Breaking Barriers Essay Contest Winners 2012 Brit

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Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.
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Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American

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How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
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It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
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Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
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Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
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What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
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The Nature of Time
August - December 2008
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As thousands flock to Rio next month to watch the Olympic swimming competitions, a star of London's 2012 games might be missed: iconic architect Zaha Hadid. The mastermind behind the London Aquatics Centre, Hadid died of a heart attack in March at age 65.

The Aquatics Centre, with its curved roof and 628 panes of glass, was designed to echo the landscape along the nearby Waterworks River. Its expanse of three pools features such up-to-date details as movable floors, underwater-camera windows and a six-platform diving board. In 2014, it opened to the public. "It's ... probably the most successful building that's been built in years as a cultural establishment," said British architect Richard Rogers in the magazine Dezeen.

Soon after the Aquatic Centre's completion in 2012, Hadid added the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire to her considerable list of awards and commendations, which included being the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, often referred to as "Architecture's Nobel," in 2004.

Hadid's works are known for curves and drama, for inspiring unexpected feelings and asking visitors to reconsider the light and space around them. "She suspended weight in the same way dramatists suspend disbelief," wrote critic Joseph Giovanni in the Pritzker Prize award essay.

While her originality and daring were the source of her genius, it was her ability to engage and inspire her teams that enabled her to carry it out.

"Her office ... is a culture of collaboration," engineer Stephen DeSimone, CEO of DeSimone Consulting Engineers, told IBD. DeSimone is engineering two of Hadid's remaining projects: One Thousand Museum Tower in Miami and 520 West 28th Street, in New York City. "I like to think of  'old school' and 'new school' architects. 'Old school' architects hand you a drawing and say, 'You figure it out.' In offices like Zaha's ... they show you a design and say, 'How can you help us?' "

Early Years

Hadid was born in Baghdad in 1950 to Muhammad al-Hajj Husayn Hadid, an industrialist who helped found Iraq's National Democratic Party, and Wajiha al-Sabunji, an artist. Young Zaha had two older brothers in a home that encouraged excellence and creativity.

She discovered architecture at age 6 while visiting an aunt building a house in Mosul. Seeing the plans and models "triggered something," she told Britain's Guardian newspaper. At age 11, on a trip to London, Hadid decided on her future profession. But first, she would attend boarding schools in England and Switzerland and study mathematics at the American University of Beirut.

In 1972, Hadid enrolled in London's Architectural Association. Without the drafting skills of her peers, Hadid initially struggled. Then she transferred to Dutch architect and theorist Rem Koolhaas' studio, where imagination trumped technique. While encouraging her boldness, Koolhaas insisted that she learn to draw, and Hadid spent hours each day mastering her technique.

For her final project at the London AA, she designed a 14-level hotel, called Malevich's Tectonik, to sit on the Hungerford Bridge on London's Thames River. Influenced by Russian suprematist art, it experimented with layered and scattered building components. The project earned her a job at Koolhaas' Office of Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Hadid worked at the OMA for three years, ascending to partner, and then opened Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) in London in 1980.

On Her Own

Lucrative commissions would not arrive for years. Hadid's geometric experiments were a hard sell in London's traditional marketplace. Instead, she built her reputation and skills by entering numerous competitions and teaching.

In 1983, Hadid won a competition to design The Peak Leisure Club in Hong Kong. In her winning proposal, The Peak, situated in the hillside, would be built from sections of excavated rock, with rooms seeming to float on cliffs. Hadid was finally poised to become more than a "paper architect" (the term given to architects whose designs are too impractical for the real world) when The Peak's developer went bankrupt, canceling the project.

Finally, in 1993, Hadid realized her first "built" work: the Vitra Fire Station on the grounds of the Vitra furniture manufacturer in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Its triangle roof and polygon walls jut into the sky, making what ZHA describes as "an 'alert structure,' ready to explode into action at any moment."

The Queen of The Curve Meets Controversy

In the 1990s, the arrival of computer software that could better translate Hadid's drawings into models allowed her to experiment with more circular forms. These became prominent in her work, eventually earning her the title "Queen of the Curve" from Britain's Observer newspaper.

In 1994, Hadid triumphed over 267 international firms to win the commission for Wales' Cardiff Bay Opera House. The sculptural avant-garde structure drew raves from the press, but politicians claimed that locals didn't want an elitist institution to take funding from a nearby rugby stadium. Hadid was asked to re-enter her designs in another round, alongside more traditional competitors. She won handily, but funding was ultimately pulled.

The project's demise stung Hadid particularly hard since it was tinged with discrimination. MP Rhodri Morgan publicly dismissed her design as "identical to the shrine in Mecca," and she recalled being ridiculed at cocktail party by a woman who joked that it had to be canceled since "we don't want a fatwa."


Hadid didn't let the loss shake her confidence. In 1997, she began work on Cincinnati's Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, making her the first woman to design a major American museum. The museum opened in 2003 and featured surprise atria and an "urban carpet," a swath of concrete designed to blur the line between the busy street and the museum's interior. Writing in the New York Times, critic Herbert Muschamp called it "the most important American building to be completed since the end of the Cold War."

With only a decade of built works behind her, Hadid was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2004, the industry's highest honor.

The shining moment was dimmed, however, by a press that devoted much ink to Hadid's appearance and to opinions on her personal life. "It was shocking, the way she was treated," Despina Stratigakos, author of "Where Are the Women Architects?" told IBD. "One reporter focused on her being single, ending the piece with saying the price of her success was to have 'galloping influenza as her only companion' ... Another said she had spent too much time on her appearance."

Regardless of the personal attacks, the attention brought Hadid a slew of high-profile commissions. The next several years saw the realization of The BMW Central Building in Leipzig, Germany; Rome's MAXXI, a contemporary art museum; the Evelyn Grace Academy in London; and China's Guangzhou Opera House, for which Hadid reworked her thwarted Cardiff plans. In 2010, she was awarded Britain's top architecture honor, the Stirling Prize, for the MAXXI, and again in 2011, for the Evelyn Grace Academy.

In 2012, Hadid realized a long-held goal to create in Baghdad, finalizing a commitment to design the new Central Bank of Iraq.

'They Deserve To Go On ...'

Hadid was visiting Miami in March when she contracted bronchitis and died suddenly after experiencing a heart attack while in the hospital. At the time of her death, she had designed over 900 projects and collaborated with numerous brands on product designs, including a Donna Karan perfume bottle and shoes with Adidas and Lacoste. Hadid also held numerous teaching posts, with stints at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Yale School of Architecture.

While Hadid never married or had children, she was known to treat her staff like family, with the fierce loyalty and high expectations that implies. In April, the firm's board announced that it will continue operations as Zaha Hadid Architects under the leadership of Patrik Schumacher, who joined the firm in 1988. "ZHA has such a great depth of talent. They deserve to go on," said DeSimone.

ZHA expects to finish four large projects this year: Italy's Salerno Maritime Terminal; the Port House in Antwerp, Belgium; King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and the mathematics gallery at London's Science Museum.

Time will tell how Hadid's vision will manifest in the work of those she mentored, but they feel they have her blessing. "Zaha trusted everyone to achieve the potential she saw in them," wrote the firm in its remarks on her passing, "to never stop questioning, to never stop imagining, to realize the fantastic."

Hadid's Keys

Bold vision combined and resilience made her the first woman to win architecture's top honor, the Pritzker Prize.

Overcame: Prejudices as an Arabic woman in profession dominated by Western men.

Lesson: Find like-minded peers and mentors to weather storms and see your vision through.

Quote: "I don't want to be seen as an outsider necessarily, but it means I can carry on with experimentation and innovation. Having to fight hard has made me a better architect."


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