Each of Designlab’s UX Academy intakes is named after someone that inspires us. November’s cohort takes the name of Zaha Hadid, the British–Iraqi architect who passed away earlier this year at the age of sixty-five. 

9 Reasons We Love Zaha Hadid

  • She treated her work as a way of life. Hadid understood architecture as one element of a whole landscape of design. She even carried her architectural values through into her clothing (check out the outfit below). When asked “What is your favorite thing to design, after buildings?”, Hadid responded: “I suppose furniture. I would have liked to design clothes, but there are so many great designers, I leave it to them." In 2014, she designed an exhibition celebrating the use of fashion by women in power.

  • She used her gender to empower her. For Hadid, being a woman created opportunities to set her work apart, rather than being an obstacle to her success in a male-dominated industry. She explained: “In Iraq, many of my female friends were architects and professionals with a lot of power during the 1980s while all the men were at war in Iran.” 

  • She used her outsider status to strive harder. Having initially trained as a mathematician in Beirut, Hadid moved to London in 1972 to begin her architectural studies. She therefore arrived not only as a foreigner, but also as an intellectual outsider — and still became a globally celebrated architect. 

  • She developed her own philosophy of architecture and design. She once summed up the difference between architectural and clothing design: “Architecture is how the person places herself in the space. Fashion is about how you place the object on the person.”

  • She used the security of her family’s social and economic position to take bigger artistic risks. As a result, her work is expansive, generous, even voluptuous in character – check out her design for the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan (below). As Hadid put it, “My work is not within the accepted box.”

  • She was prolific. Hadid led over sixty major projects during her career. 

  • She used cultural context to enrich her work. As well as embracing her own Arab identity and using it to distinguish her as an architect, her buildings both respond to the cultural context of their place in the world, and gently challenge that culture. For example, this building at the American University of Beirut reflects the modern, outward-looking attitude of AUB, while (almost literally) pointing away from its roots in nineteenth century empire and religious mission, which are expressed in the neighbouring buildings on the margins of this image.

  • She earned her acclaim through innovation and hard work. Her astonishing portfolio earned her both the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the RIBA Gold Medal (just weeks before her death). She was the first woman to win either one.

  • She stayed committed to education. In an interview with Time magazine, Hadid was asked how she refreshed herself creatively. She replied, “I still teach [...] When you set up a problem for students, you have some expectation, but what is refreshing is that you’re always surprised.”

To us, Zaha Hadid represents what is possible when you have a vision and take every opportunity to realize it. We hope that students of the Hadid cohort will also explore all 360 degrees of their potential.

To find out more about Zaha Hadid, check out the archive at Zaha Hadid Architects. You can also have a read of Zaha Hadid: a life in projects over at dezeen. Next month, we’ll profile Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer of Apple. 

Image credits: Harper's Bazaar, Time Magazine.

More people who inspire us

Interested in changing careers or building valuable new skills? Check out UX Academy and apply before the next cohort. There are very limited available seats and a waiting list for each cohort. Apply now to UX Academy

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Andrew Wilshere


Designer, Writer, and Mentor

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