Posted by Joan Hanna on September 18, 2013 in Blog

Although the field of architecture has been primarily male dominated, Zaha Hadid has been changing that norm. She is slowly gaining household name recognition around the world in countries such as the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Later this month, Hadid will unveil her first permanent structure in central London, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. But you can catch her right here in Washington, DC in November, when the Middle East Institute recognizes her extraordinary accomplishments at its 67th Annual Banquet. Hadid will receive MEI’s Issam M. Fares Award for Excellence, which recognizes exceptional contributions of Arab men and women in the fields of politics, culture, business and philanthropy.

Born in Iraq, Hadid attended boarding school in England, before earning a degree in mathematics at the American University of Beirut and, later, graduating from the School of Architecture in London. In 1977, she became a partner in the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (Netherlands). Just three years later, she opened her own firm in London. She has completed more than two dozen architectural projects, ranging from the London’s Olympic Aquatic Centre to the Guangzhou Opera House in Guangzhou, China; from the Contemporary Art Centre in Cincinnati (pictured left) to the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan. Not surprisingly, her list of awards is almost as long as the number of projects she has completed.

In 2004, Hadid won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the world’s most prestigious architecture award. She was the first female and the first Arab recipient in the Pritzker’s 25 year history. She’s also earned the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) European Award several times and two Stirling Prizes. Hadid has been ranked in the top 100 most powerful women (Forbes, 2010); one of the 100 most influential thinkers (Time, 2010); one of the 50 most influential figures (New Statesman, 2010); the fourth most powerful Arab woman (Arabian Business, 2013); Businesswoman of the Year (Veuve Clicquot, 2013); and one of this year’s “50 Best-Dressed Over 50” (Guardian). Lest we forget, Hadid was also appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE, 2002) and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE, 2012).

While Hadid’s success may seem meteoric, she contends it has been “a very long struggle [that] has made me tougher and more precise.” Contrary to Western stereotypes, her gender was not an issue in Iraq. “Being an Arab woman and a modern architect certainly don't exclude each other – when I was growing up in Iraq, there were many women architects.” Resistance was greater in the west, where she faced what she calls “a double-edged sword” of being female and Arab. “You cannot believe the enormous resistance I've faced just for being an Arab, and a woman on top of that… The moment my woman-ness is accepted, the Arab-ness seems to become a problem.”

Having overtaken those hurdles without so much as breaking stride, Hadid is passing on her experience and expertise. More than just a role model for Arab women or for female professionals, Hadid is a professor of architecture, with classes and seminars at institutions from Harvard, Columbia, and Yale to University of Illinois, HFBK Hamburg, and the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Responding to an interviewer’s question about where the next Zaha Hadids could be found, she replied “They're students.” If that’s true, it’s a safe bet that we know who their teacher is.


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