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A tribute to Zaha Hadid

The architecture and design communities were shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Dame Zaha Hadid, who passed away on 31 March 2016. Hadid's work was hugely influential, touching people in all walks of life.

We asked design writer Lynda Relph-Knight to assess the legacy Hadid leaves behind. Following that are tributes from Bruce Duckworth and Christian Davies.

Zaha Hadid by Mary McCartney
Zaha Hadid by Mary McCartney

Zaha Hadid, by Lynda Relph-Knight, 1 April 2016

Architecture is in shock. The high-priestess of style and controversy is dead before her time at the age of 65, at the peak of her career.

For most of that career, Zaha Hadid was on the edge of things and was often stonewalled by the UK establishment. She was dismissed by many in the early years of the 1980s as a ‘paper architect’ who created stunning drawings of improbably curved and cantilevered buildings by those who said they could never be built. She eventually proved them wrong with a string of commissions for courageous buildings that challenged technology and pushed the boundaries of perception and expectations. Most of these have been overseas, the Brits having kept her at arm’s length since she was unceremoniously ousted from the Cardiff Opera House project in 1995, despite having won the competition to build it. It is not surprising to hear the London Aquatics Centre at Stratford she created for the London 2012 Olympics cited as her best-known building in the British media. It is one of the very few she has built here.

London Aquatics Centre, Zaha Hadid by Hufton+Crow
London Aquatics Centre, Zaha Hadid by Hufton+Crow

But all that changed a couple of years ago, perhaps in response to the Olympics work. Hadid was made a dame in 2012 and received the coveted RIBA Gold Medal earlier this year, making her the first woman to do so. She has also been given air-time to express her passion for architecture that makes lives better, not least in a recent Desert Island Discs appearance. It’s about creating spaces that promote people’s wellbeing, she has said in interviews. She was forthright in her views, but generous in spirit to her detractors.

But while architects everywhere are now counting their loss, design too is in mourning. While architecture competitions were lost and gradually won, Hadid has been more quietly exploring form, technology and materials through furniture design, albeit at the high end for companies like Established and Sons and Italian great Sawaya and Moroni. A glimpse into her ‘design gallery’ in in London’s Goswell Road reveals fantastic shapes in new materials that display the same mathematical and engineering prowess as her buildings. She wasn’t given to compromise, but pushed ideas constantly.

Zaha Hadid Scoop Sofa by Sawaya & Moroni
Zaha Hadid Scoop Sofa by Sawaya & Moroni

So while architects speak now of her greatness, some tears will be shed along the Via Alessandro Manzoni and across this month’s Milan Furniture Fair. Hadid’s death is a loss to anyone creative. We need heroes like her, prepared to challenge the norm, not for the sake of making a statement but because it is right to do so.

Bruce Duckworth, TurnerDuckworth, Deputy President, D&AD

This is terribly sad news, and a real shock. Sixty-five isn't old. Zaha could have given us another twenty years of great work. But what a body of work. It's a reminder to us all to do what she did; to get things done, and make things happen, and to take every opportunity and make it an opportunity for creative excellence.

Christian Davies, Fitch, D&AD Spatial & Experiential Design Foreman 2016

In a world where reams of inspiration lie just a click away it is rare to come across work that makes you gasp. That invariably was the reaction to the creations of Zaha Hadid. To marvel at its bravery, its integrity, its single mindedness was only bested by the experience in the flesh. Hers was a brilliant mind, resolutely before its time, a genius we should all be immensely thankful we got to see at play.

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