Zaha Hadid, a visiting professor at the Yale School of Architecture who was widely credited as the greatest modern female architect, died March 31 of a heart attack while being treated for bronchitis in a Miami hospital. She was 65 years old.
Born in 1950 in Baghdad, Hadid was the first woman, and the first Muslim, to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which is regarded as the Nobel Prize of architecture. She was also the first woman to receive the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal. Around the world, her buildings include the Guangzhou, China Opera House and the London Olympics Aquatic Center. Hadid was a frequent guest at Yale who taught every few years as a visiting professor; this semester, she co-taught an advanced studio class for graduate students in architecture.
“[Hadid] was a huge, significant talent and she was also a great teacher,” incoming Dean of the Yale School of Architecture Deborah Berke said. “She demanded incredible amounts of work and the highest possible quality from her students, but she also loved them and we will miss her terribly.”
Berke, who studied with Hadid while they were students together at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, said Hadid was brilliant from early on. She added that Hadid’s gifts extended beyond architecture, from her outgoing personality to her talent for drawing. Hadid’s legacy includes everything from her earliest sketches to her most recent buildings around the world, Berke said, and her presence will last because of her gift in form-making.
Gary He ARC ’21, who admired Hadid’s work but did not have the opportunity to take a class with her, highlighted her pioneering use of digital technology as one of her largest contributions to the field.
Berke said Hadid’s relatively early death is especially tragic due to her great potential. Similarly, Surry Schlabs ARC ’17 said that many architects do not “tend to hit their stride” until relatively later on in life. He noted that Hadid was well-known for her graphic and visual work even before she began constructing a large number of buildings, adding that it was only within the last couple decades that she began receiving notable commissions.
Her death is a global loss for the entire profession, Schlabs said, because an architect like her could easily have made substantial contributions to the field for another 20 years. He also noted that she contributed to advancing the status of women in architecture.
“One of her many great accomplishments is in fact to have more or less, while she was alive, removed the kind of woman-specific descriptor from conversations about her work,” Schlabs said. “She was one of the world’s most important architects, not merely because she was a woman in a male-dominated field, but because she held her own.”
In addition to her position at Yale, Hadid held a number of other appointments, including the Kenzo Tange chair at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and the Sullivan chair at the University of Illinois’ School of Architecture. Outside of her academic role, Hadid also led her own architecture company in London, which she established in 1980.
Her death comes amidst several of her significant ongoing projects, including the 2022 FIFA World Cup stadium in Qatar and the Iraqi Parliament building in her home city of Baghdad.
She is survived by her older brother, Haytham Hadid.