Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Centre
rises from the landscape in Baku

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Zaha Hadid Architects has completed the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan - a cultural centre with walls that rise seamlessly from the surface of the surrounding plaza (+ slideshow).

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

Comprising a series of overlapping fluid surfaces, the building was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects as the main venue for exhibitions, concerts and other cultural activities in Azerbaijan's capital city.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Photograph by Iwan Baan

Glass-fibre reinforced concrete panels create the undulating wall surfaces, while windows and entrances are slotted into openings between different volumes.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Iwan Baan

"The centre 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," said project architect Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Iwan Baan

The architect cites the ornamental patterns and curving forms of traditional Islamic architecture as a reference for the design.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Photograph by Iwan Baan

"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," he said.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

A concrete structure was combined with a steel space frame to create the elaborate geometries of the structure, but all vertical columns are concealed within the curtain walls.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

The smooth surfaces of the exterior continue through the building's interior, where large column-free spaces accommodate different uses, including a library, a museum and a 1000-seat auditorium.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

Tiered balconies allow views between different floors and spaces, while lighting is slotted into narrow recesses with the walls.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

Zaha Hadid Architects, who also recently completed a library building at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, won a competition to design the Heydar Aliyev Centre in 2007. The firm is also currently working on a mountain museum in Italy and a 215-metre skyscraper for Miami.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

Read on for a description from Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu:


Heydar Aliyev Centre

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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

Zaha Hadid Architects was appointed as design architects of the Heydar Aliyev Centre 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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

Design concept

The design of the Heydar Aliyev Centre 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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Photograph by Iwan Baan

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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Iwan Baan

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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Iwan Baan

Geometry, structure, materiality

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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Iwan Baan

The Heydar Aliyev Centre 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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

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 rationalising the complex geometry, usage, and aesthetics of the project.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

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 rationalise the panels while maintaining continuity throughout the building and landscape. The seams promote a greater understanding of the project's scale. They emphasise 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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

To emphasise the continuous relationship between the building's exterior and interior, the lighting of the Heydar Aliyev Centre has been very carefully considered. The lighting design strategy differentiates the day and night reading of the building.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Iwan Baan

During the day, the building's volume reflects light, constantly altering the centre's appearance according to the time of day and viewing perspective. The use of semi-reflective glass gives tantalising 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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

As with all of our work, the Heydar Aliyev Centre's design evolved from our investigations and research of the site's topography and the centre'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.

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Site plan - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Ground floor plan - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
First floor plan - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Second floor plan - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Third floor plan - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Fourth floor plan - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Fifth floor plan - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Sixth floor plan - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Seventh floor plan - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Eighth floor plan - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Section AA - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Section DD - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Section EE - click for larger image
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Section GG - click for larger image
  • FetaPapa

    Spectacular and verbose. Elaborate with personality nonetheless. Plus, we rarely see her works from the inside.

    I really wonder whether people using these buildings like them after a while. Do they find them practical And how about the maintenance costs?

    • Subhan

      I’m from Azerbaijan, and visited this building. In my country art, especially experimental art and architecture have recently started do develop. We need those kind of things. For now people do not mostly use it, one of the problem is that it’s forbidden to go and spend some time in the grass area.

      • amsam

        To me, this is the real question– stop hating on Hadid and ask whether the Aze government is really letting the people who paid for it use it.

  • Ivan

    What a waste of money.

  • h28

    Horrible, vulgar and boring. Again and again. But she still thinks to be a good architect. Please stop, stop. Please.

    • amsam

      I laugh at the number of times visionless naysayers say things like “stop stop please stop” about other peoples’ work. The reason they’re not stopping is because other people see something to admire in the work and keep commissioning and paying for it. Maybe you need to look more closely.

  • MB

    My god does it look out of place in those surroundings. I wish Hadid would pay as much attention to the site as the building itself.

    • amsam

      Out of place in the surroundings? I should hope so! It’s surrounded by ugly 1970s apartment blocks. Should she have built one of those? Sheesh.

  • Bob

    Nice surroundings :) Love how such projects display clearest symptoms of pseudo-democratic government mentality and mentality of some architecture bureaux.

    I see it like government buying itself a huge fancy Rolex from peoples money. Then showing it off and explaining that everybody benefits because the time is being kept better.

    Though I wish I am wrong and this project is a beginning of a big change, though I very much doubt it.

  • Tatlin

    A lovely big lump of parametric goo. All about the building, nothing about the humans. It’s the worst of modernism :)

  • Berg Lim

    Haters gonna hate. This is a beautiful building.

  • nmg

    “seamlessly”?

  • Mike Magill

    Lovely work as usual from Ms. Hadid. Just a shame that the majority of the populace that lives in a constant state of poverty will not get to enjoy it.

  • Leify-greens

    Amazing style but look at all the wasted space within it, and it does stick out like a sore thumb in that city. Zaha values beauty before function in all her works. If you were to ignore the aesthetics here this building seems more like a skatepark than anything else.

  • alex

    I’ll stick my neck out here and say (superficially at least) it’s her best looking piece of work.

  • izobelo

    So she still doesn’t bother visiting the sites or indeed the countries she builds these beautiful yet vile buildings in…

    • amsam

      “Beautiful yet vile” is my middle name, sir.

  • 1234

    I feel seasick.

  • Jesse Lockhart Krause

    Form is King.

  • Damian

    Thank you, that was an interesting read.

  • Chris MacDonald

    I am not a huge fan of Zaha’s stuff, in general. This however is absolutely stunning.

  • smita

    Beautiful work!