Spurned at home, British designer wins architecture's 'Nobel prize'

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The Independent Online

A female architect who is based in Britain but has yet to win a commission in the UK has been awarded her profession's equivalent of the Nobel prize, it was announced yesterday.

Zaha Hadid, 53, is the first woman to win the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize in its 25-year history. Now a British citizen, the Baghdad-born designer's relatively small collection of Modernist works has already vaulted her into the top league of a profession dominated by men. She is the third Briton to have been awarded the prize.

Ms Hadid's works include a fire station in Weil am Rhein, Germany; a car park in Strasbourg, France and a ski jump in Innsbruck, Austria.

Her only completed project in the US - the Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati - opened last year. Hailed as an "urban oasis" by The New York Times, the eight-storey corner structure looks like a collection of interlocking boxes perched delicately above the glass- enclosed entrance.

Ms Hadid has not had any of her projects completed in Britain and her career in her adopted country has been marked by several high-profile setbacks. Most notably, political in-fighting scuppered her radical design for the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales in 1995. In November last year she narrowly missed winning the chance to design a new classical-music headquarters for the BBC at its otherwise dreary White City complex.

In a recent interview Ms Hadid said that she had been stigmatised in Britain, where her firm won plenty of competitions, but rarely saw them into reality because of "dodgy" rules that allowed organisers to take a different course.

The citation from the Pritzker jury said Ms Hadid's path to worldwide recognition had been a "heroic struggle." Lord Rothschild, the chairman of the jury, referred to "the forces of conservatism" being responsible for her inability to complete a building in London.

While the British establishment has been slow to embrace Ms Hadid, she has many fans in other parts of the world. In the US, she is working on the Price Tower Arts Centre, which is to be built in the shadow of Frank Lloyd Wright's 19-storey building in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Ms Hadid will be awarded the prize - a bronze medallion and a $100,000 cheque - at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia on 31 May.