Zaha Hadid: The dame, the icon and the groundbreaking architect

Dame Zaha Hadid


Dame Zaha Hadid has died aged 65. As the industry pays tribute, Estates Gazette takes a look back at the Iraqi-born architect, from her groundbreaking projects to her often controversial views on architecture

An inspirational woman… with a wicked sense of humour

Features and global editor Emily Wright remembers her first meeting with Hadid

I have never been more anxious ahead of an interview than I was before meeting Zaha Hadid for the first time. And I was right to be.

I had travelled to Paris. The only place she had any spare time to meet me. And the reputation that proceeded her became clear in reality as soon as I walked through the door of the exhibition centre. Wearing a trademark, structural black outfit she looked up for a split second, made no eye contact and barked: “Who is that girl in the red dress? Remove her from my eyeline.” And so I was. Promptly. Not to mention in a bit of a panic given my editor had agreed to the rather extravagant interview location given it was, well, Zaha.

I waited for two hours as she readied herself for the meeting only to be eventually told she was just too tired. She had no energy for an interview that day after all.

I had no choice but to break through the crowd that made up her substantial entourage and plead with her face to face.

That’s when everything changed. She let me ramble on for a while – no doubt to her great amusement – before breaking my spiel with a wry smile. “Sit down,” she said. “I will speak.”

And speak she did. About life, love and work. About giving up smoking, singing and coffee – “everything I have ever loved”. About her designs, her ambition and her relationship with men in the world of property and architecture. She gave me what is probably still the quote of my career: “men don’t listen to me. That’s why I give them hell.”

Zaha was everything and nothing like what I was expecting. Strong and powerful. But also sensitive and nostalgic. She cared about things in a way that certainly surprised me. Memories of dancing and drinking at her friend’s flat in London Bridge when she was young. Staying up all night to talk to her friends in New York and, when they went to sleep, calling others in California. Zaha was just very human.

I met her again last October at MIPIM UK. I approached her for a second interview and, in an almost identical case of history repeating, was told she had no time. She was too tired.

I want so far as to walk out of them room. Before remembering. This is Zaha. Sure enough once I had got close enough, close enough to lock down that illusive eye contact, everything changed.

And she spoken about her New York high line project. Something she was obviously so proud of.

At the end of the brief interview reminded her of our last meeting. “I remember,” she said. “How are you?”

Maybe she remembered. Maybe she didn’t and was just trying to be polite. Either way, she was demonstrating a level of empathy way beyond what many might have expected from her.

Zaha Hadid was so much more than an architect with a reputation for being difficult. Complicated? Probably. Tough to work with at times? Definitely. But people talked about her. People recognised her. People feared her and people cared what she thought.

She was an inspiration. With a wicked sense of humour.

What a woman.

Zaha Hadid remembered >>

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