By most accounts, 2011 was the year of Zaha Hadid. The starchitect won the Stirling Prize -- her second in a row -- for the Evelyn Grace Academy in London; opened a retrospective show of her product designs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and completed multiple international projects including the aquatics center for the 2012 Olympics. Her 2012 is already off to a stellar start: Zaha Hadid has won the Jane Drew Prize.
Sponsored by the Architects' Journal, the award recognizes outstanding contributions to the status of women in architecture. According to the judges, Hadid has "broken the glass ceiling more than anyone and is practically a household name. Her achievement is remarkable." The first woman to win the Pritzker Prize (considered architecture's Nobel Prize) is at the top of a male-dominated field.
Her biggest contribution might be refusing to be pinned down as a woman ahead of her identity as an architect. Her professional success and fame are based on her talent and hard work, not on her token status as a female.
She is straightforward about how difficult it is to be a woman in architecture, and also how difficult it is to practice architecture, period. Her success, Hadid says, is due to perseverance, determination, and focus, qualities that make some describe her as a diva.
Last fall she told Tina Brown and an audience of professional colleagues, “If I was a guy they would think I’m just opinionated. But as a woman, I’m ‘difficult.’ I mean, I can’t change sex.”
In coverage of the AJ Women in Practice survey, the Architects' Journal profiled Hadid, who is also shortlisted for Woman Architect of the Year. Her views on sexism in the profession are, unsurprisingly, candid:
"You see more established, respected female architects all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes the difficulties are incomprehensible. But in the last 15 years there’s been tremendous change, and now it’s seen as normal to have women in this profession. In practice, I still experience resistance, but I think that keeps me focused. Perhaps it was my flamboyance rather than being a woman that gave me such determination to succeed, but I have always been extremely determined. Now I’ve achieved success, and I am extremely grateful, but it’s been, and still is, a very long struggle. It’s not as if everybody says ‘yes’ to me. It’s not always great, but it keeps you in place, and it also makes you think and do things in a different way."
As far as I can tell, Hadid won the Jane Drew Prize for unapologetically being herself, which any designer, male or female, would appreciate.
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Photo: courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects