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Copernicus Goes To Baghdad (Via Beirut and Baku)

Copernicus Goes To Baghdad (Via Beirut and Baku)

“If Paul Klee took a line for a walk, then Zaha took the surfaces that were driven by that line out for a virtual dance, and then deftly folded them over, and then took them out for a journey into space.”

So said Sir Peter Cook, an architect, when Zaha Hadid became the first woman to win the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. “Her work is certainly not modest,” he added, “and she herself is the opposite of modest. Indeed her vociferous criticism of poor work or stupidity recalls the line-side comments of the tennis player John McEnroe.”

The aim of this Copernicus column in EFL Magazine is to give students exposure to different English accents from around the world. This month, we bring you the late Dame Zaha Hadid, who was born in Baghdad and studied at the American University in Beirut, before moving to London and becoming the world’s greatest female architect.

Her work includes the Guangzhou Opera House, the D’Leedon Condominium in Singapore, and the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut. “Those of us lucky enough to see the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku in the flesh,” noted Sir Peter Cook, “can surely never have been in such a dream-like space.” She also designed the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games – although her winning design for the 2020 Olympic stadium was (controversially) cancelled by the Japanese government because of rising costs.

What did she sound like when she spoke? Her friend Carolyn Dailey, an entrepreneur, says that, “with her deep gravelly voice, exotic accent and clipped staccato delivery, Zaha oozed cool glamour.” This is a video of her answering questions at the Oxford Union, a debating society, just a few weeks before she died earlier this year.


(1) Gap-fill: complete the three-word phrases in the following discussion about “compromise” (which begins at 3:14 in the video).

Q: What do you do when you have to compromise your design for practicality?

A: I don’t like the word compromise ____ ____ ____. Because, you know, I think that we’re professional and we know that in every project you have to be quite kind of smart in the way you can interpret the work to suit the client, or the requirements of the city, or planning or ____ ____ ____. I’ve known for a long time that ____ ____ ____ I maintain the ideas – the central idea to the project – and I can adjust the work to suit, then I think it’s not compromise. ____ ____ ____, actually it makes the work better if you have ____ ____ ____ a certain problem.

(2) On the subject of “compromise”: here are some more great quotes and proverbs that use that word. Ask students to choose their favourite (and explain why they chose it).

(3) Back to Zaha: here are pictures of some of her work. Ask students to choose one building, and then write down a 30-word description of it.

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