Even by starchitect standards, Zaha Hadid was a force of nature with an outsized personality.
The celebrated Iraqi-born British architect — the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor — cut short a BBC radio interview last year when the line of questioning turned toward a sensitive subject: her 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games stadium design, scrapped because of spiraling costs.
“Don’t ask me a question when you can’t let me finish it,” Hadid said. “Let’s stop this conversation right now.”
That boldness, reflected brightly in striking buildings that punctuate cities around the world, is what the architecture world remembered Thursday after Hadid died at age 65. She suffered a heart attack Thursday morning while being treated for bronchitis in a Miami hospital, according to her London-based firm.
Clockwise from top left: MAXXI contemporary art museum in Rome; London Aquatics Centre; Bergisel ski jump in Austria; Zaha Hadid in West Hollywood in March 2004(Clockwise from top left: Roland Halbe; John Walton / PA via Associated Press; Helene Binet; Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press)
Zaha Hadid visits the Riverside Museum, her first major public commission in the United Kingdom, in June 2011 in Glasgow, Scotland.(Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images)
Zaha Hadid designed the visitors’ center for the 1999 State Garden Show in Weil am Rhein, Germany.(Christian Richters)
The Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Arts in Cincinnati, which held its grand opening in 2003.(Helene Binet / Zaha Hadid Architects)
The Hadid-designed Bergisel ski jump in Innsbruck, Austria, was completed in 2002.(Helene Binet / Zaha Hadid Architects)
The Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany, designed by Zaha Hadid, opened its doors in 2005.(Klemens Ortmeyer)
The architect poses after becoming a Dame Commander of the British Empire following an Investiture Ceremony at London’s Buckingham Palace on Nov. 7, 2012.(John Stillwell / Pool )
The MAXXI contemporary art museum in Rome, by Zaha Hadid Architects.(Roland Halbe )
The Hadid-designed London Aquatics Centre was built for the 2012 Olympic Games.(John Walton / Associated Press)
Zaha Hadid designed London’s Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Summer Olympics.(Hufton and Crow / Zaha Hadid Architects)
Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid poses in West Hollywood in March 2004.(Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press)
Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid in 2013, outside the extension she designed for the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London.(Leon Neal / AFP/Getty Images)
Zaha Hadid Architects designed the sets for the 2014 Los Angeles Philharmonic production of the Mozart-Da Ponte opera “Cosi fan Tutte” at Walt Disney Concert Hall.(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Hadid made her mark with buildings such as London Aquatics Centre, which served as a venue for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, as well as the MAXXI museum for contemporary art in Rome and the innovative Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, Spain.
In the U.S. she designed the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, a modestly sized but architecturally daring building of unconventional angles that opened in 2012.
“She is without question one of the great architects of our time,” Eli Broad said in a statement. “We will miss our friend, and the world will miss the many innovative and cutting-edge projects she had yet to imagine.”
Her designs often made powerful visual statements, fusing the modern with the avant-garde. She was dubbed the “Queen of the Curve” for buildings that eschewed hard angles and corners.
Her international cachet was stratospheric, but her career was not without controversy. One of her most significant projects in recent years was the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, a sports center that will serve as a venue for the 2022 World Cup.
In 2014, Hadid sued the New York Review of Books over an article that alleged deaths of construction workers on the project. Hadid vehemently denied the allegations, and the publication later issued a correction and apology, but the architect still faced criticism for saying it wasn’t her job to worry about working conditions. The stadium design also was mocked by some for resembling female genitalia.
“It’s really embarrassing that they come up with nonsense like this,” she told Time magazine in 2013.
Hadid spoke her mind and didn’t filter her displeasure, sometimes to the detriment of her public image. The media often portrayed her as an abrasive, jet-set diva, but in person Hadid was different, said Anissa Helou, the Lebanese-born chef and author who knew the architect since their youth.
“She never forgot her old friends,” Helou said. “Her success never spoiled her. She has a reputation for being difficult, but she was very loyal and true.”
With her tempestuous spirit came a healthy dose of self-awareness.
“I can be my own worst enemy,” she told the Guardian. “As a woman, I’m expected to want everything to be nice, and to be nice myself.”
Born in Baghdad in 1950 to a well-to-do family — her father was a leader of Iraq’s National Democratic Party and advocated for democratic reforms — Hadid attended school abroad and studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut. She began her formal pursuit of architecture in 1972 at the Architectural Assn. in London, where she was a student of Rem Koolhaas.
She began her own practice in London in the late 1970s and gained attention for her theoretical work.
Some of her earliest concepts were never realized, partly because of their avant-garde nature. They included the Peak, a private club in Hong Kong that integrated new structures on the hills of Kowloon, and a design for the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales that faced resistance from some local politicians.
Her later successes included the Guangzhou Opera House in China, which opened in 2010, and the Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan in 2013.
In 2006, she received a retrospective exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Hadid wasn’t married and did not have children. Her survivors include her brother, Haytham. Another brother, Foulath, died in 2012.
“I have not sacrificed my private life,” she told the Guardian in 2008. “I don’t think one has to get married. Nor are you obliged to have children if you don’t want them.”
Hadid’s honors include being made a dame of the British Empire in 2012. Earlier this year, she received the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects, making her the first woman to win the prestigious award on her own.
“There is still a stigma against women,” she told the Architect’s Journal afterward. “It has changed a lot — 30 years ago people thought women couldn’t make a building. That idea has now gone.”