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International Women’s Day (March 8) is a good time to acknowledge the achievements of notable women from around the world. One such woman is renowned architect Dame Zaha Hadid, who became the first woman to be awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Gold Medal, the UK’s highest honour for architects last month. Although two other women – Ray Kaiser Eames and Patricia Hopkins – have been previously honoured, they were presented the medal in tandem with their husbands.

The RIBA medal is awarded annually by the Royal Institute of British Architects on behalf of the British monarch in recognition of an individual’s or group’s contribution to international architecture. It is given for a distinguished body of work rather than for just one building.

In Hadid’s case, this body of work includes the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, the Aquatics Centre constructed for the 2012 London Olympics, the Maxxi Museum in Rome, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London, the Riverside Museum at Glasgow’s Museum of Transport and the Guangzhou Opera House in China. The RIBA medal is not Hadid’s first award; other prestigious accolades include the Pritzker prize (she was the first woman to win it in 2004) and the Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2010 and 2011.

One of the defining aspects of Hadid’s work is that her buildings are distinctively neo-futuristic, characterised by powerful curving forms, elongated structures, multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry which are said to evoke the chaos of modern life.

Although Hadid is arguably the most famous woman architect in the world today, there are others with notable achievements. There is Amanda Levete who won the Stirling Prize in 1999 for designing the media centre at Lord’s Cricket Ground; Angela Brady who won the Irish Post/AIB Bank Award for personal achievement in architecture for a lifetime of designing houses, schools and medical centres across the UK; and Alison Brooks, who set up Alison Brooks Architects, the only UK practice to have won the RIBA award for architecture.

– Marylou Andrew

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