Yasmine Ziadat | April 11 2016
As a woman, as an Arab and as an architect, Dame Zaha Hadid was a force to be reckoned with. She broke every barrier in her way, and her legacy has paved the path for many Arab women for years to come. The death of Zaha came as a devastating shock, and within minutes of the news breaking, the dardishi team came together to express our sadness and all the ways in which Zaha had influenced our lives. This week we hope to honour Zaha’s work, her talent, and how she impacted the world.
It was on an art field trip, when I was thirteen and living in Abu Dhabi, that I had first heard of Zaha Hadid. My art teacher took us to an empty patch of sand alongside a body of water and told us to begin sketching the three waves of steel emerging from one side of the island and extending to the other. This, he told us, was the Sheikh Zayed Bridge, designed by the world’s best architect: Zaha Hadid. Over the years I would come to learn that aside from her incredible architectural feats, Zaha herself was incredible in many ways. However, I would also come to learn how the media’s sexist and misogynistic framework would try to undermine her time and again.
The media portrayed her as a lonesome workaholic who regretted sacrificing the role of motherhood for her career, when in reality, Zaha publicly expressed that she actively chose not to be a mother, and took pride in devoting her life to pursuing a passion which she loved. In a male dominated industry, it is no doubt that Zaha struggled long and hard to get to the top, but she stood by her principles and demanded the respect she rightfully deserved until she achieved her goals. She spoke her mind and could not have cared less about what people had to say about her. She also strayed far from gender stereotypes, speaking out against the notion that women should be restricted to certain professions. She even challenged the gendered assumptions within the profession of architecture, refusing to produce dainty designs, or to work on small residential projects. Zaha chose big projects which had practical use as public facilities, having designed mass landmarks such as the renowned London 2012 Olympics Aquatic Centre and the incredibly innovative Guangzhou Opera House. Her work has been distinguished for being unapologetically bold, controversial and inimitable. Zaha did not just break the glass ceiling, she smashed through it, and then used the residual shards to build her empire as a ruling maverick within the world of architecture.
Far from being what Western media hoped would be an oppressed Arab woman who escaped the Middle East to pursue her dreams in the Western world, Zaha spoke fondly about her childhood in a progressive and optimistic Iraq and about her time studying in Lebanon. She spoke proudly of the fluid landscape of the Middle East, and how it inspired her work. Zaha also reiterated that the sexism she faced did not manifest itself in the Arab world, where she had “never been patronised” as a female architect, like she had been in Europe. To the West’s disbelief, she claimed that she often felt dismissed in the UK in particular, because “the moment [her] womanness [was] accepted, the Arabness [seemed] to become a problem”. She described this intersection of gender and racial discrimination as a double-edged sword in her career. Whilst the Middle East has been portrayed by the media as the heart of the world’s conflict and violence for decades, Zaha seemingly attempted to highlight its old progressivism, the beauty of its culture, and the depth of knowledge that it provided the world over centuries. Although the current climate of the Middle East has changed substantially from what it once was, Zaha acted as both an architectural pioneer and a pioneer of bridging the cultural and creative gap between the East and West.
Despite gallantly overcoming obstacles of racial and sexual prejudice, the wrath of the media never grew tired. Some outlets scrutinised the way that she conducted herself, from the pitch of her voice to the way she walked. Others interrogated her personally, focussing on irrelevant rumours about her decision to change hotel rooms on a business trip, rather than taking the opportunity to hear about the hundreds of awards she has won over the past two decades, the dozens of buildings she designed around the world, or even her own shoe line. Zaha faced an attack from all sides, one that men in her industry have never had to face; and when she remained the assertive and assured woman that she was in the face of this judgment, she was rendered as rude, temperamental and a diva.
Although I never had the privilege of meeting Zaha personally, I always viewed her as a majestic woman. She was a role model who embodied all of the things that I think any woman should aspire to embody; a strong sense of self, a passion to achieve your aspirations, and the ability to get shit done. As an Iraqi-British architect, a prominent female role model, and a symbol of the Middle East’s potential for an artistic revolution, Zaha was not a diva, she was a Dame, and in my eyes: the Queen of Architecture.
Here at dardishi, we always explore an alternative to what we are told by the mainstream press. This week, we hope to truly do justice to Zaha Hadid’s life and her achievements – from one Arab feminist to another.
Collage by Samar Ziadat
Yasmine Ziadat is an undergraduate history and politics student with an interest in current affairs and sassing the patriarchy. If she’s not taking selfies or watching cat videos, you can find her exploring London in search of coffee, music and museums. You can follow her on instagram, twitter, or read her dardishi articles here.