Royal Gold Medal for Zaha Hadid was "totally overdue" says RIBA president

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Zaha Hadid wearing her RIBA Gold Medal

The Royal Institute of British Architects has acted "to right a 180-year wrong" by giving its highest honour to a woman, the body's president has said.

Jane Duncan made the remark in a speech at a ceremony at RIBA headquarters in London last night, where architect Zaha Hadid became the first woman ever to win the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in her own right.

"Speaking as only the third woman president of the RIBA I find it amazing that it has taken until 2016 to elect the first female Royal Gold Medallist," Duncan told guests at a dinner in honour of Hadid.

"To right a 180-year wrong we elected a woman whom I have admired since my student days, visiting the AA [the architecture school where Hadid studied and taught] from the Bartlett up the road."



Duncan added: "I come not to bury sexism but to praise Zaha. I am not here to castigate my predecessors and their committees for their masculine choices – what else could they do given how hard we make it for women to rise to the top of our profession?"

RIBA president Jane Duncan
RIBA president Jane Duncan spoke to Dezeen at the dinner in honour of Hadid

Speaking to Dezeen later, Duncan said: "It was totally overdue. This is a stellar architect. Zaha was put forward a number of years ago but her body of work wasn't at that time sufficient, or so the awards panel thought."

"But she now has a wonderful body of work," Duncan added. "This year we had the right panel with the right chair."

Established in 1848, the RIBA Royal Gold Medal is given annually on behalf of the British monarch to an individual or group "whose work has promoted either directly or indirectly the advancement of architecture".

It has never previously been given to an individual woman, although last year the prize was awarded to Irish architecture husband-and-wife duo Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey.

Other recipients include critic Joseph Rykwert, Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, British architect David Chipperfield and Chinese-born American architect IM Pei.

Heydar Aliyev Center was "an incredibly ambitious project" says Zaha Hadid
Zaha Hadid described her Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku as "an incredibly ambitious project"

In the citation for Zaha Hadid, Archigram founder Peter Cook described the architect as "our heroine" and said her work was "special".

"Indeed her work, though full of form, style and unstoppable mannerism, possesses a quality that some of us might refer to as an impeccable eye," he commented. "For three decades now, she has ventured where few would dare."



Hadid is best known for projects including the London 2012 Aquatics Centre, the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku and the MAXXI Museum in Rome.

She was named as the recipient of the 2016 Gold Medal in September. At the time, Hadid said she was proud to be the first woman to receive the honour in her own right. "We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn't mean it's easy," she said.

Zaha Hadid's Olympic aquatics centre due to open in its completed form
The London 2012 Aquatics Centre is one of Hadid's best-known projects

Her significant projects from the last decade also include the Guangzhou Opera House in China (2010), the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in South Korea (2014), and the Messner Mountain Museum Corones in Italy (2015).

Hadid has already been awarded the Pritzker Prize, the Republic of France's Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Japan's Praemium Imperiale, and is a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She has also won the Stirling Prize twice.

The portrait of Zaha Hadid wearing the Royal Gold Medal is by Sophie Mutevelian.

  • Joel K.

    I’m glad Jane Duncan was aware of that fact that critics would assume this award was given simply to prove the RIBA isn’t sexist. That was exactly what entered my mind when I read the headline.

    Nonetheless, Zaha’s recent behaviour with Japan makes me think she shouldn’t be the poster-girl for this award.

  • Stephen

    I would honestly be interested to hear responses to the following from Hadid, or at least one of those who understands her:

    1) She denies her architecture is either wilful or a personal expression. What does she believe it to be?

    2) Why does she feel that her architecture represents progress and by what measure?

    3) She professes to believe in progress. Why does it then follow (as she states) that she must therefore be “critical of any ‘traditionalism’”?

    4) By traditionalism, does she mean anything whose lineage can be traced back in any way to something that has gone before and if so, why is that necessarily regressive or invalid?

  • spadestick

    She needs to smile more often, like in this picture.

  • Architects Anonymous

    I hate that big vagina building of hers.

    • Smugitecture

      Which one?

      • Architects Anonymous

        That one in Qatar.

  • GeorgieGirl

    Congratulations! Well done. It is long overdue.

  • Liz Walder

    Interesting comment from Jane Duncan, “This year we had the right panel with the right chair.” It is the President of the RIBA who is Chair of the panel that awards the Royal Gold Medal, ergo it is Duncan who was the Chair.

  • Chase Miller

    Well her architecture is such shit. But with Britain so complicit to make their cities unlivable, it seems appropriate that they give her the award

  • Kathy Miller

    Zaha’s work is thoughtful and it would be great to meet her team.

  • Donald

    She was great in the Revenant.

  • Hitch

    Well I fancy prunes and custard for desert.