The World is Not a Rectangle

A portrait of architect Zaha Hadid

The World is Not a Rectangle, by Jeanette Winter

This is a beautiful biographical picture book about the life and career of Zaha Hadid, a world-renowned architect. She had a passion for design from an early age, and was inspired by the landscapes and textiles of Iraq, where she grew up. Her buildings reflect the movement and patterns that she saw in nature, from the grasses swaying in marshes to the rising and falling of ocean waves.  She was the first woman to ever receive the prestigious Pritzker Prize as well as the top award for architecture in Britain.

I recommend reading this book to shine a spotlight on women in engineering/mathematics, and also to inspire any budding architect. The text is simple enough for young children to understand, but the content is probably more interesting for grades 1-4. Engineers and architects often get overlooked when kids learn about art, but I think they are just as worthy of being studied as some of the great painters of the world!

After reading, ask the following questions:

  1. What do you think of Zaha Hadid’s buildings? Have you ever seen buildings like them before?
  2. Where did Zaha Hadid get the ideas for her buildings?
  3. How are Zaha Hadid’s buildings different from most other buildings?
  4. Why didn’t the city committee want to build her design, even though it won more than one competition?
  5. Did Zaha Hadid only design buildings? What else did she design?
  6. Why do you think the author chose the title “The World is Not a Rectangle” for this book?

Extension Activities

  • A geometric shape is one that has a name and a certain number of sides and straight lines (square, triangle, hexagon,etc.) A freeform shape is not symmetrical and sometimes has curvy lines. Draw a building that uses ONLY geometric shapes. Now design a building that uses ONLY freeform shapes.
  • Look at photos of objects in nature (flowers, trees, shells, animals, plants, etc.) and draw one, noticing the different kinds of lines you use (straight, curved, spiral, zigzag). Now use those same kinds of lines to design a piece of furniture such as a chair, table, or shelf.

Research some of these other architects and compare/contrast their work with Zaha Hadid’s:

  • Frank Gehry
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • I.M. Pei
  • Mies van der Rohe
  • Renzo Piano
  • Moshe Safdie

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