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"If You Want an Easy Life, Don’t Be an Architect" – 10 Takeaways from Zaha’s HuffPo Interview

Dame Zaha Hadid is a pretty busy woman these days: the British-Iraqi architect has a plethora of new projects on the drawing board and under construction, from New York City to Beijing, and now manages a staff of over 400 across the globe.

Bearing this in mind, author and journalist Alain Elkann of The Huffington Post worked a proverbial miracle last month — he managed to catch Zaha for an extended interview at the Royal Academy in London, where she talked about everything from her brazen opening dialogue with Rem Koolhaas at OMA, to the perpetual struggle that all women face: getting men to understand them.


Via Curbed

Elkann’s questions got Hadid reflecting on many of her projects, including the MAXXI museum in Rome, the London Aquatics Center, and the “nasty experience” she faced with her unrealized proposal for the Cardiff Opera House. However, it was her musings on studio life, the relationships she has with her colleagues and clients, and with the Profession itself, that are perhaps most revealing.

Here is a run-down of some of Zaha’s standout quips and quotations, words of wisdom from a woman at the summit of architectural stardom.

On the early challenges she faced when attempting to deliver ambitious projects:

“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.”

On her role as master, teaching at the Institute of Architecture in Vienna:

“I don’t think you can teach architecture. You can only inspire people.”


The (not-totally-real) college days of Zaha and Rem.

On her ‘negotiations’ to join OMA in 1977:

“Diplomacy! Not my best talent! I don't play up to people. I remember Rem Koolhaas when they asked me to join OMA, and I said, "Only as a partner." I mean, honestly! I had just finished school. And they said, "As long as you are an obedient partner." I said, "No, I am not going to be an obedient partner." That was the end of my partnership!”

On her search for a new architectural style in the 1970s (when the Profession was “still dominated by the dogma of modernism”):

“Alternatives were historicism, post-modernism, and neo-rationalism. I thought there must be another alternative, and so I started to complete the modernist project, not knowing that in this endeavor I would discover other things.”

On her design process:

“We used to start working with a sketch, a model, a painting or a model cross-section. With digital and visual technology, the skill base has changed.”


MAXXI: Museum of XXI Century Arts. Via the Architizer database.

On project budgets:

“I know what is going to become expensive and what is cheap. I think it is very important that a project is affordable.”

On urban planning:

“Cities should invest in good spatial organization that has more impact than just making a terrible cheap building, which you see a lot of.”

On whether we are experiencing a “good historical moment” for architecture:

“It’s been a great moment for the past 10 or 15 years. I am always very wary, because I think the pragmatists, the conservatives, are always lurking around the scenes, happy to leap out at any minute and scuttle anything interesting.”


Heydar Aliyev Center, via Arcaid Images.

On working with people in her office:

“I’ll be honest, it’s very difficult explaining things to men. It’s virtually impossible. The older generation in my office think they know everything better than anyone. The younger generation are much more flexible and adaptable.”

And finally… On the frustrations of practicing architecture:

“I don’t have any frustrations. If you want an easy life, don’t be an architect. Ask anybody in my office. You have to work all the time. If you want a nine-to-five job and to go home and relax, just don’t do it.”

Spoken like a true architect! If you just can't get enough Zaha, read the full interview here, or check out her firm's astonishing array of architectural presentation videos, which chart the evolution of Hadid's global work with dramatic, cinematic prowess.

Yours conversationally,

The Angry Architect