Zaha Hadid wins top architecture prize, walks out of testy BBC interview

Zaha Hadid posing for pictures outside her recently completed design for an extension of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London.
Zaha Hadid posing for pictures outside her recently completed design for an extension of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Zaha Hadid became the first woman to scoop a top British architecture prize yesterday but afterwards cut short a testy BBC prime time radio interview.

Previous winners of the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) include Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Frank Lloyd Wright.

"I am very proud to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal, in particular to be the first woman to receive the honour in her own right," she said in a statement.

"We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn't mean it's easy. Sometimes the challenges are immense," she said.

After her win was announced, the architect cut short an interview on Britain's flagship radio morning news programme Today following a tense exchange with her interviewer.

Her interview rapidly went sour after BBC interviewer Sarah Montague raised the condition of migrant workers in Qatar, where the British-Iraqi architect is building the 2022 World Cup stadium.

Montague mistakenly repeated the allegation that there have been 1,200 workers' deaths on the project - a report that was withdrawn after Hadid filed a lawsuit against the New York Review of Books which published the allegation last year.

The figure related to construction projects across Qatar, not Hadid's project alone, which had not even broken ground at the time of publication.

"You should check your information before you say anything," said Hadid, increasingly angry. "I sued them and they had to withdraw and apologise."

Montague went on to ask about the Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium, a project Hadid quit last week, two months after her initial winning design was scrapped amid soaring construction costs. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had pulled the plug on her initial winning design due to its eye-watering US$2 billion price tag.

Hadid, who had previously referred to her failed bid to build the stadium as a "scandal", said: "I pulled out because we had no contractor to go with." She was interrupted as she was explaining the controversy and snapped, saying: "Don't ask me a question when you can't let me finish it."

When Montague asked about the "soaring costs" of the stadium, she responded: "Let's stop this conversation right now. I don't want to carry on."

The BBC has made a public apology on its Radio 4 website for suggesting there were deaths on the Qatar stadium project.

Hadid is best known for buildings including the Guangzhou Opera House in China, the Vitra Fire Station in Germany and the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales. She opened her own practice in London in 1979 and, in 2004, became the first female recipient of the Pritzker, considered the equivalent of the Nobel prize for architecture.

"Zaha Hadid is a formidable and globally influential force in architecture," RIBA president Jane Duncan Said, describing her work as "highly experimental, rigorous and exacting".