Zaha Hadid was once flying to Frankfurt to give a talk. Her plane taxied out, developed a minor fault, and stopped. She refused to believe the reassurances that the delay would be brief, and demanded that she be put on another flight. Her wish was impossible — to return to the stand, to unload and reload her baggage in the hold, it couldn't be done — but Hadid insisted, vigorously. The crew tried to calm her, warn her, admonish her, until a stewardess noticed that this was the same woman whose picture was in the current edition of the in-flight magazine. Are you Zaha Hadid? she asked. Then the impossible became possible, and the architect got to change planes.

There are hundreds of stories like this about Hadid and they tell the same story, which is also that of her life: the testing of boundaries, the determination to get her way, the fury, the indifference to practical constraints, the opposition of conventional society. And then the ultimate victory aided by fame, a fame earned through personality and talent.

To say she divides opinion is to put it mildly. To some, including several fellow architects that I spoke to, she is a tyrant; her work is "unbelievably arrogant" and "oppressive; I don't believe she cares what it's like actually to be in one of her buildings." To others she's a genius, and a hero, the only ground common to all these views being a remark made by her mentor, Rem Koolhaas, that she is "a planet in her own inimitable orbit."