Life lessons from Dame Zaha Hadid
Hadid - like many architects, women and professionals - went through life hearing a lot of “no’s,” but she never stopped...
Dame Zaha Hadid passed away this week, but her designs will live on to inspire architects for decades to come, and the messages she taught the public throughout her life can be carried forward by millions. I have been following her work since I was introduced to it at the age of 16 while passing through London’s Hyde Park. As a young Arab woman living in the West, I have learned a lot from her life.
Hadid certainly faced adversity - from being an outsider in a country she was naturalized in (Britain), to her status as a woman in a male-dominated industry - but she did not quit.
In1994, her team won a competition to design an opera house for Cardiff Bay in Wales. The design was ultimately scrapped, but she did not let this stop her. A CNN profile in 2012 attributed the failure of this particular design as one of her keys to success.
Hadid - like many architects, women and professionals - went through life hearing a lot of “no’s,” but she never stopped. Her success is the perfect example of what one can achieve if they believe in themselves.
I remember the first time I walked past the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London. The building’s signature waves made me curious. For the first time in my life, I felt that a building had a gender - it was a lady, and a gracious one at that. The curves, the silhouette - it all screamed femininity, and it was no surprise that Hadid was behind it.
One of the most significant lessons she taught the world was to live as a human being without affiliation to a particular sect or political groupYara al-Wazir
Throughout my time studying engineering, her methods taught me to stop trying to bring the same thing that men bring to the table. Her designs were her signature, and it did not matter that her signature was feminine. Women see things differently, and their designs are inherently more sensitive - Hadid embraced this and used it to make a statement.
Politics and sect
While political art is a quick way to become recognized, she did not fall into this trap. One of the most significant lessons she taught the world was to live as a human being without affiliation to a particular sect or political group. Sect and politics had no place in her art. Each of her designs provided a lesson - in sheltering, sensitivity, art and beauty.
This is not to say that the world did not attempt to drag her into politics. Throughout her career, which spanned dozens of countries on numerous continents, Hadid was vilified for working with regimes that had a poor reputation. Rather than conforming and playing it safe, she taught the world to listen to her words and her work and view it as art, rather than getting distracted by politics.
In 2014, when a New York Times reporter claimed that thousands of migrant workers had died constructing her design of Al-Wakrah stadium in Qatar, she sued the reporter and forced him to retract the claim. In 2015, when a BBC Radio 4 presenter brought politics into the discussion and did not let Hadid finish her sentences, she walked out of the interview.
Her message to the world with these actions was simple, and perhaps helped deliver the most important lesson of all: If you do not like the way the table is set, set it yourself.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir