Zaha Hadid wearing her RIBA Gold Medal

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

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.