Zaha Hadid: Remembering “The Queen of The Curves”

An Iraqi-British architect who explored a dynamic and mind-bending approach to building design. Zaha Hadid is still an unforgettable name among architectural legends. Her striking, unique structures grace major metropolitan city skylines. They have so far left an indelible mark on the architectural landscape. She has bagged many prestigious awards, like the 2004 Pritzker Architecture Prize and the 2010 and 2011 Stirling Prize. Through the years Zaha has remained known for her radical de-constructivist designs.

As quoted by Zaha Hadid, “I don’t think that architecture is only about shelter is only about a very simple enclosure. It should be able to excite you, calm you, make you think.” She acquired the title “The Queen of the Curve” as she explored curvilinear geometry breaking the linearity of the architecture of the time. Zaha Hadid’s architecture style is characterized by curved facades and sharp angles. Some of the famous buildings of Zaha Hadid include the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics, the Broad Art Museum, and Rome’s MAXXI Museum.

Famous buildings of Zaha Hadid

Early Life: Origins of a Revolutionary Mind

Zaha Hadid’s Exhibition
Zaha Hadid’s Exhibition

Zaha Hadid, born in 1950, came from an affluent family with connections in Mosul. Her father co-founded the liberal Al-Ahali group, while her mother was a talented artist. Zaha found inspiration in ancient Sumerian cities, sparking her interest in architecture.

After attending boarding schools, she pursued math at the American University of Beirut before studying at The Architectural Association, where she met architects Elia Zenghelis and Rem Koolhaas. Zaha’s unique design approach, focusing on the bigger picture and avoiding 90-degree angles, earned her the nickname “Inventor of the 89 degrees.” Koolhaas described her as “a planet in her orbit.”

Zaha Hadid’s Kazimir Malevich Artwork
Zaha Hadid’s Kazimir Malevich Artwork

Creativity for her was through the medium of painting, which has a suprematism influence on it. Zaha Hadid’s designs and ideas relied on her paintings. Her thesis project  Malevich’s Tektonik, as well as an entry for a competition,, demonstrates this well. Her project ‘The Peak’ which won the competition was key to establishing her style of architecture.  It also took inspiration from suprematist artist kazimir malevich, shown through her paintings.

After completing her education, she went on to work with Koolhaas and Zenghelis. She gained experience and practiced under their guidance along with Peter Rice. This further helped her set up her architectural practice, Zaha Hadid Architects. During the early 1980s, when people preferred or were more likely exposed to post-modernism in architecture, Zaha brought in a fresh perspective. Her approach set her apart from the crowd, which she illustrated using detailed and professional sketches.

Manifesting a Legacy: One Painting at a Time

Zaha Hadid’s Painting
Zaha Hadid’s Painting

Zaha was recognized through her paintings and the teaching career she took up at the beginning of her firm’s establishment. She relied on the paintings to express her designs, and on several occasions, won prizes and projects. Once, she chose to put her paintings on display in the exhibition “Deconstructivism in Architecture.” This shot up her international reputation. Hadid solidified it as a built work in 2000, with Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio.

With the growth in her work and reputation came several controversies. Her buildings were complex and expensive to make. This made the start of such projects difficult. Two such projects failed completion, which could have been some of her significant works. Her award-winning concept for a Cardiff Bay Opera House was also not realised as the trustees were later unsure and not on par with constructing and raising the project. On that note, let’s look at some of her works spanning through the years.

Art to Realization: 6 Architectural Marvels by Zaha Hadid

01. Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany

Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany

One of the first Zaha Hadid projects and the one that got her the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, Vitra Fire Station is a beauty to behold. Through her radical style of designing, she created a sculpted structure made of raw concrete and glass. It stood up with diagonal forms that would collide in the centre.

On completing the design, the plans showed up across magazines, even before it got constructed. When the project was live, firefighters used the space only for a short period. It was then converted into an exhibition space that created a perfect setting.

02. Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria

Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria

Considered a contemporary form of a historic landmark, the Bergisel Ski Jump sits at the peak of Bergisel Mountain. The form of the structure sweeps along the lines of minimalism, with the functional aspect of providing a high-speed motion. It has seen two Winter Olympics, along with constant use by commoners. As deterioration set in place in the original rink, it needed a new design, and Zaha Hadid Architects stepped in.

She proposed this 90-meter-long proposal from a height of 50 meters above the peak. This design attempts to merge with the landscape through its dynamic shape. She described it as an “organic hybrid” between the tower and the bridge.

03. Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati hosts two museums and a large industrial building. She was competing against eminent architect Rem Koolhaus for the design of this structure. Her victory made her the first woman to design an art museum in the United States.         

Built at the same time as the Guggenheim Bilbao, it spans over 8500 square meters. The Arts Centre demonstrates her key aspect of design that creates drama inside the space as well.

04. Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg, Germany

Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg, Germany

A project that brought home an award, the Phaeno Science Center spans over 9000 square meters. It is one of the iconic Zaha Hadid buildings. The original plans for the science centre were much more ambitious, with a design concept similar to many Le Corbusier buildings.

Designed to be bustling with activities, these areas are dispersed throughout the structural cones. It expands over a large area that houses various shops, museums, and cafes with walls and scattered windows. In a way, it resembles the form of a ship, with angular columns and steel frameworks.

We have added an interesting blog on the gem of the modern age and a pioneer of modernism in architecture: Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier – Veteran and Industry Legend that Stay Timeless

05. BMW Administration Building, Leipzig, Germany

BMW Administration Building, Leipzig, Germany

Zaha took up the design project for building the entrance and the administrative building of the Auto manufacturer BMW. She bagged the project despite stiff competition from some talented architects. As it stood in the middle of three other buildings that came after it, she called it the nerve centre of the complex. The building rises above the ground using concrete pylons.

The interior design has level differences across the floors. It presents an open interior space, created to avoid “the traditional segregation of working groups.” This, in turn shows the “global transparency of the internal organization.”

06. Heydar Aliyev, Baku

Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan

The Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, is one of Zaha Hadid’s iconic, yet controversial architectural projects. This sweeping, curvilinear building, designed to be a cultural hub, has garnered international recognition for its distinctive and futuristic design. The structure’s fluid form challenges traditional architectural norms, with undulating white surfaces and seamless transitions between roof and walls, symbolising modernity and innovation. Despite its acclaim, the project has faced criticism due to its political associations with the authoritarian regime of Azerbaijan and the Aliyev family’s control. The Centre’s opulent design and substantial investment have sparked debates about its socio-political implications and the role of architecture in reinforcing power dynamics. Despite this, the Heydar Aliyev Centre remains a striking architectural achievement, admired for its bold aesthetics and engineering.

07. Embarking Pathways

Zaha Hadid Architects Design For Navi Mumbai International Airport
Zaha Hadid Architects Design For Navi Mumbai International Airport

As the team of Zaha Hadid Architects is branching out its practice all over the world, they’re set to design a part of Navi Mumbai International Airport’s (NMIA’s). The NMIA project is architect Zaha Hadid’s first significant undertaking in the Indian urban context. A new airport will be built near Ulwe Kopar-Panvel, around 45 kilometers from Mumbai’s current International Airport (Chhatrapati Shivaji).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for this long-awaited airport project on February 18, 2018. The need for a new airport arose as the existing Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSIA) in Mumbai, which currently serves 48 million passengers annually, was nearing its maximum capacity of 55 million passengers per year.

In February 2017, a consortium led by GVK secured the bid to develop the Navi Mumbai International Airport. The winning bidder, Mumbai International Airport (MIAL), is owned 74% by GVK, while the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and CIDCO will each hold a 13% stake in the project.

Zaha Hadid Architects’ involvement in the design process of the Navi Mumbai International Airport will contribute to creating a modern and efficient airport facility capable of handling the growing air traffic demands of the region.

An Eternal Ray of Inspiration

Hadid had a clear sense of certainty about how architecture can transform and be a key part of a progressing society and individual well-being. She was admired and praised by some of the most important individuals. Architects like Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster, and many more talked about her unique approach to architecture. Her spirit still lives on through the works of her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, headed by her business partner Patrick Schumacher. The Zaha Hadid way of designing and her projects continue to be a constant inspiration to the budding architects of today.


01. What was Zaha Hadid known for?

Zaha Hadid is a British-Iraqi architect, artist, and designer who has brought a new chapter to architectural design. She is known for her brilliant paintings and even better buildings that stand as iconic landmarks of the present day.

02. What is Zaha Hadid’s most famous piece of work?

Some of the most famous buildings by Zaha Hadid are Vitra Fire Station, Bergisel Ski Jump, Phaeno Science Center, Guangzhou Opera House, London Aquatics Centre, and many more.

03. What is Zaha Hadid’s style of architecture?

Known for her unique approach to designing, she has a futuristic style of designing buildings. Curving facades, sharp angles, and the use of materials like steel and concrete characterise her designs, which also take inspiration from her paintings that have an essence of the artist Kazimir Malevich.

We hope you enjoyed reading about “the Queen of the Curve” – Zaha Hadid. In addition, check out this distinctive blog on some misconceptions vs. reality about an architect’s life:

7 Myths vs. Truths of an Architect’s Life!

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Author Bio

Saili Sawantt – She is an Architect and Interior Designer by profession. Writing is what she treats as her passion. She has worked as an Architectural Writer, Editor, and Journalist for various design as well as digital portals, both national and international. Formerly she has also worked with Godrej Properties Limited (GPL) Design Studio, Mumbai, due to her keen interested in learning about Sustainability and Green buildings. Apart from this, she runs her blog ‘The Reader’s Express’ and is a practicing Architect & Interior Designer.

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