Zaha Hadid remembered by Rana Hadid

The architects niece, also an architect, recalls her aunts warm presence, her great drive, and the inspiration of her work

Zaha walked into our lives in the late 60s when my brother Hussein and I were five and six. She had come to Beirut to study mathematics at the American University there. Our parents had just divorced, which was a relatively rare occurrence back then. From the minute Zaha appeared, we felt loved and protected. She brought Zaha magic with her: love, laughter, fun, music, dance and close friends who remain her friends to this day. She would spend hours teaching us how to draw, how to use the colouring pencils tilt them to colour in, how you could blunt the tip to shade in or sharpen it to have a bold, razor-sharp edge. That was longbefore she became an architect.

With Zaha, everything started with a drawing. I am an architect myself now though with none of Zahas genius and I often could not understand her architectural drawings. Id think: how is she going to do this curved facade? But the first time I walked into a Zaha building the Maxxi in Rome I saw that her buildings are peaceful: nothing upsets the eye, there are no edges. The flow of energy goes on for ever.

Whenever my father, Haytham, my uncle Foulath and Zaha who was the youngest of the three got together and had done their hugging and kissing, their exchanges quickly became charged. Voices were raised, the Iraqi dialect prevailed. All three of them were highly opinionated, very bright and passionate. We younger Hadids would watch quietly, baffled, not allowed to participate, let alone take sides. It was years later that my best friend, who had often been present, explained it to me: Rana, they are so passionate, this is how they express and communicate their love to one another. Hadids have a special way of showing love. Zahas way often took the form of criticism and outbursts, pushing and pushing even more those she loved and cared for. She simply wanted us to be the best she thought we could be, something she applied to herself relentlessly. She had a brutal honesty. But she saw in us much more than we saw in ourselves.

Zaha and Rana Hadid together.
Zaha loved life and was a master at bringing together people across all nations, cultures and religions, bridging differences and forging solid bonds. A bit like her spaces. The minute you stepped into a Zaha space, whether it was her home, her bedroom, her gallery, Studio 9, or her public buildings, you instantly felt a harmony with your surroundings. I think this was because of her deep understanding of people. She taught us that life is best when you build bridges between people, and not walls.

There are many sides to Zaha I shall miss terribly. The Zaha who made us laugh until we cried. Zaha the brilliant mimic who did the best impressions. Zaha who came up with the best nicknames (Sinkapoo, Yes But No But, Melo, Happy Ending, Kermit), Zaha who rooted for the underdog, Zaha who set standards, Zaha who believed in the power of education. Zaha who loved her Sunday lunches at the River Cafe, Zaha who challenged us to think differently and do what was not always easy, Zaha who would call me at 5pm Beirut time from China or Miami to tell me off for not having visited my father (yet) that day, Zaha who made every minute matter, Zaha who would text out of the blue at that right moment when you were feeling sad or vulnerable, Zaha who you could talk to about anything: architecture, the latest nail polish, your love life. But mostly, the incredibly warm and generous Zaha who showed us we could do anything we wanted if we worked at it hard enough.

The flow of energy goes on for ever: the new mathematics gallery at the Science Museum, designed by Zaha Hadid, which opened on 7 December 2016. Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex/Shutterstock

I was at the Royal Institute of British Architects award dinner when she received her gold medal. I had not been going to come. I had rung from Lebanon and told her: I cant keep coming to all your openings and awards. She said: You have to come, youre family. I told her my father was not well and she said, OK. The night before the award, she called again: Are you here yet, in London? I said, I told you I wasnt coming. She said Youd better be on that plane. I am so glad now that I came. She had her back to me at an adjoining table during dinner and I thought: thank God she cannot see if Im misbehaving. But then, only 10 minutes before Zaha was due to do a television interview, Jane Duncan, president of Riba, tapped me on the shoulder and said: Zaha is asking about you. She sent me over to see if you were all right. That is how she was. And that was the last time I saw her.

Main photograph by Steve Double/Camera Press

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