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Zaha Hadid Harpers Bazaar credit

STORIES: Renegade Architects who shaped the realms of design as well as the world we live in.

This month kicking off with the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, we introduce the first in a series of  articles spotlighting those architects and designers who have not only inspired and influenced us but have what we believe to be a true renegade spirit as defined in the Collins English Dictionary as:

Renegade is used to describe a member of a group or profession who behaves in a way that is opposed to the normal behaviour or beliefs of that group or profession.

The mind of an architect contains a whirling universe of opposing realities, both wildly creative and intellectually mathematical; architects are artists, poets and dreamers as well as doers, resourceful problem solvers and entrepreneurs. They envision unfathomable frameworks often set against the limited briefs of clients and the physical constraints of the environment.

Their creations outline a footprint of our very existence whilst documenting a cultural representation of society past and present. Buildings dictate how we move around a space, unfurling us through a spectrum of uplifting to the downright oppressive.

As such, with so many buildings occupying our everyday realities, the future of architecture must be one envisioned within a sense of consciousness and a regard for the planet if it is to be sustainable as well as innovative.

Zaha Hadid, known as The Queen of the Curve, was one such visionary who, memorably back in 2015, bought the issue of sustainability to the fore stating that  “architects had solutions”.  A controversial figure, she was not known for her diplomacy, although those that knew her spoke of her generosity and sense of fun. Her fierce determination and incredible mind have left a legacy that has smashed old doctrines and revolutionised architecture, in turn affecting people’s lives.

“Architecture is really about well-being. I think that people want to feel good in a space… On one hand, it’s about shelter, but it’s also about pleasure.”


Born in Baghdad, Hadid was greatly influenced by the landscapes and vernacular buildings of the Southern Sumer region.


“The beauty of the landscape where sand, water, reeds, rivers, building and people somehow flowed together has never left me,” she said. 


Arabic calligraphy, with its language and geometry, also played a great role in her design process, enabling her to encompass a sense of fluidity inherent in her sketches and ideas.


After graduating in mathematics, she continued her studies by enrolling at the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA)  in 1972 in search of an alternative system to traditional architectural drawing and was influenced by Suprematism and the Russian avant-garde, in particular the work of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich whose discipline enabled her to develop abstraction as an investigative principle. This approach led her to develop a form of reverse archaeology which can be seen illustrated in her sketches and designs.

During her time at the AA, she met and studied with Rem Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis and Bernard Tschumi. Recognising her genius, Zenghelis enthused that she was the most outstanding pupil he had ever taught. Stating,

OMA-with-a-young-Rem-Koolhaas-Zaha-Hadid-standing-Elia-Zenghelis-Zoe-Zenghelis CREDIT UNKNOWN

‘We called her the inventor of the 89 degrees. Nothing was ever at 90 degrees. She had a spectacular vision. All the buildings were exploding into tiny little pieces.”


Koolhass, who was equally as impressed, invited her to join OMA, to which Hadid replied:

‘Only as a partner.’ I mean, honestly! I had just finished school. And they said, ‘As long as you are an obedient partner.’ I said, ‘No, I am not going to be an obedient partner.’ That was the end of my partnership!”

Vitra Fire Station. Photos by Christian Richters
QATAR STADIUM IMAGE FROM Courtesy ZHA. Renderings by Neoscape.

It wasn’t long before Hadid set up on her own in the 1980s. Yet it took until 1993 for her first commission to take shape in the form of the completion of the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein. After this breakthrough in her career, her reputation as a daring and unconventional designer gathered momentum leading to a plethora of commissions resulting in iconic buildings with highly distinctive silhouettes, such as the Guangzhou Opera House, the London Olympics Aquatics Center and the Galaxy SOHO in Beijing, China and completed recently by her firm for the Qatar 2022 World Cup was the 40,000-seat venue in Al Wakrah, south of Doha inspired by the Arab dhow, a traditional local fishing boat.

In 2004 she became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize though she preferred not to dwell on the gender issue she did say at a later time:

“I suppose I must be part of the establishment now. I’ve always been independent, and because I’m ‘flamboyant’, I’ve always been seen as difficult. As a woman in architecture, you’re always an outsider. It’s OK; I like being on the edge.”

Indeed it was her talent first and foremost that informed her work. Her mentor and friend Koolhaas said of her contributions after her death:

“I think she made an enormous contribution as a woman, but her greatest contribution is as an architect.”

Baku, Azerbaijan. Heydar Aliyev Center. Urban citylife photography credit @therealslimshadyiltun

In 2012, Hadid completed the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, using concrete in a free-flowing form with both sharp angles and curves. It represented a sense of romance and optimism that signified the country’s post-independent political status from the Soviet Union in 1991. Her work here and consequent projects were questioned due to the human rights issues of the countries. To this, Hadid vehemently replied that she did not build a prison but something for the people of the Republic of Azerbaijan to enjoy. 

Her firm would continue to receive criticism around her work within certain dictator states. Yet as any true renegade would she stood firmly and defiantly in the face of any criticism. 

“You have to really believe not only in yourself; you have to believe that the world is actually worth your sacrifices”

Her art, her life’s work, and the architecture itself — futuristic, dynamic and organic will however always stand as a testament to her unshakeable hankering to constantly and intentionally propel the limits of design whilst obscuring the boundaries between architecture, engineering and art.


Hadid also expanded her visions into the world of interiors and jewellery, producing sculptural pieces that translated the sensuous curves many of her buildings displayed. Her latest pieces of jewellery were made in her favourite metal, gold. Sadly, days before the prototype was to be delivered to Hadid, she passed away unexpectedly. 

Her untimely death in 2016 was met not only with an outpouring of grief but the recognition that a truly beautiful and unique mind had been lost.

In the words of her mentor Rem Koolhaas, she was “a planet in her own inimitable orbit”.


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