Zaha Hadid: It’s Tough Being an Arab Woman in the Architecture Business

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Zaha Hadid: It's Tough Being an Arab Woman in the Architecture Business

The following interview with Zaha Hadid RA took place in the Royal Academicians’ Room in the Keeper’s House at the Royal Academy of Arts in London’s Mayfair. The invited audience have been generously welcomed by Charles Saumarez Smith, the secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy, and I ask Zaha:

Zaha, you have said that architecture is not for people who want an easy life. Is this not the case for anyone who wants to excel in his or her job?

There are other professions that are very difficult, but architecture is particularly difficult because your career is reliant on the people you work with, and that’s the first hurdle. The second hurdle is the people you work with as a client. You have no control over the developer or the economics.

Like when you worked in Cardiff?

Today is 20 years to the day for the Cardiff Opera House project, and people forget what happened. It was a very nasty experience, but it made us much stronger. It’s a shame they didn’t build the Cardiff Opera House, but I can’t have everything.

You had it particularly tough because your projects are particularly ambitious?

My work is not within the accepted box. Maybe because I am a woman. Also an Arab. There was a certain prejudice about these things.

You became a teacher in important universities all over the world. The Architectural Association, Harvard. Now you teach in Vienna?

I always thought teaching was very important. You learn from what you teach, and show people they can achieve beyond what they thought possible for them to do.

What do you teach?

I don’t think you can teach architecture, you can only inspire people. In Vienna, it is called a masterclass, because you are a master and the students are with you for five or six years. At the end, the students have learned your repertoire and your expertise. ….