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Zaha Hadid: A Profile

WEDNESDAY 11th June 2003
Clothed in haute couture and as big in personality as any of her visions for the landscape, Zaha Hadid has been called a diva of architecture. But her designs have long suffered from the perception of being incredible but impractical, in one critic's phrase, "brilliant, but unbuildable".

Architectural Superstar

Her gravity-defying ideas, with her resistance to right angles and celebrations of movement, have often failed to make it off the drawing board. Only in the last couple of years, with multi-million-pound projects from Cincinnati to Singapore under her designer belt, has Hadid finally emerged into an architectural superstar.

Her passage has not been easy. She designed a leisure complex in Hong Kong, before the developer went bankrupt. She proved the surprising choice to design Cardiff's new opera house, before the committee lost its nerve and cancelled her commission.

Despite receiving a CBE last year for services to her profession, Hadid has the dubious distinction of being Britain's most celebrated architect without a building here to her name. After making her home in London for nearly three decades, she laments, "There isn't a belief here in the fantastic. They don't think it's possible."

"A planet in her own inimitable orbit"

Born in Baghdad and educated by French nuns, Hadid came to England in her twenties, and studied at what Prince Charles later called the "Frankenstein Academy", the radical Architectural Association.

Under the auspices of ambitious tutor, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, Hadid created her own drawing language. When she graduated in 1977, Koolhaas called his prodigy "a planet in her own inimitable orbit".

"All strong ideas never really fail"

Always recognised as a great visionary and inspiring teacher, Hadid survived for ten years on lecture fees. Her avant-garde thinking originally confused pragmatists, but her work has become more commercially responsive and increasingly popular across the globe.

From her first actual building, a German fire station, through to her current projects, ranging from an art centre in Rome to a ski jump at Innsbruck, Hadid has always created on a grand scale. Intent on creating a better world, she is convinced that "buildings should keep you dry and feed the soul".

Now, finally enjoying the rewards of her determination, individualism and undoubted patience, she is philosophical about her years in the architectural wilderness. Of her years as a lone visionary with only plans, not buildings, on the horizon, Zaha Hadid can reflect, "I think all strong ideas never really fail."