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Renowned Iraqi-British Architect Zaha Hadid Dies At 65


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: So from the top (unintelligible).


That sound is from a swimming competition at the 2012 London Olympics. It happened inside the London Aquatic Center, an undulating building with a wavelike aluminum roof. It's one of the many works designed by Zaha Hadid. The Iraqi-British architect died today from a heart attack. She was 65. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this remembrance.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: There are a lot of buildings that Zaha Hadid designed that are worth reckoning with - an art museum in Rome, an opera house in China. But let's stick with something here in the states.

RAPHAELA PLATOW: Imagine you walk into the first floor of a lobby stage, and the back wall is literally curved and goes all the way up to the sixth floor.

LIMBONG: That's Raphaela Platow. She's the director and chief curator of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. It was built in 2003 and was Hadid's first building in America. Platow says it looks like a jigsaw puzzle - all sorts of angles and shapes and always something new.

PLATOW: Sometimes how a shadow's cast over a wall or how the light falls in. You know, all of a sudden, you see a different angle from the staircase.

LIMBONG: Zaha Hadid was born in Baghdad to parents who were open and encouraging. Her childhood school was on the stricter side but in a good way.


ZAHA HADID: I went to a nun school, a Catholic nun school although I'm a Muslim.

LIMBONG: This is Hadid talking to NPR in 2004.


HADID: Which was kind of a very tough school and quite demanding academically. And I'm very grateful to them because I think all that work in those years kind of made it possible for me to kind of really, let's say, do better.

LIMBONG: Do better is a bit of an understatement. She started her own firm and made a reputation for herself. In 2004, she was the first woman to win a Pritzker Prize. It is the most prestigious award in architecture. In 2012, she was made a dame in the U.K. Just two months ago, the Royal Institute of British Architects gave her a Royal Gold Medal. It's their highest honor.

HANI RASHID: In our profession, there's an old cliche that we don't really start being architects until we're in our 50s. So yeah, she was a teenager in this profession.

LIMBONG: That's Hani Rashid. He's a fellow architect, founder of Asymptote Architecture and a friend of Hadid's. Talking about her work, he used words like fluid, radical, provocative, stressing that Hadid was one of the best and made others around her better, too.

RASHID: She was a force, and that force can't help but have its impact on many of us who are sensitive to it and who are listening and who are attentive to, you know, innovation and forward thinking.

LIMBONG: And she's a force that'll keep moving beyond her death. She designed a controversial new stadium being built for the 2022 World Cup. Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.