Friday, January 22, 2010

Designer of the Month: Zaha Hadid

Week 3: The Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, in Cincinnati (2003) and the BMW Plant Central Building, in Leipzig (2005).

Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, 2003. © Photography by Roland Halbe. Courtesy of the Design Museum of London.

After the Vitra fire station (1993), Zaha Hadid won a competition for the Cardiff Bay Opera House (1994), which would prove to be her most notorious unbuilt project.[1] While Hadid's design was chosen as the winner, the project was shut down due to opposition from local lobbyists, who were "wary of highbrow architecture being 'imposed' on a Welsh city by London," with Hadid's plans proving to be too daring for the city.[2] It was a sobering experience and one that Hadid has talked about learning from; the experience got her one step closer to figuring out how to get her designs built.[3] And get them built is exactly what she did. The commissions were small projects at first, but that changed in 2003, when Hadid built the Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art (RCCA), in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art Cincinnati, 2003 © Photography by Helene Binet. Courtesy of the Design Museum of London.

The RCCA in Cincinnati proved to the world once and for all that Hadid's architecture was not only buildable, but that her designs could be utilized on a large scale. As the Design Museum of London explains about the space:

The galleries are housed in horizontal oblong tubes floating above ground level, between which ribbon-like ramps zig and zag skywards. “It’s like an extension of the city, the urban landscape.” Literally so. It is designed like “an urban carpet”, one end of which lies across the sidewalk at the busiest intersection in Cincinnati to yank in unsuspecting passers-by. Inside, the carpet rolls through the entrance, up the back wall, marked with light bands directing you like airport landing strips to the walkways, up which you can clamber like a child on a climbing frame, bouncing from artwork to artwork, shoved about by an architect who piles space high into a tower of tightly controlled vignettes, throwing your eye from the most intimate of spaces, to trompes l’oeils and out of the building through carefully positioned windows. “It’s about promenading,” says Hadid, “being able to pause, to look out, look above, look sideways.” Her impressionistic new space was realised. The New York Times described it, without overstatement, as “the most important new building in America since the Cold War.”[4]

Quite a weighty proclamation about the state of modern architecture, but one that helps to show the impact that this new and unusual-looking building had on the public's imagination.

BMW Plant Central Building, Leipzig, Germany, 2005. © Photography by Roland Halbe. Courtesy of The New York Times.

In 2004, Hadid became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, going on to build two of her designs in Germany in 2005: the Phaeno Science Center, in Wolfsburg, and the BMW Plant Central Building, in Leipzig.[5] The BMW Plant, in particular, was an important building for Hadid. With a design on an even larger scale than the RCCA, this building is an excellent example of Hadid's architectural aesthetic. As Gary Indiana discusses in a 2006 interview with Hadid:

Her approach is a fusion of utopianism and practicality. A strong example is the BMW building: “We decided to plug the office building into the assembly line,” she says. “The conveyor belt that takes the cars from one production facility to another goes through the building. Everyone flows through the front entrance—the workers, CEOs, everybody.”[6]

Hadid, in her discussions about the structure, compares it to an organism - since this building is the nerve-center or brain of the factory complex, her design plays on this idea with a dynamic, flowing visual - it appears not only alive, but as if the entire factory is animated by a force field emanating from the Central Building.[7] Definitely a departure from your traditional, modern factory. As Nicolai Ouroussoff at The New York Times describes it, with "a vast, boomerang-shaped industrial shed with rows of cars streaming by in midair on curving tracks, it is less a model of efficiency than a finely oiled machine for voyeuristic pleasure."[8] He goes on to explain:

Yet beyond the obvious marketing value, the Leipzig assembly plant is a sophisticated attempt at social engineering. By creating a fluid work environment in which management, engineers, autoworkers and cars seem intertwined, Ms. Hadid is seeking to break down the hierarchies that have defined the traditional factory. In this world, information flows freely and man and machine live in blissful harmony. And while the sight of glistening black and silver coupes gliding through the air may seem a sci-fi horror to some, it is sure to enchant car fanatics.[9]

With the BMW Central Plant, Hadid once again created a structure that not only met, but exceeded anyone's expectations of what a factory could and should look like.

BMW Plant Central Building, Leipzig, Germany, 2005. © Photography by Roland Halbe. Courtesy of The New York Times.

While these two buildings, and these past few weeks worth of discussion about Hadid, have shown the trajectory that her career has taken - she began as an architect whose designs were deemed unbuildable and has ended up as a worldwide sensation - it has also shown Hadid's unmistakable aesthetic. Next week, we're going to look at Hadid's latest project, MAXXI, the National Museum of the XXI Century Arts, in Rome.

[1] Design Museum online, "Zaha Hadid: Architect (1950-)," (accessed January 18, 2010).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] John Seabrook, "The Abstractionist: Zaha Hadid's unfettered invention," The New Yorker, December 21 & 28, 2009, 114.

[6] Gary Indiana, "A Conversation With Architect Zaha Hadid," New York Magazine, (accessed January 18, 2010).

[7] Zaha Hadid Architects, "BMW Plant Leipzig - Central Building," (accessed January 19, 2010).

[8] Nicolai Ouroussoff, "At BMW, the Auto Assembly Line Meets High Design," The New York Times, (accessed January 21, 2010).

[9] Ibid.

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