Skin no bones

i'm amazed by this woman's work.  So much of it is hard to believe existing as built form, which i suppose qualifies for the amazing word, and for those of us who dwell in coping details and checking specifications for pathetic structures we secretly hope will be soon razed for the goodness of eyeballs everywhere, this is all a breath of air.  That isn't to say i like her work, though, it's just to say i think much of it is amazing.  She makes amazing things..

Unlike Frank Gehry, of whose work i've visited many projects, i've not visited a Hadid project and so, i suppose, should withhold judgement.  But fuck that this is the internet and i've got stuff to say.  i think i mentioned Gehry because he is another on whom everyone has an opinion, mostly negative it seems, though i think his work is brilliant.  Hadid also draws fire, as you know, which comes with the territory if you're going to throw wild shapes out there and have the PR skills/charisma to convince people to build your wild hell darts and land fish.  Being probably the most successful woman architect in the history of the profession might also have something to do with it.

It used to be that you learned about a Hadid project through a painting she would present of her project, and i always thought that was how she thought about her work, and the inspiration for the built form that might come from it, though in those days her paintings were rarely built.  Those days seem long gone now, what with a huge office and lots of little rendering gnomes to do her bidding.  It's odd though that her renderings don't appear to have any of the qualities of her old paintings.

Hafenstrasse Office and Residences
Edifici Torre Espiral
i'm not sure it matters that she doesn't paint anymore, if indeed that is the case, because her buildings are as much built paintings as ever there has been.  The painting above you probably assume to be seeing as if it were on a wall, or a monitor, not on the floor.  You don't imagine standing over this, do you?  Paintings on canvas always have a frame beneath that allows them to be displayed on a wall without flopping down like a hanky not properly left nostril stuffed, though we don't talk about these frames in the art world; they are a given and quite apart from the aspect of painting that we're interested in.  Great painters didn't have to be great stretcher makers.

Note: The Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center has just been named Design of the Year by the Design Museum in London.

The Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) is located in the city of Baku, Azerbaijan, and was built as a center to celebrate the country's cultural heritage through the performing arts and exhibitions.  The city of Baku began as a Persian fortress 700 years prior to the arrival of Islam to defend the northern border of the empire from Mongol attack. The city was much fought over through its history, and after a hundred years of conflict with Russia, the city was finally ceded to Russia in the early 19th century and has been an oil producing center ever since.

ZHA has made much of the Soviet architecture that dominates much of the city, and says that the form of the center was a response to the orthogonal, severe qualities of that legacy.

© Iwan Baan
© Hufton + Crow
There are any number of reasons the architect could use to justify making such a shaped building; Baku has fierce winds that blow off the sea and is one of the lowest cities in the world (elevation below sea level).  It almost looks like a shell one might find on the beach.  The fluidity of the form was justified by Hadid as maintaining an Islamic architectural tradition of covering surfaces in geometric pattern whether floor, wall, or ceiling, and claimed too that the march of columns into "infinite space" was inspiration.  It doesn't really matter what the reason was; she would have done the same thing in Des Moines.  The claim about the continuity and fluidity of space in Persian/Islamic architecture, though, doesn't hold up.  In this climate and in these lands, there has always been a clear definition between inside and outside, just as there has been between life and death, the inside/outside being as much social and civic as spacial.  That she has erased this definition and claimed it to be in their tradition is disingenuous and more likely grounded in an architects ego. That isn't to say that this building is completely divorced from the traditions of the region; on the contrary there is much to look at, and Hadid's Iraqi background should be considered, at least to a degree.

When you look at the pictures of this complex, you can't help but be struck by the scale (scalelessness) of the creature, and in a secret giggle i'm wondering about the ZHA critique of Soviet era housing blocks being big and scaleless.

© Iwan Baan
In the picture above, you can see the use of GFRC (glass fiber reinforced concrete) forming both floor and wall and roof, none of which are defined by traditional edges and blur, as land does to sky in the dry lands outside the city.

People are the incidental occupiers of this creature.  The shape, the organization, the scale all do their own thing, regardless of the people creatures that enter to see others wiggle and prance.  It's all amazing and otherworldly and as an architect, completely admire the ability of this firm to have it's shapes built, for better or worse.

© Hufton + Crow
© Iwan Baan
© Hufton + Crow

The role of gravity is interesting.  Does it exist or doesn't it?  The whole complex is in a state of denial about the need to be supported, yet, as is custom for her projects, complex and very sophisticated structural work was done, but as is also customary in her work, remains invisible and subject to belief in magic.

© Hufton + Crow

The use of panelized GFRC to create the surface has an interesting corollary with the use of tile to do the same in Islamic architecture, where the edges surrender emphasis to the infiniteness and nobility of mathematical pattern, under the guise of truth and holiness.  In Hadid's work, however, there is no reference to an ultimate structure or truth; hers is a profane, secular one that asks only that you believe, and as is clear from her work, that belief is in a Rhino or similar beast.

Tile in Isfahan
© Hufton + Crow
Tile in Baku.
©Hufton + Crow
As you might imagine from the image below, the approach is one that seems to remove the city and urban life from the approach experience and substitutes a juxtaposition of blue sky and white monument:
The approach
©Hufton + Crow
Water falling from the sky.
© Iwan Baan
This building is an amazing thing, appearing to effortlessly defy much of what architects struggle with day to day, things like structure, scale, detail, railings, flashing, ADA ramps, HVAC, fire protection, on and on.  So much so, that i'm not so sure how much of a building it is, appearing foreign to occupation with no apparent doors or entrance, windows only as voids of the effortless folds, and sitting as if dropped softly onto the earth.  

In the end, she has built a painting, in a curious inverse of her earlier career when she proposed paintings and built buildings (occasionally), now proposing buildings and building paintings.  The rule of soft surface without any evidence of structure, the scalelessness and lack of reference to any human activity, and the appropriation of effortless form leads one to believe that she has opened a new chapter in architecture with her unique painterly vision; as to whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen; a lot of her work appears contrived and form for form's sake, but it's fun to look at.  

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