Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid received the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize as the first Arab woman. She was regarded as a pioneer of modern avant-garde architectural trends due to her extremely expressive designs with sweeping, flowing shapes from numerous perspectives. She was the genius behind the designs of the London 2012 Olympic aquatic center and the Broad Art Museum in the United States, among others, and is famous internationally for her experimental styles and inventive ideas. She was raised in opulence and attended boarding schools in England and Switzerland after being born into an affluent family in Baghdad. Even as a little girl, she had no doubt that she would pursue a professional career in the future. Before attending the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, she studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut. She finally became a British citizen and established a highly successful architecture firm after becoming a citizen. Her creative ideas and experimental styles garnered great worldwide attention, and within a few years, she became a world-famous architect. In addition to her architectural profession, she also pursued a teaching career and completed notable interior design projects.

Childhood & Early Life

  • Zaha Mohammad Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq, on 31 October 1950, to a prominent family. Muhammad al-Hajj Husayn Hadid, her father, was an industrialist and co-founder of the Iraqi National Democratic Party. Wajiha al-Sabunji, her mother, was an artist.
  • Hadid’s upbringing by her extraordinarily successful father laid the groundwork for her belief that “there was never any doubt that I would be a professional.”
  • Throughout her early education, she attended a progressive Catholic institution. In addition, French, Muslim, and Jewish students were present. She herself was descended from an Arab Sunni Muslim family.
  • Her secondary schooling began in Beirut at the American University. Her primary interest was in math.
  • She traveled to London in 1972 to study architecture, her forte, at the ‘Architectural Association’ Here, she met professors and students who paved the way for her to become a partner at the “Office for Metropolitan Architecture” and further her career.


  • 1977 was the beginning of her illustrious career when she joined the “Office of Metropolitan Architecture” and began teaching at the “Architectural Association.”
  • In 1980, Hadid gained independence and establishes her own practice in London. Today, ‘Zaha Hadid Architects employs around 350 individuals.
  • The “Vitra Fire Station” in Weil am Rhein, Germany was her first successfully constructed project. The project spanned the years 1989 through 1993. Since then, the structure has been converted into a museum.
  • Her design was selected in 1994 for the “Cardiff Bay Opera House” in Wales. This brought her some notoriety and renown, but the city ultimately decided to spend the money on a stadium instead of the proposed structure.
  • In 1998, she achieved great success when her design for the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art was chosen. This was her first American project, and she won two honors for it: the Royal Institute of British Architects Award in 2004 and the American Architecture Award from The Chicago Athenaeum the following year.
  • In the 1990s, she held the Sullivan Chair professorship at the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago as part of her work as an educator. She was also a visiting lecturer at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg (HFBK Hamburg), the Knowlton School of Architecture at The Ohio State University, and the Master’s Studio at Columbia University.
  • Her design for the ‘Olympic Aquatic Center‘ for the ‘2012 Olympic Games’ was chosen in 2005. Her ideas are currently scheduled to be constructed for the “Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”

Major Works

  • She finished the construction of the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in 2003. This was the first American museum designed by a woman, and the New York Times called it the “most significant American edifice erected since the end of the cold war.”
  • In 2010, her design for the Maxxi building won the Stirling Prize. The national museum is located in Rome and is described as “a masterwork worthy of being shown alongside Rome’s historic marvels.” (The Independent)

Awards &Achievements

  • Hadid’s list of accomplishments includes over one hundred significant prizes and distinctions. In 1982, she got the ‘Gold Medal Architectural Design‘ for her British Architecture.
  • In 2004, she was the first woman and one of the youngest architects to receive the Pritzker Prize. This medal is universally recognized as the highest distinction in architecture.
  • In 2012, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire was conferred to Hadid.
  • Her design for the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre earned the Design Museum Design of the Year Award in 2014.

Personal History and Legacy

  • Hadid was never married and never had children. She was completely devoted to her professional endeavors. She overcame several societal preconceptions to become a role model for Muslim women and to open doors for women and Muslims to become architects.
  • On March 31, 2016, Zaha Hadid died after a heart attack in a hospital in Miami. At the time of her passing, she was having bronchitis treatment.


  • Prior to gaining notoriety as an architect, she had a prosperous teaching career at many colleges. These included the ‘Harvard Graduate School of Design‘ and ‘Chicago’s School of Architecture at the ‘University of Illinois’.

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Millard Davis
Millard Davis
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