This coveted architecture prize has been awarded to a woman—for the first time since 1848


Zaha Hadid had already reached rockstar status in world of architecture. Her innumerable prizes include the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which her own website describes as “the Nobel Prize of architecture.” Today (Sept. 24), she also became the first women in 167 years to win the Royal Gold Medal award presented by the Royal Institute of British Architects for a body of work. Previous winners include Frank Gehry in 2000 and Le Corbusier in 1953.

Guests walk inside Maxxi museum of contemporary art and architecture in Rome November 13, 2009. The museum, designed by Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid, opens its doors to the public in Spring of 2010.  REUTERS/Max Rossi   (ITALY ENTERTAINMENT) - RTXQOX8
Inside the Maxxi museum of contemporary art and architecture in Rome. (Reuters/Max Rossi)

Hadid has been described the “most precocious talent in her profession” by the New York Times, and her work elicits as many superlatives as her impressive career. Her daring, curvaceous buildings have been erected across 44 countries, including England and Azerbaijan, Iraq and South Korea.

epa04013826 A group of reporters are seen visiting the exterior of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza during a press preview in Seoul, South Korea, 10 January 2014. The world's largest irregular building, which is 29 meters high and 86,574 square-meter in total floor area, is scheduled to open to the public on 21 March 2014. The building has been designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid has designed it.  EPA/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT
A group of reporters are Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea. (EPA/Yonhap South)

Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid trained in mathematics at the American University of Beirut and then traveled to England, where she trained at the Architectural Association School, and eventually founded her practice.

Pritzker Architecture Prize winner for 2004 Zaha Hadid poses Sunday, March 14, 2004, in West Hollywood, Calif. Hadid, an Iraqi-born architect who struggled for years to get her audacious and unconventional designs built, was named winner Sunday, March 21, 2004. She is the first woman to the win architecture's most prestigious prize in its 26-year history. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Zaha Hadid photographed after winning Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

But her designs and their cost have caused controversy. Most recently, her design for a new Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, which won an international competition and was due to be built, was shelved by the Japanese government. Some people said they hated it, and likened it to an oyster. Others claimed that, at a cost of $2 billion, it had just become too expensive.

A model of the National Stadium for 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, is displayed at a meeting of memebrs of the advisory council on the construction of the new stadium, in Tokyo, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 7, 2015 and released on July 17, 2015. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Friday the scrapping of a plan for a controversial national stadium, the centrepiece of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, after sky-rocketing costs sparked public outrage. Anger over the stadium, the estimated cost of which had climbed to $2.1 billion, almost twice its expected cost when Tokyo won the bid for the Summer Games in 2013, had become a liability for Abe as he pushes unpopular defence bills through parliament. The new National Stadium was also meant to have been the centrepiece of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Picture taken July 7, 2015. Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN. - RTX1KOZT
A model of the National Stadium for 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Reuters/Kyodo)

Hadid has also faced questions about the treatment of workers during the build of a stadium she designed. This morning (Sept. 24), those allegations led to a disastrous interview on British radio; Hadid, who vehemently refuted any wrongdoing on her company’s side, hung up the phone during the broadcast, clearly frustrated.

The incident prompted an all-too-familiar question about powerful women in the limelight: Would a male architect in the same position be given such a hard time?

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