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Zaha Hadid, designer of Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi, blazes trail for women with Riba gold medal

Zaha Hadid has become the first woman to be awarded a royal gold medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba).

The architect, who was born in Iraq and whose practice in London is involved in several projects across the Arabian Gulf, was awarded the prize in recognition of her lifetime body of work.

The award, established in 1848 and approved by the Queen, is considered one of the most prestigious in the industry. Past recipients of the gold medal include Frank Lloyd Wright (1941), Le Corbusier (1953), Norman Foster (1983) and Frank Gehry (2000).

Ms Hadid has designed The Opus mixed-use tower in Dubai, Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar and the new metro station for the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh. These projects are all being built. Ms Hadid also designed the Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi and the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre in Riyadh.

“I am very proud to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal, and in particular to be the first woman to receive the honour in her own right,” said Ms Hadid.

“We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

Sometimes the challenges are immense. There has been tremendous change over recent years and we will continue this progress.”

Ms Hadid later cut short a BBC interview, during which she was asked about allegations over construction worker deaths in Qatar.

In a tense exchange with a BBC interviewer, she said:“There haven’t been any problems. I have to put you right. There hasn’t been a single problem at our stadium in Qatar.

“I sued someone in the press for it and they had to withdraw it and apologise. Not on our site. Absolutely not.”

Ms Hadid was also asked about the Japanese government’s decision to scrap the flagship stadium project that she had designed for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – a move that she described as “a scandal”. Ms Hadid won an international competition to design the stadium three years ago.

However, when the interviewer asked her to finish her answer quickly, she ended the interview.

“Don’t ask me a question if you can’t let me finish it or I won’t say anything,” she said.

The International Trade Union Confederation had published a report alleging that a large number of workers from India and Nepal had died while working in Qatar between 2011 and 2013.

Workers from those two countries make up about 60 per cent of Qatar’s migrant worker population.

Enabling works on the Al Wakrah stadium project began in May last year, but the main construction contract only began in February this year. Work is being carried out by HBK Contracting, a Qatari company, and is due for completion in 2018.

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