Dame Zaha Hadid 'not part of the establishment' despite royal honours


London Olympics architect Dame Zaha Hadid does not feel "part of the establishment" despite the honours she has received.

The designer of the London Aquatics Centre, one of the main venues of the summer Olympics and Paralympics in 2012, was named a dame in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to architecture in the same year.

Ten years prior to her damehood, she was awarded a CBE.

Recently, the Royal Institute Of British Architects (Riba) announced Dame Zaha as the recipient of its prestigious Royal Gold Medal, approved personally by The Queen.

She is the first woman to be awarded the honour in her own right.

Speaking to presenter Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, the 65-year-old said: "I don't really feel I'm part of the establishment.

"I'm not outside, I'm on the kind of edge, I'm dangling there. I quite like it."

She added: "I'm not against the establishment per se. I just do what I do and that's it."

Dame Zaha grew up in Baghdad. She displayed her individualism at an early age by designing her bedroom when she was nine.

"My parents allowed me to be very independent at a very young age and develop my own taste and my own way of working. I'm very grateful to them," she said.

Her father was politician Mohammed Hadid. Dame Zaha's mother, Wajeeha Sabonji, was a housewife.

Born in Baghdad to a Sunni Muslim family, Dame Zaha was taught by Roman Catholic nuns.

"I didn't even know I was Muslim until I was six," she said. "Honestly, there was absolutely no difference - Sunni, Shiite - they were all the same. That's the Iraq I loved and I know."

When asked what was expected of women in 1950s Iraq, Dame Zaha replied: "To become architects, doctors.

"There's a misconception about that society, actually. Women were very liberated," she said.

Dame Zaha moved to the UK in 1972 to train as an architect at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. She recalled the "buzz" about the place.

Seven years later, Dame Zaha established her own practice in London.

The list of buildings she has designed in various countries include the Maxxi Museum in Italy, the Guangzhou Opera House in China and the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Azerbaijan.

The multi award-winner told Young it is "very important" to "contribute culturally in a positive way" to countries that have commissioned her "because there will be no change anywhere if there isn't that element".

Dame Zaha's eclectic selection of music on Desert Island Discs included Hotline Bling by Canadian rapper Drake and Everybody's Talkin' from the Oscar-winning movie Midnight Cowboy, performed by Harry Nilsson.

She also chose Adele's Someone Like You.

"I think she has a great voice and when I was listening to it four years ago, it was the summer of the Olympics. I sat down to listen to her music over and over again. That summer was Adele," she told Young.

Dame Zaha opted for Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto For Manhattan by Rem Koolhaas as her book for the island.

Family photographs from her childhood days in Baghdad would be her luxury choice.

:: Desert Island Discs is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11.15am on February 21.