Zaha Hadid, whose emotive, painterly approach to design and spatially complex buildings rattled the foundation of Modernism, has been named the 2007 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture. To be presented on April 13 at the University of Virginia, the medal is awarded for notable achievement in design or for distinguished contributions to the architectural field. “Zaha is an architect whose visionary work has transformed the profession and the discipline of architecture for the 21st century,” says Karen Van Lengen, dean of the university's school of architecture. “We are so pleased that we can celebrate her work.”
First awarded in 1966 to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the Jefferson Medal in this case recognizes a talent that has been steadily gaining recognition for more than two decades. Beginning with her unexpected, first-place competition entry in 1982–83 for The Peak, a Hong Kong leisure club, Hadid quickly gained international renown. But underlying the fractured forms and dramatic presentation of her early projects was a deep interest in how buildings engage the land. Her first built work, the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany, completed in 1994, began to silence critics who dwelled on Hadid's early reputation as a “paper architect” whose visions were seemingly unrealizable. After completing a number of interiors and small-scale projects, she gained a new level of respect with the 2003 opening of the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, a concrete, steel, and glass composition of undulating levels and ramps that internalizes the physical and cultural energy of the city. Her latest building, the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany, embodies the same sense of movement and urban place-making. (The center is on the short list for the biennial European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture. See “2007 Mies Award Finalists Named,” page 24.)
Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid studied in Switzerland, England, and Beirut. She received her diploma from London's Architectural Association in 1977 and, soon after, joined her mentor Rem Koolhaas at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. Hadid opened her own London practice in 1979 and struck off in a singular direction that in 2004 resulted in her winning the Pritzker Architecture Prize, distinguishing her as the first—and, to date, only—woman to receive that accolade. Last year, her work was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Hadid's receipt of the 42nd annual Jefferson Medal places her among heady company. Previous recipients include such architectural luminaries as Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto, Richard Rogers, and Glenn Murcutt; critics Lewis Mumford, Ada Louise Huxtable, and Vincent Scully; philanthropist Paul Mellon; and policy-maker Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The award is granted jointly by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the University of Virginia School of Architecture. Along with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership, it is one of the three highest outside honors offered by the university.