Legendary architect Zaha Hadid is widely recognized for her futuristic buildings, which are known for their impressive curves and geometric shapes and constructed from hard-to-work-with materials such as steel, concrete, and glass. Hadid’s architectural innovations led to her nickname, “the Queen of the Curve,” one of many high praises Hadid earned throughout her nearly three-decade career.
Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1950, Hadid moved to London in 1972 to attend the Architectural Association School of Architecture, one of the most competitive universities of architecture in the world. There, she was awarded the prestigious Diploma Prize at her 1977 graduation, during which the famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus, who was one of Hadid’s professors at the university, described her as “a planet in her own orbit.” By 1979, only two years after graduating from the esteemed architecture school, the British Iraqi architect founded her own firm, Zaha Hadid Architects. But she didn’t stop there.
In 2004, Hadid became the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, an annual international award often referred to as “the Nobel Prize of architecture” in the design world. In 2010 and 2011, Hadid received the Stirling Prize, an annual decoration from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for “excellence in architecture.” And in 2016, Hadid was the first woman to win the RIBA Gold Medal, which recognizes an individual’s substantial contributions to international architecture on behalf of the British monarch.
Unfortunately, that same year, Hadid died from a heart attack in Miami. The architect left behind multiple unfinished projects with her passing, many of which have been brought to completion by her eponymous architecture firm, which continues to operate based out of London.
Here, we look back at some of the most iconic buildings designed by Zaha Hadid, from her first building in Germany to the Beijing Daxing International Airport.
1. Vitra Fire Station
- Where: Müllheimer Str. 56, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany | Find on Google Maps
- When: Every day 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Located in Weil am Rhein, a small town sited near Germany’s borders with Switzerland and France, the Vitra Fire Station was the first design project by Hadid to actually be built. (Its construction was completed in 1993.) Hadid was commissioned to design the building for a fire brigade on the Vitra Campus after a major 1981 fire destroyed most of the complex, which originally consisted of factory buildings but is now made up of a collection of contemporary design and architecture showrooms. (Renowned architects including Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, and Álvaro Siza also designed facilities for the site as part of the major rebuild.)
The Vitra Fire Station’s sharp, angular concrete planes garnered international acclaim for Hadid, putting her name and architectural style on the global map. The structure was built with space for fire engines as well as showers, changing rooms, and a kitchenette for the fire troops. Today, however, its rooms are used for events and exhibitions held by the Vitra Design Museum, which is located within the complex.
2. The Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art
- Where: 44 E. Sixth St., Cincinnati, Ohio | Find on Google Maps
- When: Wednesday–Sunday 10 a.m.–7 p.m.
The Contemporary Arts Center was founded in 1939 as one of the first U.S. institutions dedicated to contemporary visual arts. In 2003, the CAC moved to a new downtown location designed by Zaha Hadid, the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art. The Cincinnati museum marked Hadid’s first building in the United States; it was also the first American art museum to be designed by a woman. When the structure debuted, the New York Times called it “the most important American building to be completed since the end of the Cold War” because of its architectural innovation.
Across the seven floors of the museum (which is reminiscent of a Rubik’s Cube, albeit taller and slimmer), gallery spaces made from concrete and metal vary in shape, length, and ceiling height and feature different lighting conditions to create what Hadid described as a “jigsaw puzzle” of diverse exhibition spaces. Within the building, steel black staircases connect irregularly shaped galleries that are stacked above a ground-level lobby that’s open to the public to use as a communal square.
3. MAXXI: National Museum of 21st Century Arts
- Where: Via Guido Reni, 4a, 00196 Roma RM, Italy | Find on Google Maps
- When: Tuesday–Sunday 11 a.m.–7 p.m.
Zaha Hadid Architects successfully elevated Rome’s classical architecture foundation with this progressive contemporary art museum, which opened in 2010 after a decade-long construction process. Built on the site of a former military compound, the National Museum of the 21st Century Arts (MAXXI) won the 2010 Stirling Prize for Architecture, which is awarded annually by the Royal Institute of British Architects to the best new building in Europe designed in the United Kingdom. According to Hadid’s architecture firm, the concrete and steel structure was created “not [as] an object-container, but rather a campus for art.” Notable features include curved walls, suspended black staircases, and open ceilings with thin concrete and glass beams that filter natural light onto the museum’s art.
4. Guangzhou Opera House
- Where: 1 Zhujiang W. Rd., Tianhe District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China | Find on Google Maps
- When: Check the Guangzhou’s Opera House’s website to see when the next show will be
The 2010 debut of this grandiose opera house in China’s southeastern Guangdong province came full circle for Hadid; her mid-1990s design for Wales’ Cardiff Bay Opera House won an international competition but was never actually brought to fruition due to reported conflicts surrounding the project. Located approximately 80 miles northwest of Hong Kong in the port city of Guangzhou, the Guangzhou Opera House is nicknamed “the double pebble” because of the way its exterior resembles two small rocks on the banks of the Pearl River, where the building is situated.
In addition to its dramatic 400-seat “multifunctional” hall used for performance art and concerts, the Guangzhou Opera House comprises an 1,800-seat main auditorium lined with molded glass-fiber reinforced gypsum (a sulfate mineral) panels. According to Zaha Hadid Architects, these panels are intended to give the opera hall’s interior a “fluid” and “seamless” appearance. Within the massive auditorium, the ceiling is lined with thousands of tiny lights resembling stars in the night sky that shimmer as the lights dim.
5. London Aquatics Center
- Where: London E20 2AQ, United Kingdom | Find on Google Maps
- When: Weekdays 6:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., weekends 6:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Zaha Hadid designed this sprawling indoor swimming facility in 2004, the year before London won the bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. Still, after it was completed in 2011, the London Aquatics Center went on to serve as one of the main venues for swimming, diving, and synchronized swimming during the 2012 competitions.
Situated within Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London’s East End, the venue is now open to the public for general use. It features two Olympic-size swimming pools, an 82-foot diving pool with platform heights from 3 to 32 feet, a 50-station gym with changing facilities, plus a café and other communal areas. The center was inspired by the fluidity of moving water and has what the design description from Zaha Hadid Architects refers to as “an undulating roof that sweeps up from the ground as a wave.” On the ceilings and walls, 628 glass panes let natural light into the main pool areas.
6. Riverside Museum
- Where: 100 Pointhouse Rd, Govan, Glasgow G3 8RS, United Kingdom | Find on Google Maps
- When: Every day 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Although Hadid lived and worked in the United Kingdom since the early 1970s, the British Iraqi architect’s first major U.K. commission didn’t debut until 2011 when the Riverside Museum opened in Glasgow. The glass facade building was designed as an addition to the Glasgow Museum of Transport; it houses more than 3,000 exhibits that showcase the Scottish city’s transport, engineering, and shipbuilding legacy, with formerly used train cars, automobiles, and the like on display in its galleries. The zinc-clad roof of the Z-shaped museum towers approximately 118 feet above Glasgow’s River Clyde, forming a complex series of paneled ridges that zigzag across the top of the tunnel-like building, which was designed to symbolize the connection between the city and its waterfront.
7. Galaxy SOHO
- Where: Dongcheng, Xiaopaifang Hu Tong, Beijing, China | Find on Google Maps
- When: Anytime of day
The Galaxy SOHO is an office, retail and entertainment complex in central Beijing. Completed by Zaha Hadid Architects in 2012, the impressive building—made from slabs of reinforced concrete, aluminum, stone, glass, and stainless steel—was inspired by the grand scale of China’s capital city. The entire complex is completely devoid of corners, featuring a design that Zaha Hadid Architects says “reflect[s] traditional Chinese architecture where courtyards create an internal world of continuous open spaces.” The canyon-like layout comprises four spherical structures connected by curving platforms, courtyards, and pedestrian bridges, with 18 floors total, 3 of which are below ground.
8. Heydar Aliyev Center
- Where: 1 Heydar Aliyev Ave, Baku 1033, Azerbaijan | Find on Google Maps
- When: Tuesday–Friday 11:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m., weekends 11:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
Situated in the heart of Baku, Azerbaijan, this eye-catching cultural center was built by Zaha Hadid Architects in 2012 to symbolize modernization and development in the country after it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. When the Heydar Aliyev Center debuted, the shell-like building attracted attention for the way it purposefully stands in contrast with the rigid Soviet architecture that’s still prevalent in the capital. It also amassed some controversy surrounding its name, taken from Azerbaijan’s former president who led the country from 1993 to 2003 and was described by some as authoritarian.
The cultural venue is set on a public plaza on Heydar Aliyev Boulevard, a main throughway in Baku that connects the international airport to the old city. The undulating building features exhibition spaces, a library, a museum, and concert venues where a rotating program of art exhibitions, performances, conferences, and workshops showcase Azeri history and contemporary culture, both local and international. But some of the displays aren’t temporary: Artworks by such renowned international artists as Anish Kapoor and Yayoi Kusama are permanently on view at the cultural center, which was named Design of the Year by London’s Design Museum in 2014, making it the first architecture project to win the overall title in the prestigious annual awards ceremony.
9. Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
- Where: 547 E. Circle Dr., East Lansing, Michigan
- When: Wednesday–Sunday 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
Located on Michigan State University’s collegiate Gothic north campus in East Lansing, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum sits in cool, minimalist contrast to the red brickwork buildings that surround it. The museum’s has three stories—two above-ground levels and a basement—and features a striking pleated facade of stainless steel and glass. Hadid intended for the structure to blend seamlessly with its surroundings. Plus, the unusual series of windows that were created by the pleats of steel are meant to change guests’ perception of the building as they move about its interiors.
Completed in 2010, the 46,000-square-foot building was named after philanthropists and avid art enthusiasts Eli and Edythe Broad, who have amassed a wealth of contemporary and postwar art during four decades of collecting. Some of the most memorable spaces in the museum include its double-height galleries, where large windows let in plenty of natural light and create an atmosphere that feels spacious and modern.
The more than 10,000 works in the museum’s permanent collection include Greek and Roman antiquities, pre-Columbian sculpture, and European and American prints, photographs, and paintings. Currently, the museum is exhibiting a retrospective of Zaha Hadid in honor of the museum’s 10th anniversary. Admission to the museum is free, although ticket reservations are required. Reservations can be made on the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum’s website.
10. Beijing Daxing International Airport
- Where: GC56+W6C, Daxing District, Beijing, China
- When: Anytime
Constructed in 2019, Daxing International Airport (PKX) was still being built at the time of Hadid’s death and replaced the 109-year-old Nanyuan Airport (35 minutes north of Daxing), Beijing’s very first airport (now an aviation museum).
The four-story building was built to help alleviate air traffic congestion in the city and span a total of 79 gates in the main terminal hall that can accommodate 45 million visitors annually. The airport has been nicknamed the “starfish” because of its unique shape—it has five concourses, its arms, that all link up to a main hall. The unique design ensures that anyone can reach the very furthest gate at the end of a concourse within an eight- minute walk. Daxing International Airport is also conveniently connected directly to China’s high-speed railways as well as local Beijing trains, making getting to and leaving the airport easy. As an added bonus, Hadid designed a rainwater collection and a water management system, which stores and purifies water from local wetlands and helps prevent flooding.
All of its sprawling new space will come in handy because the number of passengers at PKX is expected to grow to 72 million per year by 2025. When future expansion plans are completed, it will be able to serve up to 100 million people annually and process 4 million tons of cargo. It’s one of two international airports that service the Beijing area, along with Beijing Capital International Airport, which is more centrally located to the city.
This story was originally published in November 2019, and was updated on June 29, 2023 by Mae Hamilton to include current information.