SHE WAS famous for years as the avant-garde architect whose visionary works remained firmly glued to her drawing board.
Incredible designs had flown from her imagination for more than two decades: she had sealed her reputation as one of the most distinctive talents, had beaten the world's best with winning entries for the Cardiff Opera House and an exclusive club on the Peak of Hong Kong. Yet somehow nothing got built. For years, the only Hadid building was a strange little fire station with a roof like a paper dart in northern Germany.
That's all history now. Without diluting her ideas, Hadid, born and raised in Iraq but based in London since her student days, is accumulating a tidy collection of real buildings. The Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnatti is up and running. Works in Germany, France, Italy and Taiwan are all in progress. And she has just won the competition to design a new headquarters for the Architecture Foundation near Tate Modern in London.
But this week a recurrence of the old problem loomed with the news that one of the biggest and most ambitious buildings of her career, already on site in central Rome, is about to run out of money.
Maxxi, the Italian acronym for Rome's new museum of 21st century art, is as revolutionary as anything else that has emerged from her pen. Occupying the site of a former army barracks in the posh Flaminio district north of the city centre, it is not so much a building as some glass-and-steel worms slithering over each other.
Maxxi is intended to put Rome on the map as a city that takes modern art seriously. The choice of Hadid, who in 2004 won the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious award for architects, underlined the importance of the new enterprise.
Since Mussolini, who championed new architecture, Italy has been slow to grasp the challenge of energising its cities with good new buildings. Instead it has thrown a girdle of dreary high-rise estates round its cities. Now Rome and some other cities are trying to show that they are on the same wavelength as the rest of western Europe, and perhaps bolder than most in their commissioning. …