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Zaha Hadid Photo

Zaha Hadid

Iraqi-British Architect and Painter

Born: October 31, 1950 - Baghdad, Iraq
Died: March 31, 2016 - Florida, United States
"The idea is not to have any 90-degree angles. In the beginning, there was the diagonal. The diagonal comes from the idea of the explosion, which 're-forms' the space. This was an important discovery."
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Zaha Hadid Signature
"Architecture is no longer a man's world. This idea that women can't think three dimensionally is ridiculous."
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Zaha Hadid Signature
"[Architecture] performs and facilitates everyday life. This is very different from art's role of contemplation, expression or provocation."
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Zaha Hadid Signature
"Architecture is like writing. You have to edit it over and over so it looks effortless."
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Zaha Hadid Signature
"Your success will not be determined by your gender or your ethnicity, but only on the scope of your dreams and your hard work to achieve them."
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Zaha Hadid Signature
"People ask 'what is it like to be a woman architect?' and I say 'I don't know, I've not been a man'."
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Zaha Hadid Signature

Summary of Zaha Hadid

First woman to break the glass ceiling of the "Starchitect" universe, dwelling amongst greats such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid's pioneering vision challenged notions of what could be achieved in building. Coined the "Queen of the Curve," her highly inventive designs liberated architecture from its traditional treatment of concrete and steel and introduced radical new ways to envision spaces in synchronicity with their surroundings. With a foundation in painting and the utilization of progressive digital technologies, Hadid's creativity was unbound by existing typologies and her innovative approach helped shift the geometry of buildings toward a radical new aesthetic.


  • Before ever seeing one of her designs realized as a physical building, Hadid's architectural drawings and paintings were gaining her international acclaim. Through wildly imaginative and intricate abstractions, she was already questioning the idea that a building was merely a solid mass, paying attention to the relationships between its individual elements.
  • Although not aligned with any particular school, much of Hadid's work has been linked to Deconstructivism in its sculptural treatment of architecture as a container for interconnective spaces, dramatic untraditional angles, and volumes bursting with many little pieces. In this way, her realized buildings echoed her earlier paintings.
  • Her consistency with questioning the status quo led Hadid toward the development of new digital techniques that allowed her to depart from the standard horizontals and verticals and to reimagine the structural engineering of bold new forms. Her firm would coin the term Parametricism to define this signature look and feel.
  • Hadid's position as a world-renowned architect dedicated to her career above all else was further emphasized by the fact that she was a woman and a Muslim. Bold, unapologetic, and progressive, she helped bash stereotypes while infiltrating a field that had largely held a longstanding reputation as a male-held profession.

Biography of Zaha Hadid

Hadid's futuristic design for The Library and Learning Center on the Campus of the Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria

When British journalist Simon Hattenstone met Zaha Hadid at her east London home, he compared her to the Queen of Hearts, roaring “off with their heads” at her subordinates. “She is a fantastic monster, uncompromising dictator of her own wonderland, and one of the world's great architects,” he wrote.

Progression of Art


The Peak Blue Slabs

This painting was made in the early years of Hadid's career as an architect, before any of her designs had been constructed. It shows her un-built yet competition-winning design for a private leisure club - The Peak - on a mountainside in Hong Kong. The painting emphasizes the sympathetic relationship between the jagged edges of the leisure center and those of the mountain, and positions the building within the topography of the site. The flat surface of the painting acts to remove any boundary between building and landscape - a distinction that Hadid remained interested in blurring throughout her career.

Inspired by the Russian Suprematist painter Kazimir Malevich's abstract geometric paintings, the piece explores Hadid's three-dimensional subject matter in this two-dimensional work, demonstrating her interest in spatial relationships. The architect spoke of how Malevich's paintings helped her to use abstraction as a way of investigating different designs. According to the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, "Her buildings may be made of metal, glass and concrete, but their building blocks are her sketches, drawings and paintings."

During this period, and throughout her career, Hadid used painting as a method of representing her building designs in the abstract, often showing them as a disassembled collection of parts, which was a signature of Deconstructivism. She described The Peak in this painting as dissolving into a "confetti snowstorm." Her view was radical as it departed from the conception of buildings as solid masses. Rather, the elements of the building are suspended in the landscape as if extending or exploding from it. According to Obrist, the painting has "the idea of zero gravity, a kind of floating - that is the incredible thing she achieves."

The Peak Blue Slabs was on display at the exhibition Zaha Hadid: There Should Be No End to Experimentation in 2017 at the Serpentine Gallery. Here, her drawings and paintings were shown as artworks in their own right.

Acrylic on canvas - collection unknown

Vitra Fire Station (1989-93)

Vitra Fire Station

The Vitra Fire Station was Hadid's first built work, though she had already made her name as a "paper architect" on account of her creative and ambitious architectural drawings. The client was Rolf Fehlbaum of the Swiss furniture firm Vitra, who would become a member of the jury for the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004 (the year it was won by Hadid). In 1989, Fehlbaum had commissioned Frank Gehry to build a design museum at the Vitra factory in Weil am Rhein, the first of several buildings by notable architects that now make up the Vitra campus. The following year, Hadid won a design competition to create a small fire station for the factory (which had experienced a major fire in 1981).

Hadid's design was entitled "Movement Frozen," which could refer both to its dynamic geometry (some critics have likened its form to a bird in flight) and its being alert to respond to an emergency by bursting into action at any time. It employs glass and concrete block in angled planes that appear stretched, as if in perspective. According to the Architectural Review, these sharp angles and pointed features such as the entrance porch demand our attention and connote a sense of urgency. Cast on site, according to architectural photographer Hélène Binet, it demonstrated new possibilities for working in concrete: "[Hadid] created an incredible signature. Concrete became something else... after her."

The walls and planes are arranged in layers, with the functions of the building dispersed between them. These include areas for fire engines, changing rooms for firemen, a conference room and a kitchenette, all connected by internal streets. There are few pure horizontal or vertical planes, which can disorient those who inhabit the building. This sense is also reinforced by the lack of color. Journalist Harry Mount concurs, "Its shrieking concrete angles and disruptive interiors photographed very well and were dutifully recorded in the magazines, but were not much liked by the firemen. It was decommissioned and is now an exhibition centre."

The latter statement is due to the fact that a new public fire station was opened in the area of Weil am Rhein. Nevertheless, the Vitra Fire Station served its purpose for Hadid of launching her career as an architect of built works. It now functions as an exhibition and event space for the Vitra design museum, while remaining in the care of the Weil am Rhein and the Basel fire services with respect to maintaining the building. It remains a prime example of Hadid's commitment to challenging the status quo, both in presenting a work of unusual complexity to house a familiar public service, but also in her re-envisioning the angular by breaking it out from its typical 45 or 90-degree mold.

Weil am Rhein, Germany

Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art (1997-2003)

Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art

The Center for Contemporary Art (later the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art), founded in 1939, was one of the first of its kind in the United States. Its initial premises, although central, had little visibility to the street and so a design competition was held in 1997 to create a new presence for the center. Hadid's competition entry proposed several gallery volumes, suspended from a concrete plane. This arrangement would inform both the interior and exterior of the building. The gallery spaces are variously shaped and sized and with different lighting strategies, to accommodate a range of contemporary art pieces. Hadid called the arrangement of galleries the "jigsaw puzzle" to describe how the different volumes slotted together.

The given site for the new building, a busy street corner in downtown Cincinnati, also helped to inspire the design. The facade to the street is translucent, inviting passers to look inside, and breaking down the stereotype of the museum in general as remote and uninviting. One critic commented, "This is a building that does not so much sit on its street corner as continuously arrive there."

In this same vein, Hadid developed the idea of an "urban carpet" to create continuity between the museum and the street, thus driving footfall into the building. By this it is meant that the ground floor of the building functions as a public square, albeit enclosed by glazing. The surface of this floor curves upwards as it meets the wall, as if to invite visitors up into the gallery spaces above. This sense of movement continues throughout the museum, as various lighting conditions in different areas create "channels of light," which draw visitors through the space.

At the building's opening in 2003, it was the first American art museum designed by a woman and it was also Hadid's debut in the United States. "[It is] the most important American building to be completed since the end of the Cold War," said architecture critic Herbert Muschamp. He went on to praise the building's "cosmopolitan values" which he also believed to be embodied by Zaha herself (perhaps on account of her multi-cultural and international upbringing).

Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

MAXXI Museum (1998-2010)

MAXXI Museum

The MAXXI Museum is Italy's first national contemporary art museum. Its building is therefore significant as it offers a contemporary identity for Rome that complements the city's classical heritage. The actual museum is only one of five structures that made up Hadid's winning competition design, which was based around the concept of a "field of buildings." As such, she has referred to the project as "incomplete."

In designing the museum, Hadid responded to the gridded layout of the site's surrounding classical buildings, while also introducing her trademark Deconstructivist style. It features curved concrete walls, suspended staircases, a black and white color scheme, large glass openings, and overhanging elements. As architecture critic Rowan Moore noted, the "bending oblong tubes, overlapping, intersecting and piling over each other" are reminiscent of transport architecture.

With this design, Hadid was aiming to achieve "a new fluid kind of spatiality of multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry, designed to embody the chaotic fluidity of modern life." In other words, the building was to represent contemporary Rome and to be flexible to its needs.

In line with this intention, Hadid designed the building as a flow of joined-up spaces that can accommodate a variety of artworks and temporary exhibitions, a move away from the "boxing off" of spaces that is more traditional of museums. As a result, some critics argued that the museum was more suited to sculpture and installation than to 2D works. (The same criticism was lobbied at Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York, by which Hadid was inspired.)

It was important to Hadid that the building serve "not [as] an object-container, but rather a campus for art," reflecting her understanding of the museum's role in contemporary life as well as the institution's goal to preserve cultural objects. The lighting and circulation reinforce this notion of activity, as suspended, lit staircases appear to "fly across a void," guiding the visitor through the contemporary art program.

Rome, Italy

Guangzhou Opera House (2003-10)

Guangzhou Opera House

The Guangzhou Opera House was Hadid's first project in China and resulted from her success in a design competition. A folded structure in glass and polished granite, it comprises a 1,800-seat theatre, 400-seat multifunctional hall, rehearsal rooms and an entrance hall.

Hadid described the building as "like pebbles in a stream smoothed by erosion", emphasizing the way in which the materiality of the building responds to its riverside location. Continuing this theme, the main auditorium is lined with reinforced plaster panels in a folded surface that resembles "the soft insides of an oyster". Unfortunately, some critics have pointed out that Hadid's references to erosion are apt, given that the building has suffered on account of poor workmanship. The quality of the plaster and other interior work was found to be lacking, and around a year after opening, many of the granite panels on the exterior had to be replaced.

The response of critics to the design of the building has been mixed. Architecture critic Nicolai Ourousoff called it "a Chinese gem that elevates its setting", whilst architect Edwin Heathcote suggested the building both transforms the landscape in a positive way and appears "alien" and "incomprehensible". Heathcote's view is fitting inasmuch as the building sits within a newly developed area of Guangzhou and has prompted the construction of further cultural facilities, such as museums and libraries. Inspired by the riverside surroundings, it nevertheless introduces innovation and the unknown. Reflecting this spirit, the decision was taken to perform Puccini's opera Turandot - considered a controversial work of art and to that point never performed in China - at its opening.

Guangzhou, China

London Aquatics Centre (2005-11)

London Aquatics Centre

The London Aquatics Centre is part of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London. It was one of the main venues of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, during which it was used for the swimming, diving and synchronized swimming events. Moveable elements allow the size and depths of the different pools in the complex to be changed.

The roof is one of the most striking features of the building and takes the form of a sweeping parabolic arch. Constructed from steel and aluminum and clad in wood on the inside, it rests on just three concrete supports and connects the two pools at each end of the building. Hadid described the form as "inspired by the fluid geometry of water in movement", whilst architecture critic Rowan Moore concurred that the roof "floats and undulates". He called the center "the Olympics' most majestic space".

The Aquatics Centre was the first 2012 Olympic building to enter construction but the last to be completed. Cost concerns that required several revisions played a key part. At £269 million, the building cost more than three times its original estimate, largely owing to the complexity of the roof - though costs were also added to account for the transformation it underwent after the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

After the Games, the spectator wings on either side of the central space were removed and sold, whilst other parts of the building were re-used (for example the seats and toilets) or re-cycled. The building re-opened in March 2014 and has been used for several other sporting events, including the 2014 FINA/NVC Diving World Series and the 2016 European Aquatics Championships.

London, England

Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center (2007-12)

Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center

The Heydar Aliyev cultural center - named after the controversial former president of the Azerbaijan Republic - has become a signature of the redevelopment of the city that began with the country's independence in 1991. Hadid was appointed as the design architect for the center after a competition in 2007. It is an example of her Parametricist style, which uses digital animation techniques of the late 90s to structurally engineer the building and compute its forms.

The center houses a museum, 1000-seat auditorium, multi-purpose hall, temporary exhibition spaces, a conference center and workshops. Each of these functions is represented by a fold in the surface of the building, thus each has its own identity but is also part of a continuous whole. Computer systems helped with the practical and technical challenges of creating a continuous surface at this scale, while taking into consideration future temperature fluctuations, seismic activity and other potential environmental and societal effects.

In 2014, the Heydar Aliyev cultural center won the Design Museum's Design of the Year Award 2014, making Hadid the first female winner. One judge described the building unconventionally as: "as pure and sexy as Marilyn [Monroe]'s blown skirt", whilst The Guardian adds that it appears: "Like sinuous whirls of whipped cream, buffeted into a mountain range of peaks and spilling out to form a zigzagging landscape".

The sweeping surfaces were appropriate to this project, since a key part of the regeneration of Baku was moving away from the monumental style of Soviet architecture towards more flowing forms. According to Hadid's practice, these recall Islamic architecture with its continuous calligraphy and ornamental patterns that connect architecture, interior and landscape. With this in mind, the building appears as a continuation of the surrounding plaza, the surface of which seems to rise up into its folded form. A public interior space on the ground floor adds to this sense of continuity and invites the outside in.

Hadid has spoken of the project's ambition and its capacity to reflect the romance and optimism of independent Azerbaijan. However, sitting uncomfortably alongside these values are criticisms from human rights groups, who claim that hundreds of local people were forcibly evicted from their homes on the site. This has led some to question the ethics of Hadid's practice, particularly in the wake of contemporary reports on poor working conditions on construction sites for her Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar.

Baku, Azerbaijan

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Content compiled and written by Dawn Kanter

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols

"Zaha Hadid Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Dawn Kanter
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols
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First published on 08 Jul 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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