English Text by Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu, Project Designer and Architect, Zaha Hadid
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 anddeveloping 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 Center, designedto become the primary building for the nation’s cultural programs, breaks from the rigid and often monumental Soviet architecture that is soprevalent 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 the HeydarAliyevCenter 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 contemporaryand 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.
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.