Building the unbuildable – Making a reputation – Zaha Hadid

Building the unbuildable:

She’s created some iconoclastic buildings across the world, but architect Zaha Hadid had to work the angles and battle against stereotypes to make her fantastic designs a reality.

Known for pushing the boundaries of architecture and design, Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid was once described by Rem Koolhaas as “a planet in her own orbit”. From The Rosenthal Center in Cincinnati to the BMW Central Building in Leipzig, Baghdad-born Hadid has left her unique signature around the world through her remarkable buildings. On this week’s Talk Asia, host Anjali Rao talks to her about her latest eye-catching creation in southern China and the challenges of being female in a male-dominated industry.

In 2004, Ms. Hadid became the first woman to win the architecture industry’s most prestigious honor – the Pritzker Prize.  But her journey to success was far from easy: “I’m a woman, I’m difficult. But if you’re a guy, you are opinionated. You have an opinion. You aren’t difficult. There is that kind of, till this day, prejudice,” she says. “I think it was never clear which of the ‘whammy’s’ they are hysterical about. Whether I’m a woman or whether the work is unusual. I’m non-European. There was a bit of that. Especially after the Iraq Gulf war, there was a tremendous level of prejudice.”

Making a reputation:

She tells Rao about her upbringing in Baghdad in the 1950s – a very different place from  the contemporary Iraqi capital . “I remember all these kind of political changes, so at a very young age you become very conscious of politics…It was a very nice place to live. People were wonderful. It was not as cosmopolitan as Beirut but it was very liberal and open.”  She adds that recent uprisings in the Middle East had reminded her of the revolution she experienced: “I am not sure if it is the same. I mean that the Arab world is at a point where it can go either way and I think it is very exciting.”

Ms Hadid was recently commissioned by the Iraqi government to design her first project in her home country, the headquarters of the Iraqi Central Bank. “I think no matter how long you live outside your country, there is something very wonderful about speaking the language, relating, sharing certain info or memories with people who have been there. It is something very touching and moving.”

Despite international acclaim, Ms. Hadid’s designs are sometimes dismissed as the work of a fantasist. In 2004, she won the design competition for the Cardiff Bay Opera House but failed to win the support of the funding organization – The Millennium Commission  –  because the design was considered too radical. As a result, the building was never built. “The biggest irony was that people in their memory, in Wales anyway, remember me doing it and they remember an Opera House.”

Highlights of Ms. Hadid’s interview with TALK ASIA will be available online at talkasia after the first airing.