At last, it’s Zaha Hadid’s time to shine

Story highlights

Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid is the first woman to win architecture's Pritzker Prize.

Her Aquatic Centre is considered the Olympic's most important venue.

As a woman and non-British, Hadid still feels an outsider, but this sometimes works in her favor, she says.

She attributes her drive to past failures and the delirium of sleeplessness.

London, England CNN  — 

When London’s Olympic organizers needed a knockout venue that would wow the International Olympic Committee and hold the world’s attention, they turned to Zaha Hadid, a provocateur who critics have described as “the Lady Gaga of architecture”.

Iraqi-born Hadid is one of the greatest architects alive. In 2004, she became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s greatest honor. The year prior, she was awarded the European Union Mies van der Rohe Prize for a tram station in Strasbourg.

Besides art museums and opera houses, she has designed temporary pop-up structures – such as a handbag-inspired mobile pavilion for Chanel – a ski jump in Austria, furniture, door handles, a tea and coffee set and vase for Alessi, and plastic high heels for Brazilian shoe brand Melissa. Not all of her work is exclusively for the wealthy. She also won last year’s RIBA Stirling Prize for redesigning a state school in Brixton, South London.

Hadid’s Aquatic Centre is the first venue you see when you enter the Olympic village. A £269m facility that houses two swimming pools and a diving pool, and seats 22,500, critics have pronounced it the Olympics “