About time – Zaha’s gold

The world is rightly congratulating Zaha Hadid on winning the RIBA Gold Medal. And equally rightly making a fuss about her being the first female recipient. What a shocker.

The world is rightly congratulating Zaha Hadid on winning the RIBA Gold Medal. And equally rightly making a fuss about her being the first female recipient. What a shocker.

Since I started writing about architecture, over 20 years ago, the RIBA has had its first female president (it is now on number three) and all the major architectural magazines, with the exception of Architecture Today, have appointed female editors for the first time. Zaha of course has picked up almost every major architectural prize and been a female first in certain instances. But she has had to wait for the gold medal.

One problem is that there seems to be a backlog in Gold Medal awards, so that often it has to go to ‘so and so’ before he (because it has always been he) declines into senility or dies. Pushing others back in the queue. Zaha, of course, has some decades to go before she reaches this state of urgency. But it may be why she had to wait.

Does any of this matter? If you think all that stuff about women’s equality is nonsense, or rather the situation is sorted, then a story on the radio today should set you straight. Women, it said, gain a greater relative financial advantage from having been to university than men do, but a decade later the men are still ahead of them in terms of pay. 

And Zaha’s achievement is even greater because she hasn’t got there by being ‘nice’. Yes, she wears a lot designer clothes, but she does so fiercely, as she does everything. She doesn’t conform to any cultural prejudices about how women should appear or act. And when she wasn’t enjoying herself when her Radio 4 congratulatory interview turned into a lot of warmed up old accusations, she simply terminated the interview. Not every woman should be like Zaha – there is only room for one, or perhaps a handful. But for upsetting stereotypes, she can’t be beaten. The RIBA should be jolly grateful that she has accepted its Gold Medal and allowed it, finally, to break its duck.

Latest from Our Blog