Grand Design

I have a confession: I am addicted to binging shows. Ok, it’s not that big of a confession since almost everyone does it but I tend to binge on shows that I have no practical purpose for watching. I don’t cook or plan to ever own a home but I’m obsessed with Top Chef, The Great British BakeOff, and Grand Design. I almost cried when Brooke Williamson won TC:Charleston and I have been found laughing hysterically at Mel&Sue. Grand Design is actually a recent binge and leads me to think of Zaha Hadid. I actually squealed when they made a reference to her and I knew who they were talking about!

My personal introduction to Ms. Hadid was two years ago in Glasgow. We visited the Riverside Museum (which houses the Museum of Transportation) and I was in love. The picture below illustrates a characteristic of Hadid design’s: when you look from different perspectives, the building looks completely different. How could I not love a building that was essentially messing with people’s heads?


Her typical style usually involves modern materials, some kind of curves or waves, geometrical elements, unusual placement of entrances, and (my favorite) NO 90 degree angles. The closest you get is 89 degrees but she repeatedly chose to ignore traditional angles and just do what she wanted. SHE IS LITERALLY A GROUNDBREAKER! OK, maybe not literally but still, there’s a pun there.


I think her background had a lot to do with her refusal to color in the lines. Born in Baghdad, she studied mathematics before studying architecture. Even though her parents were liberals in Iraq (her father was the founder of National Democratic Party of Iraq and her mother was an artist), studying math and architecture as a woman anywhere in the 1970s was extraordinary, much less as an Arab woman studying in the Middle East and Europe. She opened her own firm in 1980 which still produces some of the most breathtaking designs in the world. As she started raking in the prizes, she became a role model for women architects. She was the first woman to win the Pritzer Architecture Prize in its 25 year history. She won the Stirling Prize twice. Queen Elizabeth even made her a Dame.  She taught at all the fancy schools: Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cambridge, Fancy University, Tres Fancy University. I can only imagine how high her RateMyProfessor scores were.

I mean, look at the pretty buildings:

I want to be clear, when I say that she was a pioneer for women in architecture, she was still breaking glass ceilings until she died. To illustrate, I can use a 2014 survey done by one of those architecture weekly magazines that stated 2/3 of women architects don’t feel like they are taken seriously by the building industry. That’s not just architects. That’s everyone involved in the entire industry of making buildings. There are stories of women architects that weren’t allowed in actual boys clubs that they had designed proposals for because of their gender. These aren’t old stories. These are the past-five-years stories. Couples who win awards have mysteriously had the wife’s name left off. A study in 2014 UK’s Office of Stats&Things (not real office name) showed that women architects make between 17-25% less than their male colleagues. It’s a man’s world and Zaha Hadid made it fit her.


Zaha Hadid was a legend in architecture. She was a legend even before she died last year. Her style is completely unclassifiable (totally a word). She didn’t just confine her artistry to buildings either but also designed bridges, shoes, jewelry, furniture…you name it, she probably made something of it. She created art everywhere. She paved the way for other female architects and challenged all architects to think outside the box. I’m kind of hoping I can move into the Hadid-designed NYC residential building that will open this year. I can only dream.


*Do you see all the beautiful puns in this post? Shout out to Tiffany.


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