This weekend, Zaha Hadid, architect and visiting professor at Yale, became the first woman to win the quarter-century-old Pritzker Architecture Prize.
The Pritzker Prize, often described as the “Nobel of architecture” and awarded by the Hyatt hotel chain owning Pritzker family, pays homage to a living architect whose work produces “consistent and significant contributions to humanity.” Hadid, who was born in Baghdad but lives in London, said she is equally proud of all her projects over the years.
Her works include a ski jump in Austria, an arts center in Cincinnati, a fire station in Germany, and a car park in France, in addition to many projects that were never built, such as the design for the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales and a competition-winning clifftop resort above Hong Kong.
With an education from the Architectural Association in London and a reputation for bold and unconventional ideas, Hadid said her influences in school included her teachers and movements she studied such as Russian Constructivism. But she values originality above all, she said.
“It is important to really try not to mimic people you admire; you should be breaking down barriers,” Hadid said. “The point of competing is to always raise the bar, to raise standards.”
Hadid said she attributes her success to a refusal to compromise when faced with difficulties. She often met with criticism in cities such as London, where her designs were called “unbuildable” by some, she said.
“My early drawings were misunderstood by people who thought my designs were impossible, whether culturally, aesthetically, financially or structurally,” Hadid said. “I have managed to show that architecture is not only one thing, and with the help of my entire team I’ve been able to discover new possibilities.”
Hadid has held positions at universities all over the world, including the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Hamburg, Germany, as well as Harvard and Columbia, where she met Robert Stern, the dean of Yale’s School of Architecture. It was Stern who first invited Hadid to Yale; this term is her third time teaching at the University. Stern said he is proud Hadid won the Pritzker.
“This was the right stage in her life to be recognized,” Stern said. “She had a long gestation period of projects and built a dazzling array of work, transforming provocative ideas into buildings. I have learned a lot from her work. She is a warm, funny and gracious person who can be at one moment fabulously difficult and at another, a pussycat.”
Associate Dean of the School of Architecture Peggy Deamer said Hadid has been working this term with graduate students who are designing villas in China near the Great Wall.
“She is seen as very strong and demanding by her students,” Deamer said. “She raises the bar for productivity and quality, so her students have a very positive experience.”
A student in Hadid’s Advanced Design Studio class, DaeWha Kang ARC ’04, said the lesson he has learned best from Hadid is persistence.
“She has uncanny ability to command authority and have a presence without saying a lot,” Kang said. “Really, she is very laconic, and gives strong opinions and quick assessments but still conveys a lot of influence on our work.”
Hadid will receive her prize, a bronze medallion and a $100,000 grant, at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia on May 31. She said she is not yet sure what she will do with the money.
With her team, Hadid is currently working on designs for an arts center in Rome, a science center in Germany, a Central Plant Building for BMW in Germany, and an extension of the Price Tower Arts Centre in Oklahoma, among other projects.