Zaha Hadid Architects’ latest artistic scheme, the mammoth Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, may have completed months ago, but images of the snaking cultural complex taken by three of the top architectural photographers in the world have only just been released. These awe-inspiring photographs by Iwan Baan, Helene Binet and Hufton + Crow demonstrate the raw beauty and power in Hadid’s scheme in Azerbaijan, a characteristically white development built for the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.
The cultural centre bears the name of the former President of Azerbaijan (1993-2003) and is run by a foundation established in his memory, ‘actively participating in building a new society and contributing to the social and economic development of the country’ through fields such as education, culture, sports and science.
Located in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, the Heydar Aliyev Center sits on a challenging site involving a topographical sheer drop which formerly split the site into two distinct portions. Zaha Hadid Architects responded to this challenge by embracing the topography and stitching it into the landscape design, creating alternative routes between a public plaza, the main bulk of the building and underground parking facilities.
The practice has developed one of the most recognisable styles in contemporary architecture and while questions have arisen in the past as to the team’s respect for a project’s context, Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu, Project Designer and Architect of the Heydar Aliyev Center, explains that in this is certainly not the case in Baku.
He details: “Fluidity in architecture is not new to this region. In historical Islamic architecture, rows, grids, or sequences of columns flow to infinity like trees in a forest, establishing non-hierarchical space. Continuous calligraphic and ornamental patterns flow from carpets to walls, walls to ceilings, ceilings to domes, establishing seamless relationships and blurring distinctions between architectural elements and the ground they inhabit.
“Our intention was to relate to that historical understanding of architecture, not through the use of mimicry or a limiting adherence to the iconography of the past, but rather by developing a firmly contemporary interpretation, reflecting a more nuanced understanding.”
The resulting building is an impressive 102,000 sq m volume encased in 3,150 fibreglass reinforced concrete panels and 13,000 unique fibreglass reinforced polyester panels. Bekiroglu explains that it is the seams where these façade panels meet that reaffirm the continuous fluidity of the building’s silhouette and that these particular materials were selected for their fluid qualities, making them the perfect choice for the envelope, plaza and transitional zones.
To create the sinuous curves that clients have come to expect from Zaha Hadid Architects, the practice combined a concrete structure with a space frame system. The resulting building thus benefits from expansive column-free interior volumes with a fluid series of spaces culminating in a 1,000-seat auditorium.