When asked to reflect on architect Zaha Hadid’s legacy, Frank Gehry had four words: “Great architect, great person.”
Hadid, whose death Thursday morning at the age of 65 rocked the world of architecture, had a long professional relationship with Gehry, beginning when he worked with Vitra in the early 1990s to select a designer for its firehouse on its campus in Weil am Rein, Germany.
“She took a Russian constructivist theme to three dimensions in a way that I hadn’t seen, a way that was enticing,” Gehry recalled when reached by phone in Los Angeles Thursday. “It was beautiful.”
Gehry served on the Pritzker Architecture Prize jury in 2004 the year Hadid was awarded the honor—the first woman to receive the accolade independent of a partner. “There was nobody even close,” Gehry said.
“From the beginning I thought of her as one of the guys,” Gehry, himself a Pritzker laureate, said. “She never did this in front of me, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if she would whip out a cigar and smoke it.”
While Hadid was often portrayed in the media as difficult and formidable, Gehry remembers a fun-loving personality.
He recalled a day at one Venice Architecture Biennale: “Zaha was surrounded by 30 or 40 people with cameras clicking all over. So I walked by quietly so I wouldn’t bother her. And I just got past and I heard this voice say, ‘Hey Frank, come on over here!’ And she dragged me in front of them and said, ‘This is Frank Gehry, my friend.’ In the middle of her press thing! She was that gal.”