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Reflecting on the ‘Queen of the Concrete Curve’

The world’s first female ‘starchitect’, Dame Zaha Hadid has left a lasting legacy both on the built environment and the way we think about shape and space in structures through the many buildings she designed around the world...

The huge fame and recognition of her latter years contrasted with her first two decades in practice when she received few commissions and felt excluded from what she saw as the ‘boys club’ of architecture. But the ‘Queen of the Concrete Curve’ went on to win the top prizes and her death in Miami, at 65, led the headlines last week.

Amongst her most famous projects is the Contemporary Arts Center in Ohio, Cincinatti, completed in 2003 and described by Herbert Muschamp, the architecture critic of the New York Times, as the “most important American building to be completed since the end of the Cold War”.

Another is the Wangjing SOHO, a complex of three skyscrapers on the outskirts of the Chinese capital, which Dame Zaha described as a “welcome and farewell to Beijing”. And the ultra-luxury residential high-rise condominium, the One Thousand Museum in Miami, is one of the more recent constructions she was working on and is due to be completed in 2017.

Helen Gough, JLL’s Head of UK Buildings and Construction, is another leading woman in a traditionally male world. She describes the impact of Dame Zaha Hadid.

What did Dame Zaha bring to the architecture world?

She was a true visionary; and advances both in building technology and computer software allowed her to realize buildings which could not have left the imagination or drawing board years ago.

The Royal Academy (RA) is running an exhibition at the moment called Mavericks –  Breaking the Mould of British Architecture and it is significant that she is featured in that alongside 11 great architects of the past including Vanbrugh, Wyatt, Mackintosh and Stirling. I love the description the RA uses in the book which accompanies the exhibition. It talks of the “soaring rhapsodies and staccato rhythms” of her creative vision and cites her work as embodying Goethe’s description of architecture as “frozen music”.

Which of the projects she worked on really stand out to you and why?

I have very much enjoyed the UK projects she delivered – The London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics, Riverside Museum Glasgow and the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. These all have an imposing presence on the surrounding landscape, be it Hyde Park or the banks of the Clyde, and are ambitious in what they aim to do but they are all stunning pieces of architecture and retain a great ability to meet the needs of their users. I would love to seeHeydar Aliyev Centre at Baku, Azerbaijan.

What made Dame Zaha so successful in a very male dominated field?

First of all, her ability – that creative vision and her ability to realize art through the built form. And, secondly, her character – clearly strong and resolute in her vision, she was demanding of staff and clients. Her inclusion in the Mavericks exhibition is testament to her unflinching refusal to bow to pressure.

You play a prominent role in the JLL women’s network.  How has she inspired other women working in architecture and real estate?

She was the first female winner of the RIBA [Royal Institute of British Architects] gold medal in 2015 and first female winner of the Pritzker Architectural Prize. But there is more work to be done to increase the number of women in construction: female architectural numbers have dropped from 28 percent to 21 percent since 2009, despite the rise in the number of students.

What do you think other women working in real estate can learn from her?

It’s all about talent and ability. Her prominent role in architecture and her achievements will be an inspiration to women – and her legacy through her work will continue to inspire both men and women in real estate. She is a role model for all architects, not just for female ones – particularly in her creativity, use of materials and technology. The work of an architect leaves a longstanding mark on the built environment and Dame Zaha’s will remain a source of inspiration for future professionals.

What do you think her legacy will be? 

She was a businesswoman as well as an architect and ran a firm of 400 people. I am interested in seeing how her practice will continue and change after her death – the role of Director Patrick Schumacher, who was worked alongside Dame Zaha in her projects will be key.

And her creative vision will live on in her buildings. She was at the cutting end of innovation.  You either like her work or you don’t like it. It’s not bland. It’s weird, it’s fun and it’s cool. If that stimulates a conversation it’s a great thing. The dynamic between art and architecture is always very interesting in buildings. It’s very clear that for Dame Zaha art was the guiding principle.

This article originally appeared on Real Views, JLL's news site that features stories exploring the world of real estate and its impact on the wider business world. Visit the Real Views site to subscribe for our weekly email of top stories, delivered direct to your inbox.​​​​​​​​