Her blueprints are the future

The winner of this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize lives in London but has never had a project constructed in that metropolis - or in any other capital city. In fact, relatively few of the architect's designs have been built anywhere.

And yet the 2004 laureate's small body of work has already influenced the entire field of architecture, says Bill Lacy, executive director of the 26-year-old award.

The world at large is only now beginning to catch up with the visionary blueprints of Zaha Hadid, announced Monday as the first woman to receive the Pritzker Prize.

Ms. Hadid, who was born in Iraq, was, to put it mildly, surprised at the honor. The Londoner had just spent hours in the rain outside the American Embassy so she could apply for a visa to teach at Yale this year. Then her cellphone rang.

"I have won what? The Pritzker Prize? Would you say that a second time?" she asked. "I wanted to be sure I was hearing correctly," she says, recounting the phone call.

In addition to the award, several high-profile projects across the globe represent a career high for Ms. Hadid, who has spent 25 years refining her signature use of sharp lines, interconnected geometric shapes, and parallel lines that curve like graceful railways to create buildings so original that no Lego kit could replicate them.

"I was greatly influenced by early Russian abstract artists, mainly El Lissitzky and [Kasimir] Malevich. I wanted to apply similar artistry to my architecture," she says during a free moment on a recent trip here to talk to UCLA's architecture school.

She also admires the "daring and originality" of former Pritzker winners Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas. It was Koolhaas, her former partner at London's Office of Metropolitan Architecture, who urged Hadid to ignore the obstacles of a male-dominated area.

"In any profession it is more difficult to succeed as a woman," she says. "We have to work harder to prove ourselves - it makes us stronger because of the extra effort we make."

Hadid's buildings, which range from a train station to a ski jump in Innsbruck, Austria, to the Richard and Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio, all boast unique shapes. For instance, the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany, (1993) has a jagged shard of a roof that seems to take off into space.

Hadid's designs are currently taking shape in projects such as the National Center of Contemporary Arts in Rome, a train station in Naples, and the Guggenheim Museum for Taichung, Taiwan, among others.

In the immediate future, Hadid will fly to St. Petersburg. On May 31, she will be presented with a Pritzker medallion and $100,000 in grant money.

The busy schedule won't leave much free time for Hadid, who lives in a London flat.

"I haven't even gotten around to designing my own home," she admits.

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