Renowned architect Zaha Hadid dies of heart attack aged 65

Zaha Hadid in 2011 inside the Aquatics Centre she designed for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Zaha Hadid in 2011 inside the Aquatics Centre she designed for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.LOCOG VIA BLOOMBERG
A long time exposure shows the ski jumping hill designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid in Innsbruck, Austria.
A long time exposure shows the ski jumping hill designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid in Innsbruck, Austria.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Zaha Hadid, the world’s most famous female architect who attracted plaudits for works of sweeping curves and controversy for huge cost overruns, died on Thursday (March 31) at the age of 65, her company said.

Iraqi-British Hadid, the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize for architecture, was best known for her designs for the Guangzhou Opera House in China and the aquatics centre used in the 2012 London Olympics.

But she faced criticism last year after her futuristic US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) design for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic stadium was scrapped amid spiralling costs and complaints over the design.

Born in Baghdad in 1950, where her father was a politician, Hadid forged a career in the male-dominated world of architecture bringing her curvaceous, radical designs to life in glass, steel and concrete.

“It is with great sadness that Zaha Hadid Architects have confirmed that Dame Zaha Hadid died suddenly in Miami in the early hours of this morning,” her firm said in a statement, adding that she had suffered a heart attack after contracting bronchitis this week.

 
 

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi paid tribute to Hadid describing her death as a loss for the “whole world”.

She “served the world through her creativity, and in losing her, the whole world has lost one of the great energies that served the community”, Abadi said in a statement.

The Miami Herald said Hadid had been in Miami meeting friends and working. She had appeared in public at least a few times, including attending a dinner to celebrate the debut of Miami City Ballet’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The sets were designed by her friend, artist Michele Oka Doner. She was also at a lecture at the Perez Art Museum, which has an exhibit of Oka Doner’s work.

The Miami Herald said Hadid had been diagnosed with bronchitis but felt well enough to come out. It quoted Oka Doner as saying that Hadid had  texted her on Wednesday about meeting for dinner in early April because the illness prevented her from going back to London.

“She knew she had to deal with bronchitis, but there was no worry about anything else,” Oka Doner was quoted as saying by the Miami Herald.

Hadid kept a home in Miami Beach and her London-based firm was behind One Thousand Museum, a 62-story downtown condo tower in the city slated for completion in 2018 and where a two-story penthouse  will sell for up to US$50 million. She died at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.

Hadid’s other notable works included the Italian National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, the Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, and The Peak in Hong Kong.


Zaha Hadid poses inside Maxxi museum of contemporary art and architecture in Rome in 2009. PHOTO: REUTERS

“I believe that the complexities and dynamism of contemporary life cannot be cast into the simple platonic forms provided by the classical canon,” she said in her speech accepting the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious in architecture, in 2004.

“The initial sense of abstractness and strangeness is unavoidable and not a sign of personal wilfulness.” 

 
 

Hadid studied maths at the American University of Beirut before going on to study at the prestigious Architecture Association in London, where her professors included leading Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

She established her own practice in London, Zaha Hadid Associates, in 1979 but it took some time before she got a building constructed.

The first was a fire station in Weil Am Rhein, Germany, in 1993.

In 1994, she won a competition to construct an opera house in the capital of Wales, Cardiff. However, the design was eventually scrapped amid fierce local opposition.

“Honestly, we were like a leper colony here after Cardiff,” Hadid said in an Observer newspaper interview in 2008. “For about six years after Cardiff, we had no work and all the money I made was through teaching or lecturing or competitions.”

But by the turn of the millennium, her practice was taking off and she became one of the world’s most famous architects.

She was twice awarded Britain’s top architecture award, the RIBA Stirling Prize, in 2010 and 2011.

Queen Elizabeth II honoured her with a damehood in 2012 and only last month she was awarded Britain’s Royal Gold Medal, joining Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Frank Lloyd Wright in receiving the architectural honour.  

Hadid was known as an architect who pushed the boundaries of architecture and urban design.

Her first high-rise residential project in Singapore was the d'Leedon, at King's Road (below).


An artist's impression of the d’Leedon condominium project in Singapore by developer CapitaLand. The project is on the site of the former Farrer Court estate. PHOTO: CAPITALAND

Hadid had a reputation as a sometimes daunting individual.  Last year, she walked out of a BBC radio interview after angrily denying there had been deaths of construction workers on the site of a stadium she designed for the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar.

Speaking in February (2016) to Britain's BBC Radio 4, Hadid said: “I don’t really feel I’m part of the establishment. I’m not outside, I’m on the kind of edge, I’m dangling there. I quite like it."

She added: “I’m not against the establishment per se. I just do what I do and that’s it.”

But her talent and determination drew praise from peers and the public alike.

“We are deeply saddened by the death of Zaha Hadid, the world of architecture loses a great,” the 2022 World Cup organising committee wrote on Twitter.

Architect of the Pompidou Centre Richard Rogers told The Guardian newspaper: “Among architects emerging in the last few decades, no one had any more impact than she did. She fought her way through as a woman... It is a great loss.”

“Surely her work is special,” renowned architect Peter Cook said on presenting the Royal Gold Medal.

“For three decades now, she has ventured where few would dare.

 “How lucky we are to have her in London,” he added. “Our heroine.”