My tribute to ZH 2020

Happy Birthday ZH. This would have been your 70th ! Rest in peace our shining star.

I can’t help but remember my first encounter with Zaha at Beirut’s Beit al Din. I was shy and reserved, but after the show I approached her along with dozens of others who wanted the rare chance of speaking with her. You can feel her charismatic presence: she owns the room. Except that it wasn’t a room — it was the spacious  18th century courtyard of a palace from the Shihab Dynasty, with its fine stone fountain in the middle— and people swarmed around Zaha. I was 22 years old, and visibly  intimidated to meet my idol. However, it was impossible to do anything else but to meet her and talk, as I had persisted and persuaded my parents to drive me from Damas to Beirut, telling them that it would be my only opportunity to meet the great Zaha.

Now, I feel only gratitude to her that she gave me that chance. I am glad we spoke, as I ended up as part of her design team in her London office a few years later. Working with her was a mesmerizing experience to me. In her office, I found her ideas and projects bold; she had a clear, strong vision, and was well ahead of the game. One looked around, and saw how women joined forces, supported one another, looking up to Zaha and learning from her. I was fortunate enough to travel with her for various projects, and I observed and hope that I have engrained all the learning she shared. With clients, she was witty, funny, and always engaged in the visionary dialogues. With her, team, she used tough love, but was passionately engaged and deeply interested in each person and everyone’s contribution.

Everyone who worked with Zaha at her office, even after leaving the office, took a piece of Zaha’s approach in life and design. The other day, to my surprise, I learned that a building in my neighbourhood that I always admired, was designed by one of my x-colleagues and what I call x-Zaha! It was a heart-warming and familiar surprise. I know that all of us — those who flew from the nest or hadn’t yet — and came under her tutelage will always carry Zaha in our heart and mind. So rest in peace our most inspired and inspiring mentor. I always say, you left Earth too early, but you are the rarest and brightest of stars, who shall inspire and shine her light on so many of us, forever.

Rest in Peace
Zaha Hadid (1950-2020)

Friday, November 6, 2020
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