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.
Zaha Hadid Architects were 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.
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 defines 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.
One of the most critical yet challenging elements of the project was the architectural development of the building’s skin. The ambition to achieve a surface so continuous that it appears homogenous, required a broad range of different functions, construction logic 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 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.
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. Ceilings are finished using flexible PVC membranes to achieve a continuous and homogenous surface.
Architect | Zaha Hadid Architects, London, UK
Location | Baku, Azerbaijan
Technical info | Barrisol PVC membrane
Picture credits | Iwan Baan