildings across the globe, including last summer’s Lilas installation outside the Serpentine Gallery in London, and furniture and artefacts for Established & Sons in the UK and Sawaya & Moroni in Italy, among many others.
Her contribution to the built environment continues to be outstanding, with structures that are as challenging to build as they as a joy to experience. Her importance was recognised last year by an inspiring show at the Design Museum in London, that used moving images on a massive screen to bring the buildings to life – a rare treat in architecture where buildings are invariably exhibited through models, drawings and photographs.
In September she was awarded the first London Design Festival Medal by London Mayor Ken Livingstone. This honour recognises Hadid’s sheer talent and individual style, but it also honours her dogged persistence as an architect.