London architect Zaha Hadid is responsible for some of the world’s most iconic buildings and on the sad news of her sudden death, The Resident celebrates her work – perhaps most poignantly, we look at her contribution to west London through the Serpentine Sackler Gallery

It is with great sadness that Zaha Hadid Architects have confirmed that Dame Zaha Hadid, DBE died suddenly in Miami in the early hours of this morning. She had contracted bronchitis earlier this week and suffered a sudden heart attack while being treated in hospital. Hadid was widely regarded to be the greatest female architect in the world today. Born in Baghdad in 1950, she studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before starting her architectural journey in 1972 at the Architectural Association in London.


Zaha Hadid was behind the wonderful design of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery

The British-Iraqi architect was given the New Londoner of the Year title for her contributions to the design industry in the UK and abroad at the annual New London Awards last July. In February, the Royal Institute of British Architects awarded Dame Zaha Hadid the 2016 Royal Gold Medal, the first woman to be awarded this award in her own right.

Her most famous work in the capital includes the London Aquatic Centre and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. 

A year ago, we interviewed Hadid about why she chose to explore the power of female fashion at the Design Museum with The Women Fashion Power exhibition. We take a look back… 

Once described as ‘the queen of the curve’, Hadid earned the title from the artistic style of her architectural designs, such as the London Aquatics Centre and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. But recently, she turned her eye for elegance to the world of fashion at the Design Museum. We caught up with Zaha to find out more.


The Aquatic Centre, another of Hadid’s contributions to London

What does the exhibition Women Fashion Power at the Design Museum mean to you?
The exhibition explores how women in many different situations around the world use fashion. It includes women from such a variety of nationalities, industries and periods; of course there are great contrasts, but I also find what connects these women very interesting.

What did you want to achieve when designing the exhibit?
The exhibition is structured around two central hubs or ‘explosions’; the first housing the Timeline component, the second the Arena of Power. This conceptual arrangement expresses the power and energy of fashion as explored by the exhibition. Each fragment of the ‘explosion’ is employed as a mode of display, highlighting individual pieces whilst also creating a sense of cohesiveness for the many different objects exhibited. Visitors experience the exhibition as we experience fashion on a daily basis – an endless series of visual fragments, each one communicating the distinct personality and desires of the individual, yet collectively defining a visual language that embodies the ideas and attitudes of their time.

How important is your personal fashion to you in your career?
It’s important to feel good and have a strong sense of self-belief, but clothes can only play a part in that; as a woman in any profession, you need the confidence to take new steps every time. So I believe in hard work; it gives you that layer of confidence. Architecture is a very tough profession. Every architect you talk to, no matter man or woman, has it very, very difficult. I think it is very important for a woman to have the commitment to persevere, and you must have a strong belief in yourself. I’ve always believed in my work and know that it will carry me through any difficult situation.

Who is the most inspirational woman to you?
The teachers who taught sciences in the school I went to as a young girl in Baghdad were all professors from the university, so the standards of science courses were really incredible. The Headmistress, who was a nun, was very committed to the education of women.

Which London building sticks out in your mind the most?
I really like the Brutalist, post-1960s buildings on the South Bank; the Hayward Gallery, all that area. It’s one of the few examples of post-1960s work remaining in London. Brutalist architecture has fallen out of favour and most of it is being demolished, but these are actually some of the best examples of architecture in London.

Which area of London gives you a feeling of nostalgia and why?
So many areas of the city bring back memories. I arrived in London in 1973 to study at the Architectural Association School. There were general strikes and a three-day work week – and London was a bit gloomy. But because there was nothing to do, it propelled people together to discuss and talk. We would work until two or three in the morning – and someone would call and say ‘let’s go to Southwark’. That whole area of London was black, with nothing in it: no residents, only one or two pubs. Shad Thames, Southwark and Butlers Wharf would be pitch black – it was very strange – almost like Gotham City. But now, the reverse happens. The streets are ablaze with light and people everywhere. It’s fantastic! People sitting outside and having a coffee on a freezing February morning.

What changes would you like to see in this city’s approach to architecture?
London always inspires projects that are unpredictable. There are enormous sites in London currently being developed for its transport infrastructure, so there is a question about how to deal with very large buildings on these sites. The majority of work in London is corporate, which sees the private domain having an impact on the city. This should be discussed. All buildings should have a civic component. Even a commercial high-rise building should offer a civic programme – public spaces in which people can connect and use as their own. Developers in both the public and private sectors must invest in these public spaces. They are a vital component of a rich urban life and cityscape – they unite the city, tie the urban fabric together.


The Women Fashion Power exhibition, image by Mirren Rosie

Whereabouts in London are you based – and what do you love about it?
Clerkenwell. As a practice, we’ve been here for 31 years and seen massive changes in that time; the most astonishing has taken place recently. There’s been a natural evolution – and with Thameslink and Crossrail intersecting at Farringdon in the next few years, these changes will continue. Clerkenwell just has this boisterous energy.

If there were no restrictions, what would be your dream construction in London?
Part of architecture’s job is to make people feel good in the spaces where we live, go to school or where we receive health care – so we must be committed to raising the standards of our homes, schools and hospitals. Having a home is such a crucial issue, not only in terms of a shelter, but also for wellbeing. There’s enough total wealth today that all people should have a good home, not just the very rich. Social housing has always been based on the concept of minimal existence – that shouldn’t be the case today. Architects now have the skills and tools to address these critical issues, and many communities around the world are committed to resolving them. Architects can make a difference in London too – if we are just given the opportunity.

What are your New Year’s resolutions?
I would like to spend more time with family and friends. Time doesn’t stop when you’re trying to meet a deadline – and working under such pressure can create great work – but one must equally work to ensure you never neglect friends and family; they will always be your greatest support.

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