Zaha Hadid's Bergisel Schanze ski jump in Innsbruck, Austria (photo by Ralf Roletschek, via Wikimedia Commons)

Zaha Hadid’s Bergisel Schanze ski jump in Innsbruck, Austria (photo by Ralf Roletschek, via Wikimedia Commons)

Zaha Hadid, the celebrated Iraqi-British architect, has died of a heart attack at a Miami hospital, the BBC first reported. She was being treated for bronchitis at the time of the fatal heart attack. A statement on her website confirmed that she had died early this morning. She was 65.

Zaha Hadid (photo by Simone Cecchetti, via Flickr)

Hadid, who was born in Baghdad and was based in London, is known for her distinctive and futuristic buildings, which are characterized by clean, swooping, and dramatic lines. Her first completed project to formalize what would become her signature aesthetic, appropriately, was a ski jump in Austria. Since then she has created increasingly dramatic buildings the world over, from a BMW manufacturing facility in Leipzig and the zig-zagging Guangzhou Opera House to the plunging Aquatics Centre for the 2012 London Olympic and the rippling Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku. Her completed projects include a number of major art museums, including Rome’s MAXXI contemporary art museum, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in East Lansing, Michigan. She was the first woman to win architecture’s top honor, the Pritzker Prize (in 2004). This year she also became the first woman to receive a Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects — which also awarded her its annual Sterling Prize two years running, in 2010 and 2011.

However, Hadid’s career was also marked by several controversies and public disputes. Perhaps most famously, in 2014, she filed a defamation lawsuit against architecture critic Martin Filler for his characterization of her attitude toward migrant workers building one of her projects, the Al-Wakrah Stadium in Qatar — slated to be the main venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. In a previous interview she had stated that the treatment of workers building her designs was “not my duty as an architect to look at it … I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it.” Reports suggest that as many as 4,000 migrant workers will die building Qatar’s soccer stadiums by the time the World Cup kicks off. More recently Hadid was dropped from another stadium project, for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games, when her design was deemed too expensive. In an ensuing dispute Tokyo’s Olympic committee refused to pay her for her work until she gave up her copyright to the project.

Zaha Hadid’s design for Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup stadium (courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects)

Indeed, Hadid’s projects, many paid for by luxury brands or authoritarian leaders with poor human rights records, often drew pointed criticism. Hundreds were forcibly evicted from some 250 homes to make way for the complex that included her Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, as detailed in a Human Rights Watch report. Similar concerns were raised over a mall she designed in Beijing, construction of which was preceded by a wave of demolitions that “caused great damage to the preservation of the old Beijing streetscape, the original urban plan, the traditional hutong and courtyard houses, the landscape formation, and the style and colour scheme of Beijing’s unique vernacular architecture,” according to the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre.

The exterior of Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center in Baku (photo by Francisco Anzola/Flickr)

When Hadid’s roving Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion opened in New York’s Central Park just as the magnitude of the 2008 recession became apparent, New York Times critic Nicolai Ourroussof took Hadid to task for her commercialism. “The pavilion’s coiled form, in which visitors spiral ever deeper into a black hole of bad art and superficial temptations, straying farther and farther from the real world outside, is an elaborate mousetrap for consumers,” he wrote. “One would hope that our economic crisis leads us to a new level of introspection and that architects will feel compelled to devote their talents to more worthwhile — dare I say idealistic? — causes.” In 2013 she designed a line of “superyachts.”

Hadid’s paintings and architectural, industrial, and fashion designs have been the subject of exhibitions the world over, including at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, London’s Design Museum, and SFMOMA. Her London-based studio, Zaha Hadid Architects, has a staff of about 400.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

2 replies on “Starchitect Zaha Hadid Dead at 65”

  1. awful awful work really she could not voice her concern for workers? Also totally destroyed the coastal view to land from the sea near Marseille… awful skyscraper totally ugly and out of scale office building on a magnificent south of France coast.. so destructive…

    1. No mention of how personally mean she was? (I do think she was a great architect, though.)

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