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Zaha Hadid, Outside the Architecture

Zaha Hadid: architect, designer, pioneer, shy beauty, mentor, rule breaker, gossip, wit, dream weaver, sweetheart. The world is emptier without her.

The sudden and far too early death of architecture giant Zaha Hadid is still sending shockwaves around the world. We've had the privilege and comfort of reading the moving testaments and reflections from the architectural legends of our time, from Richard Rogers to Norman Foster and Frank Gehry. I wanted to tell another story, from outside the world of architecture.

Zaha and I had an unlikely friendship, one that could only happen in the white-hot global melting pot of people and passions that is London. Like so many others, she and I had also been seduced by London and made it our home, although in very different times and circumstances. While Zaha came from Baghdad, land of ancient culture and poets, I came from California, land of Star Wars and surfboards. While Zaha reigned in the world of architecture, my career is in film, TV, journalism and fashion.

We were thrown together in a series of fairly random contexts, from business to art, and through mutual friends. And in the end, she became a mentor and collaborator. It is from these perspectives that I wanted to share a glimpse of Zaha.


Zaha Hadid had the "Power Woman" thing going on. As John Seabrook so brilliantly put it in his New Yorker piece, she "took no shit from anybody, though plenty was offered." That, apparently, was required in the man's world of architecture. The first time I met her, over 10 years ago, I found her terrifying, as many did. How wrong I was.

Part of Zaha's seemingly stern exterior was that she was refreshingly authentic, with no time for idle pleasantries. But more than that, I came to learn that Zaha, endearingly, was deeply shy outside her normal milieu. At a reception at the American ambassador's residence celebrating International Women's Day, I came upon Zaha sitting in an empty room in a corner by herself. She seemed relieved to see a familiar face and just have a conversation about current affairs, while Annie Lennox was playing to the enraptured crowd in an adjoining room.


Zaha's somewhat terrifying façade also often hid the fact that she was funny - very funny - and mischievous. She was the one to change the seating plan when the host wasn't looking, or leave the appointed room of a function and go into another because she saw something interesting. Reprimands from officials were obviously ignored.

She was also the queen of bringing down the elephant in the room. With an elegant and witty sleight of the tongue, she could take someone down in flames. Zaha was the person you wanted to dish with.


Zaha was stunningly beautiful, in the French sort of way, where it's all about the aura and the whole package vs. the Hollywood skin deep kind. Given that she was the only woman to enter the testosterone filled heights of the "Starchitects," I know we shouldn't say this. That is, anything we wouldn't say about a male architect.

Yet not to remark on her beauty is to miss out on one of the thrills of Zaha. Walking into a room and seeing her rocking a black spandex catsuit or an other-worldly Issey Miyake sculptural flourish, was always a delight. And one made all the more appealing by her regal face, with its sculptural cheekbones and all-knowing eyes. Combined with her deep gravelly voice, exotic accent and clipped staccato delivery, Zaha oozed cool glamour.


The first time I went to her studio in Clerkenwell, I expected a hushed ivory tower of architectural models and drawings. Instead, the first thing to hit me was....surfboards. Well, actually, it was her furniture collection, all sweeping fibreglass dining tables, swirling sofas and sleek wall sconces. Which, as it turned out, were made in similar materials and processes to surfboards.

Wild cascading sculptures were coming out of the walls, one like a dam of giant crystals that had broken, another like a frozen, spliced and cross-sectioned waterfall. Down the magnificent, gravity defying staircase was another floor packed with non-architectural creations: jewellery, shoes, lighting, fashion and a bespoke theatre seat. All of these were besides the super yacht called "Jazz".

The top floor finally revealed the expected sea of models and drawings. One was the famous "Peak Project" in Hong Kong that was never built. Instead of sidelining it, Zaha celebrated it with pride of place, a testament to her grit.


Zaha's encouragement and public endorsement, when it was nothing more than an idea, helped me create Creative Entrepreneurs, a movement to inspire and resource people to follow their dreams and startup their own creative businesses. This is what Zaha had done and she believed that this movement was important for the next generation. We're privileged to have her as one of our ambassadors. Amongst the press coverage of the launch at No. 10 Downing Street was an article in Architectural Digest with the witty and fitting headline: Zaha Hadid Can Be Your New Small Business Adviser.


I saw Zaha in February at her party to celebrate her RIBA Royal Gold Medal, the UK's most prestigious architecture award. She was the first woman to win it in her own right. It was in a deconsecrated church at the foot of Regent's Park. She was on particularly sparkling form, wearing a spectacular Issey Miyake black plastic cantilevered top, thoroughly enjoying the adulation. How unthinkable that only a few months later I'd attend her funeral at the mosque just a stone's throw away.

Zaha Hadid: architect, designer, pioneer, shy beauty, mentor, rule breaker, gossip, wit, dream weaver, sweetheart. The world is emptier without her.

Carolyn Dailey is the founder of Creative Entrepreneurs and branding agency The Dailey Partnership. A longer version of this article can be found on Creative Entrepreneurs.

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