Zaha Hadid Architects’ Azerbaijani cultural centre

Nick Myall
Friday 23 Oct 2015

American white oak helps to achieve seamless spatial flow in Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan

As part of the former Soviet Union, the urbanism and architecture of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on the Western coast of the Caspian Sea, was heavily influenced by the planning of that era. Since its  independence  in  1991,  Azerbaijan  has  invested  heavily  in  modernising  and  developing  Baku’s infrastructure and architecture, departing from its legacy of normative Soviet Modernism. 

Zaha   Hadid   Architects   was   appointed   as   design   architects   of   the   Heydar   Aliyev   Center   following a competition in 2007.  The  centre,  designed  to  become  the  primary  building  for  the  nation’s  cultural  programs,   breaks   from   the   rigid   and   often  monumental   Soviet   architecture   that   is   so   prevalent   in  Baku,  aspiring  instead  to  express  the  sensibilities  of  Azeri  culture  and  the  optimism  of  a  nation  that  looks  to  the  future.  

The   design   of   Heydar   Aliyev   Center   establishes   a   continuous,   fluid   relationship   between   its surrounding plaza and the building’s interior.  The  plaza,  as  the  ground  surface;  accessible  to  all  as  part  of   Baku’s   urban   fabric,   rises   to   envelop   an   equally   public   interior   space   and   define   a   sequence   of  event  spaces  dedicated  to  the  collective  celebration  of  contemporary  and  traditional  Azeri  culture.    

Elaborate  forms,  including undulations,  bifurcations,  folds and  inflections modify  this  plaza  surface into an  architectural  landscape  that performs a  multitude  of  functions: welcoming, embracing, and  directing visitors through different levels of the interior. In this way, the building blurs the  conventional  differentiation  between  architectural  object  and  urban  landscape,  building  envelope and urban plaza, figure and ground, interior and exterior. 

The Heydar Aliyev Center is a national symbol for Azerbaijan, a catalyst for regeneration and, in the broadest sense, a regional showpiece. Constructing Zaha Hadid Architects’ audacious design for the Center  drew  on  expertise  from  Turkey,  the  United  Arab  Emirates  and  the  Commonwealth  of 

Independent States, as well as further afield. This explains the feel good factor and can do mentality, which made it possible. It was a labour of love and one that clearly paid off, given that it was named Design of the Year 2014 by the London Design Museum a first for an architectural project. 

It  is  in  the  design  of  the  auditorium  that  Zaha Hadid  Architects’  approach  can be  seen  at  its  most formalistic,  and  its  swirling  free form  geometry  in  American  white  oak  was  one  of  the  practice’s principal  challenges  to  the  project  team.  For specialist Ankara-based contractor, Ikoor,  who were responsible for the construction of the auditorium, free-form meant anything but a free-for-all. The architects expected the outcome of their design exploration to be replicated to the letter, providing little scope for rationalisation and no possibility of “design creep.”  The forms of the auditorium, appearing to metamorphose in algorithmic sequence from one bay to the next, could not be reduced to repetitive modules. 

“As  with  all  of  our  work, the Heydar Aliyev Center’s  design  evolved  from  our  investigations  and research  of  the  site’s topography  and  the Center’s  role  within  its  broader  cultural  landscape.  By employing these articulate relationships, the design is embedded within this context;  unfolding the future cultural possibilities for the nation,” concludes Zaha Hadid Architects. 

Nick Myall

News Editor


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