When someone talks about a Muslim woman figure, Yasmin Mogahed, or Malala Yousafzai come to mind. They are amazing, empowering women and their work in championing causes and sharing wisdom with people all over the world is truly inspiring.
For me the first person that comes to mind is the late Zaha Hadid – architecture’s most engaging presence. She’s the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize (architecture’s most prestigious prize), and one of the great creative forces in architecture of our time.
In a world where men were leading, Zaha shone through her extraordinary talent, hard work and just pure magic. Her work is insanely unique and clever. There is compositional freedom, versatility and dynamism in her work. And they are all not obnoxiously brazen, nor are they eclectically unsound. They are cutting edge, transformative and organic. They are smart creations from an incredibly smart woman.
Think about the flowing forms and dynamic lines of light of Seoul’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza. The cathedral-like space seats and wave roof of the London Aquatic Centres. Or the out of this world space looking domed structures of the Galaxy Soho in Beijing. Zaha is certainly a creative genius. The absolute icon. She would probably cringe at the stereotype I’m putting her in, but that makes her the ultimate figure to women everywhere, Muslim or not. Born in the city where the female dream is deemed impossible, Zaha paved the way for other women to follow. To me, she’s an exemplary woman of Islam who broke the shell of restrain, and the brilliance she had continues to shine in the form of marvels she’s designed on the world stage.
Zaha’s goal had always been to get to a point where she would be regarded as an architect first, and an Arab-born woman the second. And it’s clear that whilst her faith was not worn, it took shelter in her heart and spurred her on to break societal biases. It was her strength, her gritty determination and her presence – large and fluid that filtered into many minds across the globe. In an interview with LA Times, a longtime friend of Zaha’s, Anissa Helou shared:
“Being a strong woman and a foreigner in London in a man’s field [at the time] did not make it easy for her.”
“Also, being so ahead of her time in her thinking and designs and being so uncompromising about what she wanted to do did not help, so she had to contend with a lot.”
By the time of her death in 2016, Zaha was leading a firm of more than 400 staff, numerous times larger the size of other architecture firms. True to her nature, Zaha left a lasting legacy to art, design and of course, to women regardless colour, faith or the city she was born in. Zaha is a the modern Muslim woman many aspire to be, to me, she is the person everyone should take a cue from, and be daring enough to cut barriers, much like her swooping designs cutting angles and exuberant forms.
Oh, the clever risks she took. She’s shown how much possible it is for women to achieve and how much more ground women have yet left to cover.
Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid, what a life you’ve lived.
Photo: By Dmitry Ternovoy FAL