In 2004, Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid became the first and, to date, only woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architectural Prize, the so-called Nobel of the design world. Her bold designs are on view at New York's Guggenheim Museum.
Hadid is known as the "Diva" of architecture for her visionary designs pushing the boundaries of architecture, urbanism and design. Hadid's buildings appear organic: they bend, climb and flow, often seeming to overlap each other.
Hadid grew up in a modern house Baghdad, Iraq, where she says the progressive ideas of her parents influenced her.
"My mother was interested in design," she said. "But my father was an industrialist and a politician. He was one of the leaders of the Iraqi Democratic Party and so they were interested in new ideas."
Zaha Hadid studied mathematics in Baghdad and then architecture in London, where her firm is based. For many years, her designs were admired for their beauty and boldness, but considered impractical. One critic called them "brilliant, but unbuildable." That view changed in 1993 when the Vitra Firehouse was built in Germany. More commissions followed, from a ski jump in Austria to an art museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, to an automobile plant in Germany where a conveyor belt transports cars through an office building on the way to another production facility.
Hadid's associate, Patrik Schumacher, says the firm's work stands out because of its melding of elegance and nature.
"We are opening up a discourse about elegance in a new definition where we are saying it is about articulating complexity and resolving complexity, rather than having jarring contradictions and collage-like assemblages," he said. "Beauty was always, elegance was always, a kind of ambition. But injecting diagonals, curvilinearity, also has to do with this emphasis on movement in the contemporary city."
The Guggenheim exhibit examines 30 years of Hadid's work in chronological order: drawings, paintings, animations and furniture as well as her buildings.
Schumacher says the structure of the Guggenheim, a rotunda with a spiraling ramp from bottom to top, emphasizes the fluidity and undulating spaces that are the hallmarks of Hadid's work. The Guggenheim Museum was designed by iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
"This building here, there is a kind of ease of movement and spirally move which spins off into the side galleries and is an early example of a kind of fluid architecture here, the Frank Lloyd Wright building," he said.
Hadid is set apart by more than her radical designs. She is the only woman member of a very exclusive club. She is well aware of her lone status as the only woman on the top of architectural pyramid and calls it strange.
"I think part of the issue is there are lots of younger women, not so many senior women," she said. "In Europe, in England, once they have kids, it is very difficult to continue. Maybe it is easier in America. All of my friends in America who have children, they are still working. In London, it is much more difficult for architects, not for other professions. Architecture is very demanding time wise. I am not saying women don't do it. I think it is continuity is an issue."
Hadid is not sure why there is a vacuum at the top but she says it is certainly not due to a lack of talent.
"My best students were always women," she noted. "It has nothing to do with science or the logic of engineering. They make you uncomfortable as a woman. If you are young, you are patronized. You have to be quite tough to do it. There are lots of women who teach, heads of schools. The academic side is much more understanding. On the other hand, you have lots of lawyers, doctors but not many engineers. I think it is because of this problem that the industry is mostly male. All the developers are male."
After years of designing projects that did not get built, Hadid's work and her vision of the future are now visible in projects across the globe.