On the cusp of her architecture firm’s 40th birthday, we look back on the project that earned Zaha Hadid the name “Queen of the Curve.”
By Latria Graham
“I was very young—I was only 11 years old when I decided to become an architect,” Zaha Hadid says to a documentary crew that has come to speak to her about the opening of Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center. “Of course when you’re very young, there’s only kind of a gut feeling—there’s no kind of reason. I was just intrigued by it and interested and of course, when you go to school, you grow up; you do other things.” Hadid is holding court in the center of one of the spaces she created. Cloaked in a black dress with geometric accents on the top, her presence in the all-white space is arresting. Here, in this brand new building in Baku, the capital and commercial hub of Azerbaijan, not far from the sea, Hadid tells the story of how she and the building she’s standing in came to be.
“I grew up at a time in the 60s when everybody was interested in a new world. It was after the wars, and if you look at all the work in Chicago, America, Brazilia, Europe or Middle East, there was an interest in architecture. I think that might be the reason why I became so fascinated with it,” she says.
Hadid’s parents originally hailed from Mosul, Iraq. Her father, Mohammed Hadid, was a well-known economist and leader of the Iraqi Liberation Party, a progressive group advocating for secularism and democracy in Iraq. At the time, Baghdad was a cosmopolitan hub of modern ideas, and she grew up in a liberal environment with progressive parents. For her, it was “a place of enlightenment and progress, where religious affiliation mattered little, and girls were expected to become professionals.” The Catholic school she attended welcomed Jewish and Muslim students.