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Heydar Aliyev Center - Zaha Hadid Architects


Project Specifications:

Location:

Baku, Azerbaijan

Studio:

Zaha Hadid Architects

Design:

Zaha Hadid, Patrik Schumacher

Year:

2013

Area:

101801 m²

Category:

Cultural Center

Manufacturers:

Mikodam, Atelier Vierkant, Coswick Parket, Ikizler, Lindner, Penetron, Soprema, Zumtobel, Brimat

Photographs:

Iwan Baan, Hufton+Crow, and Helene Binet

 


The design of the building creates a seamless, fluid connection between the interior and the surrounding plaza. Its white, curving form features intricate details such as undulations, bifurcations, folds, and inflections, transforming the plaza into an architectural landscape. The building contains an auditorium, exhibition spaces, and various public areas. In this architectural composition, the surface can be thought of as music, with the seams between the panels representing the rhythm.



Located on the western coast of the Caspian Sea, the capital city of Azerbaijan, Baku, was heavily influenced by Soviet Union planning and architecture during that time. Since gaining independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has focused on modernizing and developing Baku's infrastructure and architecture, moving away from the traditional Soviet Modernism style. Zaha Hadid Architects was selected as the design architect for the Heydar Aliyev Center following a competition in 2007. The Center, which was intended to serve as the primary building for the nation's cultural programs, breaks away from the rigid and often monumental Soviet architecture commonly found in Baku, instead striving to reflect the values of Azeri culture and the optimism of a nation looking towards the future.



 

Design Philosophy.


The design of the 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 formations such as 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. With this gesture, the building blurs the conventional differentiation between architectural object and urban landscape, building envelope and urban plaza, figure and ground, interior and exterior.


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. Responding to the topographic sheer drop that formerly split the site in two, the project introduces a precisely terraced landscape that establishes alternative connections and routes between public plaza, building, and underground parking. This solution avoids additional excavation and landfill, and successfully converts an initial disadvantage of the site into a key design feature.


 

Material & Façade.


One of the most critical yet challenging elements of the project was the architectural development of the building’s skin. Our ambition to achieve a surface so continuous that it appears homogenous, required a broad range of different functions, construction logics and technical systems had to be brought together and integrated into the building’s envelope. Advanced computing allowed for the continuous control and communication of these complexities among the numerous project participants.



The Heydar Aliyev Center principally consists of two collaborating systems: a concrete structure combined with a space frame system. In order to achieve large-scale column-free spaces that allow the visitor to experience the fluidity of the interior, vertical structural elements are absorbed by the envelope and curtain wall system. The particular surface geometry fosters unconventional structural solutions, such as the introduction of curved ‘boot columns’ to achieve the inverse peel of the surface from the ground to the West of the building, and the ‘dovetail’ tapering of the cantilever beams that support the building envelope to the East of the site.



The space frame system enabled the construction of a free-form structure and saved significant time throughout the construction process, while the substructure was developed to incorporate a flexible relationship between the rigid grid of the space frame and the free-formed exterior cladding seams. These seams were derived from a process of rationalizing the complex geometry, usage, and aesthetics of the project. Glass Fibre Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) and Glass Fibre Reinforced Polyester (GFRP) were chosen as ideal cladding materials, as they allow for the powerful plasticity of the building’s design while responding to very different functional demands related to a variety of situations: plaza, transitional zones and envelope.



In this architectural composition, if the surface is the music, then the seams between the panels are the rhythm. Numerous studies were carried out on the surface geometry to rationalize the panels while maintaining continuity throughout the building and landscape. The seams promote a greater understanding of the project’s scale. They emphasize the continual transformation and implied motion of its fluid geometry, offering a pragmatic solution to practical construction issues such as manufacturing, handling, transportation and assembly; and answering technical concerns such as accommodating movement due to deflection, external loads, temperature change, seismic activity and wind loading.



To emphasize the continuous relationship between the building’s exterior and interior, the lighting of the Heydar Aliyev Center has been very carefully considered. The lighting design strategy differentiates the day and night reading of the building. During the day, the building’s volume reflects light, constantly altering the Center’s appearance according to the time of day and viewing perspective. The use of semi-reflective glass gives tantalizing glimpses within, arousing curiosity without revealing the fluid trajectory of spaces inside. At night, this character is gradually transformed by means of lighting that washes from the interior onto the exterior surfaces, unfolding the formal composition to reveal its content and maintaining the fluidity between interior and exterior.


 

The construction.



The building is principally comprised of two systems which work together: a concrete structure combined with a spatial structure system. With the intention of creating large-scale, free spaces of columns which allow the visitor to experiment with the fluidity of the interior, vertical structural elements are absorbed by the walls and curtain wall system. The specific geometry of the surfaces encourages unconventional structural solutions, such as the introduction of curved “starter columns” to achieve the inverse shell of the surface from the floor to the West of the building, and the “duck tail” resulting from the narrowing of the cantilevered beams which support the skin of the building on the East side.


Site Plan - Copyright Zaha Hadid Architects

The spatial framework system allows the construction a free-form structure and was also designed to save time throughout the construction process, while the substructure was developed to incorporate a flexible relationship between the rigid grid-work of the spatial structure and the seams of the free-form exterior cladding. These seams are obtained through a process of rationalisation of the geometric complex, the use and the aesthetics of the project. Fibreglass reinforced with concrete or polyester were chosen as the ideal cladding materials, as they allow for the powerful plasticity of the building’s design, while responding to a diverse range of related functional requirements: the Plaza, transition zones and the building’s wrapping.

Sectio A-A' - Copyright Zaha Hadid Architects

The building, whose smooth, distorted grid-work of polyester-reinforced fiberglass panels do not have visible connections, appears less “as built” and more “as landed”.

In the construction, they used 121,000m³ of reinforced concrete, 194,000 formworks, and 19,000 tonnes of steel molds. To create the shape of the external skin, 5,500 tonnes of structural steel were required, creating the base for a surface of 40,000m² formed of panels of fiberglass reinforced with polyester or concrete. There were a total of around 17,000 individual panels with various geometries.


To emphasise the continuous relationship between the exterior and interior of the building, the illumination of the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre was carefully considered. During the day, the building reflects the light, constantly altering its appearance according to the time and perspective. The use of semi-reflective windows allows the interior to be perceived without revealing the trajectory of the spaces. By night, the building is gradually transformed by the illumination which flows from the interior, which develops the formal composition to reveal its contents and maintain the fluidity between the interior and exterior.







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