Jeanette Winter's picture book, The World Is Not A Rectangle, written for younger readers, explores the life of Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Mohommad Hadid. Winter was inspired to learn more about Zaha after seeing photographs of her architectural designs in 2010.
Zaha was born, October 31, 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq into a progressive Muslim family that supported the education of women and who expected her to pursue a professional career. Zaha's interest in architecture was sparked by a family trip to the Sumerian cities in southern Iraq where they also traveled by boat to smaller villages in the region. Zaha stated, "...The beauty of the landscape -- where sand, water, reeds, birds, buildings, and people all somehow flowed together-- has never left me."
She attended American University in Beirut, Lebanon, studying math. Her family decided to leave Iraq when Saddam Hussein came to power and the conflict with Iran began. In 1972 Zaha enrolled in the Architectural Association School of Architecture where she met renowned architects Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis. After working for a period of time with Koolhaas, Zaha opened her own architecture firm in 1980.
It was her unusual - even peculiar designs and ideas that brought Zaha increasing interest from architects around the world. In 1983 her design of a "horizontal skyscraper" for the leisure club in Hong Kong won an international competition. It was never built, as were many of her other designs from the 1980's and the 1990's. Instead many of the drawings of her designs were exhibited as artwork.
Zaha Hadid's first building to be constructed was the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany in 1993. It was not a functioning building however and ended up as a museum. The British, influenced by conservative values of the 1980's were unwilling to build her designs - they simply were not ready for her unique ideas. Her breakthrough came when her design for the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati was completed in 1998.
Zaha had a strong personality, not open to compromise. This plus her sex and her ethnicity often worked against her. But with the success of the building in Cincinnati, she came to be seen as a visionary who persisted despite being told her buildings could not be built.
Zaha Hadid won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004 - the first woman to do so. Her designs were now being built all over the world. Zaha's design for the London Aquatic Center in the 2012 Olympics in London featured a wave-like roof. Sadly, Zaha Hadid died suddenly of a heart attack in 2016.
Jeanette Winter's picture book doesn't go into many of the details of Zaha Hadid's life but covers enough of the major points to get her story across. The World Is Not A Rectangle highlights Zaha's special approach to architecture and design. Instead of boxy structures, her buildings have sweeping curves or as Winter describes them, "Her buildings swoosh and zoom and flow and fly." Zaha Hadid's buildings take their special form from the many different shapes in nature, the oysters shells, pebbles, waves and stars. Zaha is presented to young readers as a woman who had different ideas about how the buildings we use might be made. When she encounter resistance, she decided to perservere, "I made a conscious decision not to stop." Her success makes her a good role model for girls today.
The World Is Not A Rectangle by Jeanette Winter
New York: Beach Lane Books 2017