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To mark the 101st International Women’s Day (March 8), it is appropriate to pay tribute to the influential architect Zaha Hadid.

Born in 1950 in Iraq, Hadid completed her education at the Architectural Association, London, and began her career in The Office for Metropolitan Architecture. She became a partner in 1997; three years later, she started her own company, Zaha Hadid Associates.

Hadid’s designs were initially characterised as ‘radical’ and difficult to build because she employed the Deconstructivist style of architecture (which assimilates asymmetrical shapes or curves, a departure from the usual cubes and spheres found in traditional structures). Although she won numerous prestigious design competitions, her designs were not constructed until 1993, when a fire station that she designed for Vitra, a Swiss furniture company, came into being.

In the noughties, Hadid went from strength to strength, with outstanding buildings including the Hoenheim-North Terminus and Car Park (France, 2001), the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art (Ohio, 2003), and the Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion (in several cities including London, New York, Paris and Tokyo, 2006-2008). She recently designed the spectacular London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics.

For me, Hadid was always an icon; but I never really understood her work until I saw the BMW Central Building in Germany, which she designed in 2005.  An incredible concept, the factory and the office staff worked side by side, separated by a glass wall. Once you were in the office you could see cars being produced through the glass.

Over the years, Hadid has won some prestigious architectural accolades. These include the Pritzker prize (she was the first woman to do so in 2004) and the Stirling prize for architecture (2010 and 2011).

In 2010, Time called her “an influential thinker”; acclaimed designer Donna Karan, who wrote the tribute to Hadid, noted: “When I finally met Zaha, I found she personified her work. Strong. Sensual. Iconic… Zaha’s womanliness is what makes her designs so compelling. She brings a female sensibility and a goddess’s touch… Her style is legendary… and completely original. Zaha is a woman and an artist of her time – and yet she is very much ahead of it too.”

– Adil Kerai
The writer is an architect and partner, Habib Fida Ali Architects

First published in the Real Estate Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 4, 2012.