Tokyo Olympic Stadium Designer Zaha Hadid Dies at 65

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Last night, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) issued a press release confirming the news: Dame Zaha Hadid, 65, died on Thursday morning after suffering a sudden heart attack.


By Annemarie Luck


According to the statement, she had contracted bronchitis earlier this week and had been admitted to hospital in Miami for treatment. Her death comes as a shock not only to her family, friends and ZHA co-workers, but also to her industry peers who have been quick to release statements about what a loss this is to the architecture world, particularly for women in the profession – Hadid was the first woman to win a Pritzker Prize for architecture as well as the first woman to be awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) Royal Gold Medal.

Riba president Jane Duncan said: “This is absolutely terrible news. Dame Zaha Hadid was an inspirational woman, and the kind of architect one can only dream of being … The world of architecture has lost a star today.” When receiving her award in February 2016, Hadid commented: “We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes the challenges are immense. There has been tremendous change over recent years and we will continue this progress.”

Born in Baghdad, Hadid founded her company in 1979 and made waves throughout her career with bold designs that invited both praise and criticism. She is perhaps most well-known for buildings such as the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games (2011), the Maxxi Museum in Rome (2009), and her first major commission, the Vitra Fire Station in Germany (1993).

London Aquatics Centre. Image by Hufton+Crow
London Aquatics Centre (image by Hufton+Crow)

Tokyoites in particular will recall Hadid’s controversial Tokyo Olympic Stadium design, which was suddenly scrapped by the Japanese government last year, creating major debate over the futuristic design’s merits and shortcomings. True to style, Hadid stood firm and her company is still in the process of fighting a contract battle with the Japan Sports Council.

She is perhaps best described in the words of architect Peter Cook, who wrote a citation when Hadid was awarded her Riba medal: “For three decades now she has ventured where few would dare … Such self confidence is easily accepted in film-makers and football managers, but causes some architects to feel uncomfortable. Maybe they’re secretly jealous of her unquestionable talent. Let’s face it, we might have awarded the medal to a worthy comfortable character. We didn’t. We awarded it to Zaha: larger than life, bold as brass and certainly on the case.”

Main Image: Brigitte Lacombe

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