One of the world’s 100 most powerful women. One of the world’s most influential figures. One of the greatest architects alive. Those are just some of the accolades given to award-winning Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.
In 2004, Hadid was the first woman and the first Muslim to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize—a recognition often called the Nobel Prize of architecture. Her buildings are futuristic and fluid–the Aquatic Centre at the 2012 London Olympics is one of her best-known works.
But for much of her early career, Hadid was a “paper architect” whose work was considered too radical and impossible to build.
“I didn't get the support from the establishment…there was definitely prejudice,” Hadid told “Off The Cuff.” "The fact I was a woman and an Arab made it, on one hand easier, on the other hand very difficult. Nobody was used to having a woman in the profession; nobody was used to having a foreigner. On the other hand, I was also very privileged, and I had a lot of support because I was a woman."
In 1995 she won an international competition to build an opera house in Wales. One local politician claimed her winning design was based on Islam’s holy city of Mecca, and that it might incite a fatwa. The design was dumped.
“That was really terrible. I knew when it was going on, that I would be stigmatized for years. Just because I was an Arab, they assumed that this would be a religious building,” she said. Hadid is a non-practicing Muslim. “It was kind of endless misunderstandings about what I was,” she said.
Hadid grew up in Baghdad, but hasn’t lived in Iraq since the late 1960s. Her family left after the rise of Saddam Hussein. “I would like to go back. It’s perfectly safe for me to go back. But it's an emotional issue, which is that I left Iraq … my parents were there, and my friends, and now, I don't know anybody there,” she said.
Middle Eastern politics have had an effect on her work—a number of her projects have been put on hold, delayed by the Arab Spring.
“We had two big projects in Egypt—they stopped. I am quite sensitive to politics, because you know, as an Arab, an Iraqi, all your life, you are very conscious of it,” she continued. “If something is about to go wrong, I can sniff it, but you have to have a positive attitude, otherwise, everything could go wrong.”
“If you're a woman, and you have an opinion, you're difficult. But if a guy has an opinion, he's a good guy,” she said. “I could be not polite, and maybe I'm not very diplomatic. People in power, they're so used to people kind of playing up to them. I don't think there was any need for me to overdo it by being over-nice. But there are people who are part of the system, who are going to flatter you, and compliment you. I don't do that.“Read More »from Zaha Hadid: You Don’t Have to Be Polite to Succeed