Architect Zaha Hadid stands outside the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art building she designed in Cincinnati.
Architect Zaha Hadid stands outside the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art building she designed in Cincinnati. © AP - For better and for worse, Hadid was the world’s first female starchitect.

Hadid, who died in March 2016 at age 65, shattered many glass ceilings in the field of design. She was the first woman and Muslim to win the Pritzker, the first woman and Muslim to earn the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize. She was anointed by Queen Elizabeth II and Glamour alike. For better and for worse, Hadid was the world’s first woman starchitect.

As an architect, Hadid pushed theory to the forefront of global practice. The Iraqi-born British architect was a respected voice in design well before Zaha Hadid Architects completed its first major commission. More than any other architect’s work, her curvilinear designs and laser-sleek geometry marked the transition from the 20th to the 21st century. Hadid’s later and most significant works—some of which are still underway—pushed the field toward notoriety.

Hadid met the world with an agnosticism that made her a lightning rod. One of her signature accomplishments, the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, raised sharp questions about the propriety of visionary architects accepting commissions from regimes known for human-rights abuses. Hadid’s swelling curve of a concert hall, which was named the Design of the Year for 2014 by London’s Design Museum, was preceded by forced evictions and expropriations, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

“The totality, the whiteness, the speck of a single person walking down it, the sheer spectacle of it—you have to throw out those English morals and weedy thoughts about world problems: Here is architecture as ultimate statement of theatre,” wrote Peter Cook in Architectural Review.