Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Zaha Hadid

What I learned from 2,000 Obituaries

Lux Narayan starts his day with scrambled eggs and the question: “Who died today?” Why?

By analyzing 2,000 New York Times obituaries over a 20-month period, Narayan gleaned, in just a few words, what achievement looks like over a lifetime.

Here he shares what those immortalized in print can teach us about a life well lived.

Lux Narayan is a perpetual learner of various things — from origami and molecular gastronomy to stand-up and improve comedy. Full bio

Joseph Keller used to jog around the Stanford campus, and he was struck by all the women jogging there as well. Why did their ponytails swing from side to side like that? Being a mathematician, he set out to understand why. 

0:29 Professor Keller was curious about many things: why teapots dribble or how earthworms wriggle. Until a few months ago, I hadn’t heard of Joseph Keller. I read about him in the New York Times, in the obituaries. The Times had half a page of editorial dedicated to him, which you can imagine is premium space for a newspaper of their stature.

I read the obituaries almost every day. My wife understandably thinks I’m rather morbid to begin my day with scrambled eggs and a “Let’s see who died today.”

But if you think about it, the front page of the newspaper is usually bad news, and cues man’s failures. An instance where bad news cues accomplishment is at the end of the paper, in the obituaries.

In my day job, I run a company that focuses on future insights that marketers can derive from past data — a kind of rearview-mirror analysis. And we began to think: What if we held a rearview mirror to obituaries from the New York Times? Were there lessons on how you could get your obituary featured — even if you aren’t around to enjoy it?

 And so, we looked at the data. 2,000 editorial, non-paid obituaries over a 20-month period between 2015 and 2016. What did these 2,000 deaths — rather, lives — teach us?

first we looked at words. This here is an obituary headline. This one is of the amazing Lee Kuan Yew. If you remove the beginning and the end, you’re left with a beautifully worded descriptor that tries to, in just a few words, capture an achievement or a lifetime. Just looking at these is fascinating. Here are a few famous ones, people who died in the last two years. Try and guess who they are.

2:27 [An Artist who Defied Genre] That’s Prince.

2:31 [Titan of Boxing and the 20th Century] Oh, yes.

2:34 [Muhammad Ali]

2:35 [Groundbreaking Architect] Zaha Hadid.

we took these descriptors and did what’s called natural language processing, where you feed these into a program, it throws out the superfluous words — “the,” “and,” — the kind of words you can mime easily in “Charades,” — and leaves you with the most significant words. And we did it not just for these four, but for all 2,000 descriptors.

And this is what it looks like. Film, theatre, music, dance and of course, art, are huge. Over 40 percent. You have to wonder why in so many societies we insist that our kids pursue engineering or medicine or business or law to be construed as successful.

And while we’re talking profession, let’s look at age — the average age at which they achieved things. That number is 37. What that means is, you’ve got to wait 37 years … before your first significant achievement that you’re remembered for — on average — 44 years later, when you die at the age of 81 — on average.

it varies by profession. If you’re a sports star, you’ll probably hit your stride in your 20s. And if you’re in your 40s like me, you can join the fun world of politics.

Politicians do their first and sometimes only commendable act in their mid-40s.

 If you’re wondering what “others” are, here are some examples. Isn’t it fascinating, the things people do and the things they’re remembered for?

Our curiosity was in overdrive, and we desired to analyze more than just a descriptor.

So, we ingested the entire first paragraph of all 2,000 obituaries, but we did this separately for two groups of people: people that are famous and people that are not famous.

Famous people — Prince, Ali, Zaha Hadid — people who are not famous are people like Jocelyn Cooper, Reverend Curry or Lorna Kelly. I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard of most of their names. Amazing people, fantastic achievements, but they’re not famous. So what if we analyze these two groups separately — the famous and the non-famous? What might that tell us?

4:51 Take a look. Two things leap out at me. First: “John.” And second: “help.”

We uncovered, many lessons from lives well-led, and what those people immortalized in print could teach us. The exercise was a fascinating testament to the kaleidoscope that is life, and even more fascinating was the fact that the overwhelming majority of obituaries featured people famous and non-famous, who did seemingly extraordinary things. They made a positive dent in the fabric of life. They helped.

5:45 So ask yourselves as you go back to your daily lives: How am I using my talents to help society?

Because the most powerful lesson here is, if more people lived their lives trying to be famous in death, the world would be a much better place.

Architecture’s Esteemed Anomaly: Tracing the Legacy of Zaha Hadid

In life and now, following her sudden death at age 65, Zaha Hadid often was referred to as “the most important female architect of our time.” The superlative varies here and there, but one word—“female”—usually sticks.

That qualifier would be out of place in other disciplines (who, in 2016, would think to say, “she was the greatest female actor of our time?”), but architecture has a stark and persistent gender gap.

When the American Institute of Architects last counted, in 2013, it found that although roughly half of students enrolled in architecture programs were women, they comprised just 18 percent of licensed architects. (Maybe the problem is in the licensing procedure?)

The number is even lower—5 percent—when you look at women who work as technology directors at architecture firms.

Joanna Choukeir Hojeily shared this post
Zaha Hadid’s mathematical mind, professional resilience, and yes, her gender, made her an anomaly.|By Margaret Rhodes

Hadid was an anomaly. She pushed technology to adapt to what she drew by hand, not the other way around. Her avant-garde work with parametric design—algorithm-driven work done in software that can test the limits and parameters of certain forms—became a style all its own called parametricism.

In 2004, Hadid became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize; the second woman, Kazuyo Sejima, who won six years later, shares the honor with her husband and design partner, Ryue Nishizawa.

Hadid was also the first woman to receive the British RIBA Gold Medal, in 2015. Upon accepting it, Hadid remarked on the difficulty of being of being a woman in a discipline dominated by men: “We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes the challenges are immense.”

“I remember her telling me how hard it was for her as a woman, a Muslim, and an Arab, going to [the Architectural Association] in London, which was really an old boy’s club,” says Kathryn Hiesinger, the curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art who worked closely with Hadid on the 2011 exhibit, Zaha Hadid: Form in Motion.

“She must have looked like a creature from another planet, and she arrived with a headscarf, which she says she lost quickly. It distinguished her in a way she didn’t want.”

Hadid quickly gained greater distinction for a mathematical mind and professional resilience. She established her London practice, Zaha Hadid Architects, in 1979, just seven years after finishing at the Architectural Association. In 1993, her work on the Vitra Fire Station in Weil Am Rhein, Germany, catapulted her to fame.

The building, small when compared to Hadid’s more recent works, is composed of concrete planes and shards, one of which is cantilevered toward the sky, as if in salute. It’s largely based on conceptual, abstract drawings by Hadid, but worked perfectly and practically as a fire station.

“I was still in school, but everyone looked at that as one of the most interesting projects we had seen,” says Elaine Molinar, a partner in Snøhetta’s New York office. “She exploited the potential of digital technology when it was still early.”

The Vitra Fire Station was severely angular; Hadid’s later works grew more voluptuous. The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, which won the London Design Museum’s Design of the Year award in 2014, resembles a snowy hilltop made of ribbon.

The London Aquatics Center evokes the shape of a stingray. People most often use words like futuristic, abstract, and swooping to describe Hadid’s aesthetic, something Hiesinger says is frequently compared to Arabic calligraphy. “It’s another way to think about her work, what she expressed from her cultural background,” Hiesinger says.

Could you say the same thing about Hadid’s style, in terms of what it expressed about being a woman? “It’s hard to say that,” Hiesinger says. “Her style was so distinctive, and so her own. She was herself, driven, with these freeform geometries. They’re just hers.”

Indeed, few architects have a style as instantly recognizable as Hadid’s. Her buildings defied many things: an industry run by men, ideas about what a building should look like, and often, it seemed, even gravity.

Riba gold medal? Qatar World Cup stadium?  And architect Zaha Hadid

The architect Zaha Hadid cut short a tetchy BBC radio interview to mark her being awarded the 2016 Riba Royal Gold Medal after mounting an angry defence of her Qatar World Cup stadium and Tokyo Olympic stadium projects

Architect defends involvement in building of Qatar World Cup stadium after walking out of Radio 4 interview to mark her winning the 2016 Riba gold medal

Architect Zaha Hadid walks out of an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme

The British-Iraqi architect claimed there had not been a “single problem in the stadium in Qatar” after Radio 4 Today programme presenter Sarah Montague alleged there had been deaths of construction workers at the Al-Wakrah stadium for the 2022 football World Cup.

“It is absolutely untrue; there are no deaths on our site whatsoever. I sued someone in the press for it. You should check your facts.”

Hadid was challenged about her bid to build the main stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and walked out of the interview after Montague said the programme was running out of time for her to explain why the project had been abandoned.

Last week it was reported that Hadid had decided not to continue with her bid to build the Tokyo stadium, after her initial design was scrapped amid ballooning costs and the fact that the architect could find no construction company to work with on a new design.

“I didn’t pull out of the Japanese project,” Hadid said, contradicting the premise of Montague’s question. “It’s a very serious story. It’s a scandal. We won this competition three years ago, it was an international competition entered by many Japanese architects and we won it …”

Interrupted by the presenter, who asked Hadid to respond to the allegation that the Japanese prime minister pulled the plug on the stadium because of high costs, Hadid walked out of the interview. “Don’t ask me a question if you don’t want [me] to answer,” she said. “Let’s stop this conversation right now.”

The Qatari government says the figure used by Montague that 1,200 migrant workers have died in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup in 2010 is categorically untrue.

Human rights groups have used figures showing high numbers of construction workers’ deaths because they say much of Qatar’s current construction boom is motivated by the World Cup, and so they claim deaths on projects such as roads and hotels should be included when monitoring fatalities.

The number of deaths of construction workers who were directly building the Hadid-designed stadium is unknown, but Hadid repeated the Qatari authorities’ line that since work began on the project in 2013, there had been no deaths on site nor any accidents causing lost time.

Hundreds of migrants from Nepal, India and other countries working on other construction projects have been dying every year, including dozens from site accidents and cardiac arrests. But a spokesman for Hadid said “the authorities in Qatar managing the al-Wakrah site operate the highest levels of workers’ health, safety and welfare”.

The BBC later apologised personally to Hadid saying the questions about Qatar were “less than ideal”. “We’re sorry if she feels the programme has treated her badly,” it said. “It’s something we regret.”

It also issued a public statement clarifying that the 1,200 construction deaths refers to the whole of Qatar. “We are sorry we didn’t make this clear in this morning’s interview with Dame Zaha Hadid,” a spokesperson said. “We are happy to accept there is no evidence of deaths at the main stadium site.”

Much of the online reaction to the interview came out in favour of Hadid.




April 2023

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