For the first time, the Royal Institute of British Architects has awarded the honor to a woman of her own right.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) named London-based architect Zaha Hadid as the winner of its 2016 Royal Gold Medal. Awarded annually since 1848 to individuals and groups who have had significant influence on the advancement of architecture, past recipients include Sir George Gilbert Scott (1859), Frank Lloyd Wright (1941), and Frank Gehry (2000).
Hadid is the first woman to win the Royal Gold Medal independent of a partner in the history of the award.
“We now see more established female architects all the time,” said Hadid in a statement released by RIBA. “That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes the challenges are immense. There has been tremendous change over recent years and we will continue this progress.”
No stranger to shattering glass ceilings, Hadid became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, and received the RIBA Stirling Prize, the UK’s highest honor for architecture, twice—in 2010 for MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts, in Rome and in 2011 for the Evelyn Grace Academy in London.
Jane Duncan, RIBA president and chair of the selection committee, called Hadid a “formidable and globally influential force” in the field. “Highly experimental, rigorous and exacting, her work from buildings to furniture, footwear and cars, is quite rightly revered and desired by brands and people all around the world,” she wrote.
Hadid began her architectural career studying at the progressive Architectural Association in London in the early 1970s. After joining former professors Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, she became a partner in 1977 and established her own practice, Zaha Hadid Architects, by 1979.
Her first major commission, the Vitra Fire Station in Weil Am Rhein, Germany, opened in 1993, and was followed by a slew of other significant projects including MAXXI in Rome (2009), the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games (2011), and the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku (2013).
Most recently, Hadid made headlines after her $2 billion design for the 2020 Olympic Stadium in Tokyo—derided by some for its appearance and many for it’s astronomical price tag—was scrapped. Hadid partnered with Japanese firm Nikken Sekkei in early September to develop a new design, but last Friday announced that the team would no longer participate in the competition, citing failure to secure a local contractor.
Sir Peter Cook—a member of the 2016 Royal Gold Medal selection committee, serving with Neil Gillespie OBE, Victoria Thornton OBE and 2015 Royal Gold Medalist John Tuomey—wrote that Hadid ventures “where few would dare,” acknowledging the architect’s polarizing reputation that’s “not a little scary, but certainly clear.”
“Let’s face it, we might have awarded the medal to a worthy, comfortable character,” wrote Tuomey. “We didn’t, we awarded it to Zaha: larger than life, bold as brass and certainly on the case. Our Heroine. How lucky we are to have her in London.”