How Zaha Hadid First Rose to Fame

3 minute read

Zaha Hadid, the world-renowned architect who has died at 65, made a name for herself with her bold designs and bold opinions. As Donna Karan wrote of her in 2010, when Hadid was included in TIME’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, “she personified [her] work.” Hadid, Karan noted, “commands the space around her — not in an imposing way but in a way that seduces you with excitement,” and her work was “like a gust of wind — organic, forceful and utterly natural.”

But her place as one of the most recognizable names in architecture did not come easily. When she started breaking into that world, especially as a woman born in Baghdad, her projects didn’t always pan out. As Hadid herself acknowledged in a 2012 interview, the world was different when her career began: “The view from the Establishment about architecture has changed since then,” she said. “The view about women has also changed. People now see the value in difference, not normative space.”

In 1999, TIME’s Belinda Luscombe looked back at the beginning of that career and explained how Hadid’s emergence on the scene set her apart from her colleagues:

If there is an antithesis to an overnight success, then Hadid is it. She arrived on the architecture scene in 1983 when, at 33 (which is like seven in architecture years), she won a prestigious international competition to design a sports club on the Peak, the mountain in Hong Kong. The financing for that ambitious building fell through, but her drawings and the design—a dramatic cantilever jutting out of the mountain like a futuristic rock ledge—were wildly praised by the architectural fraternity.

It was a situation that would become familiar to her. She taught at the school at which she studied, London’s Architectural Association, and kept winning big competitions but building only small projects, like restaurant interiors and a fire station, until 1994. That year she was engulfed in another tsunami of publicity when she won the international competition for the opera house in Cardiff, Wales. Almost as soon as her victory was announced, the controversy began. An outspoken Arabic woman proposing an intellectually demanding, uncompromising design in a Britain in which the future king publicly bemoaned the lack of pretty, traditional buildings was destined for a tough time. Slowly the promised funds for that project evanesced. But the seductive stylized drawings and paintings of her work, plus the fact that she was a female architect of consistent vision, backbone and—as a made-for-media bonus—booming voice, frank views and flamboyant wardrobe, put her in the awkward position of having fame and headlines aplenty but buildings few.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: She’s Gotta Build It

Read a 2012 interview with Hadid, here on 10 Questions with Zaha Hadid

Read Donna Karan’s appreciation of Hadid, here on Zaha Hadid

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