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Zaha Hadid Wins 2016 RIBA Gold Medal

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on October 01, 2015 at 12:09 PM

On 24th September 2015, Zaha Hadid was announced as the winner of the prestigious 2016 Royal Gold Medal, by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). This makes her the first woman in history to be awarded this prize in her own right, in a profession that is still globally male dominated. 

© Courtesy of RIBA

The much-coveted RIBA award was initiated in 1848, and past Royal Gold Medallists include Frank Gehry (2000), Norman Foster (1983), Frank Lloyd Wright (1941) and Sir George Gilbert Scott (1859). The medal is given to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence “either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture”. 

RIBA President and chair of the selection committee, Jane Duncan, said: “Zaha Hadid is a formidable and globally-influential force in architecture. 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. I am delighted Zaha will be awarded the Royal Gold Medal in 2016 and can’t wait to see what she and her practice will do next.”

On graduating from the Architectural Association in London in 1972, she joined Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam. After establishing her own firm in 1979, for a substantial amount of time Dame Zaha Hadid was well known for her theoretical projects such as The Peak in Hong Kong (1983), the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin (1986) and the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales (1994). As well-received as these were, it was not until her first major built commission, the Vitra Fire Station project in 1993 that she catapulted to worldwide fame. From then on, there was no looking back. The next decade also saw technology catch up with Hadid’s imagination so to speak. In the new millennia, the emergence of various parametric modelling software and advances in structural engineering technology made realistically possible the fantastic design concepts that the firm has time & again dreamed up of.

Working with office partner Patrik Schumacher, Hadid’s interest is in the interface between architecture, landscape, and geology; which her practice integrates with the use of cutting-edge technologies – the result is often unexpected and dynamic architectural forms. Her calling card however is her prolific nature of design – not seen merely as an architect, she is a modern day Picasso of sorts, dabbling in furniture design (for Sawaya & Moroni and David Gill Gallery), jewellery design (for Caspita, Swarovski and the House of Mouzannar), automobile design (Z.Car and Z.Car II) among other things. 

In 2004 Zaha Hadid became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize. She has twice won the UK’s most prestigious architecture award, the RIBA Stirling Prize: in 2010 for the MAXXI Museum in Rome, a building for the staging of 21st Century art; and for the Evelyn Grace Academy for the second consecutive year in 2011, a school building in London that bridges a running track.

The 2016 Royal Gold Medal selection committee comprised of RIBA President Jane Duncan with Sir Peter Cook, Neil Gillespie OBE, Victoria Thornton OBE and the 2015 Royal Gold Medallist John Tuomey. 

The 2016 Royal Gold Medal citation, written by Professor Sir Peter Cook founder of Archigram, the 2004 recipients of the Royal Gold Medal, follows in part: “In our current culture of ticking every box, surely Zaha Hadid succeeds… Indeed her work, though full of form, style and unstoppable mannerism, possesses a quality that some of us might refer to as an impeccable ‘eye’: which we would claim is a fundamental in the consideration of special architecture and is rarely satisfied by mere ‘fashion’. And surely her work is special. For three decades now, she has ventured where few would dare: if Paul Klee took a line for a walk, then Zaha took the surfaces that were driven by that line out for a virtual dance and then deftly folded them over and then took them out for a journey into space. Never has she been so prolific, so consistent. Let’s face it, we might have awarded the medal to a worthy, comfortable character. 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.”

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