Like everyone who heard the news of Dame Zaha Hadid’s passing in Miami on Thursday from a heart attack, I was shocked and saddened. The internationally renowned architect had been on my radar lately. Of all the premier international publications, Style.com/Arabia was chosen to debut the first—and now only—fine jewelry collaboration launch with Zaha Hadid and the House of Aziz and Walid Mouzannar. Shortly thereafter, a mutual friend contacted me because Hadid wanted to look at some pieces by emerging designer Nabil Nayal to wear to accept her RIBA award (Royal Institute of British Architects gold medal, 2016). “Zaha wants to support young talent from the region, and she knows that Nabil is from Syria,” he said.
I had a few opportunities to interview Hadid, but I never pursued it. I don’t have any regrets. Not only did I feel like I would have needed a lifetime to prepare for that sit down, every time I saw those big soulful eyes staring up at me from a paper or the television screen, something about that look communicated very clearly to me, “The answers to your questions are already in my work.” She gave herself so entirely to her profession that I am not surprised in the least at the outpour of grief from across the world, and across generations.
Like many of my female contemporaries, I enjoyed Hadid’s success because it was satisfying to see a woman roll in the big leagues and with the big boys. And, of course, she was from Iraq—certainly from an affluent family (her father was the leader of the Iraqi Progressive Democratic Party), but regardless, it was a country that the majority of Westerners from my generation didn’t know much about beyond news reports about the war. Suffice it to say that Iraq just didn’t sound like the place from where the world’s most extraordinary contemporary architect could rise.
And yet, as magnanimous as Hadid’s architectural exploits are, I believe that unconscientiously, her ultimate legacy is that she taught us the most important thing there is to know about ourselves. And that is that the only one stopping us from reaching our true potential is the woman in the mirror. It’s not because we’re “women” or “we’re from Iraq,” that we can’t strive for the extraordinary.
In its fact-laden obituary (subscription required), the Financial Times’ Edwin Heathcote closed with, “She was not married and had no children—except her buildings.”
But she also had us—the millions of women that she inspired. And now, it’s on us to carry her legacy, and become the women Dame Zaha Hadid showed us—through example—that we can be.