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Architect Dame Zaha Hadid cuts short Today interview after tense exchange

Published 24/09/2015

Zaha Hadid was personally approved by the Queen for the award
Zaha Hadid was personally approved by the Queen for the award

Architect Dame Zaha Hadid has cut short a stormy interview celebrating her becoming the first woman to win the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture.

Hadid was personally approved by the Queen for the 2016 award, which the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) presents to a person or group who significantly influences ''the advancement of architecture''.

In the UK, Hadid's most recognisable works are Cardiff Bay Opera House and the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games. Globally, her notable designs include Guangzhou Opera House in China and the Vitra Fire Station in Germany.

But an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme to mark her achievement descended into acrimony before she ended it abruptly.

Presenter Sarah Montague started by asking Hadid about her experience of sexism in the industry.

Hadid, speaking from a radio car rather than the studio, replied that the situation ''has got much better''.

''There are more women architects practising and doing great projects... I think the stigma has lifted,'' she said.

''I think there are areas where as a woman you cannot sort of be there ... But I think it is a lot better.''

Montague then pointed out that Hadid's citation described her as ''a scary character in the style of John McEnroe''.

The architect said she was ''not part of the establishment'', adding: ''I think I was always seen as being on the edge and I don't mind being on the edge.''

But tensions began to rise as Montague raised allegations about deaths of construction workers in Qatar, where stadiums are being built for the 2022 football World Cup.

Hadid shot back: ''There haven't been any problems actually. I have to put you right.''

When the presenter quoted a disputed report claiming that ''more than 1,200 migrant workers have died there'', the architect said she should ''check her information''.

''Absolutely not true. We sued somebody for writing that and saying that. It has had to be withdrawn from the Press ... there is no deaths on our side whatsoever. You should check your information before you say anything,'' she said.

When Montague suggested it was ''fascinating to clear that up'', Hadid said: ''It is not fascinating.''

The interviewer moved on to the topic of the Tokyo national stadium, saying Hadid had ''pulled out'' of the project.

''I didn't pull out. I pulled out because we had no contractor to go with,'' Hadid responded. ''Again, this is a very serious story and it should be reported accurately. Somebody should be interested in it because it is a scandal.''

When Montague tried to break into to the explanation, saying she wanted to ''speed up a little bit'', Hadid snapped: ''Don't ask me a question when you can't let me finish it.''

When Montague suggested ''soaring costs'' had been blamed for the project being abandoned, Hadid brought the interview to a close.

''Let's stop this conversation right now. I don't want to carry on. Thank you very much,'' she said.

Awarded since 1848, previous Royal Gold Medallists include Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The medal joins an impressive list of accolades for Baghdad-born Hadid since she opened her own practice, Zaha Hadid Architects, in London in 1979.

In 2004, she became the first female recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of architecture.

She has also twice won the Stirling Prize, the UK's most prestigious architecture award, for Rome's MAXXI art museum and for the Evelyn Grace Academy, a secondary school in Brixton.

In 2012, Hadid was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire for achievements in architecture.

Riba president Jane Duncan said: ''Zaha Hadid is a formidable and globally influential force in architecture.

''Highly experimental, rigorous and exacting, her work from buildings to furniture, footwear and cars is quite rightly revered and desired by brands and people all around the world. I am delighted Zaha will be awarded the Royal Gold Medal in 2016 and can't wait to see what she and her practice will do next.''

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