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One looks like a futuristic bicycle helmet, stretched across its Tokyo site in an aerodynamic sweep. The other has been said to resemble a vagina, rising out of the Qatari desert in a great vulvic bulge.
Both are in fact sinuous sporting stadiums by the London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who is facing calls for her exuberant designs to be scaled back.
This week Japanese sports officials finally bowed to growing criticism that Hadid’s scheme for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium was too big and too expensive, saying they would shrink the design by a quarter.
The 80,000-seat venue, planned for the site of the current 48,000-seat national stadium, built in 1958, is described by Hadid as “light and cohesive”, its structure forming a dynamic bridge that “creates an exciting new journey for visitors”.
But the design has been met with fury by Japanese architects, who have complained that it is grossly insensitive to its context, looming 70 metres above the area of low-rise buildings and parks in the west of the city, close to the Meiji shrine, where a 15-metre height limit is in force.
The Zaha Hadid gallery contains a metropolis in miniature, a streetplan of fantastical scale models preserved under perspex. Hadid’s PR walks me down the aisles and points out the landmarks. Over here is the imposing MAXXI museum in Rome and over there the BMW plant in Leipzig, where translucent conveyor belts ferry the cars between the factory floors. Away in the corner, the gallery floorspace is occupied by what appears to be a white, frozen avalanche of futurist geometry. This, I am told, is the design for a building in Saudi Arabia.
I stare at the avalanche with mounting alarm. I’m looking for the windows, I’m looking for the door. Try as I might, I can’t see it as a building. “No, of course,” the PR says. “It’s a concept.”
Increasingly, it seems, Zaha Hadid’s concepts are becoming constructions. At the age of 62, she has blossomed into one of the world’s most celebrated and sought-after architects, with a staff of 350, a Pritzker prize on the shelf and around 40 buildings already dotting the globe. Her practice is putting the finishing touches to Japan’s national stadium, the principal venue for the 2020 Olympics. Her undulating Serpentine Sackler gallery, nestled in the heart of Hyde Park, opens for business this week. For fans of her work, Hadid is a bloody-minded genius, the woman who broke the mould, upturned the applecart and found fluid solutions to rectangular problems. For her detractors, however, she’s something else again: a showboating “starchitect” who trades in hubristic, convoluted fantasies. Many of her concepts, it’s claimed, would have been better off as drafts.
Beijing’s street names can be deceptive. Visitors to No 7A Small Arch hutong, just inside the city’s second ring road, might get a little more than they bargained for. Long gone is the stone gateway that once marked the entrance to this network of narrow streets. Now, it’s been replaced by a sinuous white arc, jacked 60m into the air, that loops and twists, connecting a cluster of vast egg-shaped buildings in an improbable acrobatic leap.
This alien arrival is Galaxy Soho, a 370,000 sq m complex of shops, offices and restaurants by Zaha Hadid Architects, recently bestowed with a top award by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The judges heaped praise on its flowing bands of white aluminium and glass that “give the development an almost geological solidity and presence”. They hailed it as “a welcome democratisation” of the architect’s work, asserting that the public space that weaves between the complex “demonstrates a rare generosity in a country determined to outdo the west in terms of commercialisation”.
But others in Beijing beg to differ. The city’s chief preservation watchdog has written an excoriating open letter to the RIBA accusing the project of “destroying” the city’s built heritage, claiming that it has “violated a number of heritage preservation laws and regulations”.
Frank Gehry completed his first Manhattan skyscraper, 8 Spruce Street, and it proved to be a powerful and robust affair – swirling and muscular. Meanwhile, Mattel Toys launched Architect Barbie, an incarnation of the doll that wears those black-framed glasses so beloved of practitioners, as well as a dress embroidered with a city skyline. She has a pink case for drawings and a model of a pink Dream House to show clients. Is this what inspired Justin Bieber to announce that he would like to have been an architect?
It was very much Zaha Hadid’s year. She won the Stirling prize for the Evelyn Grace Academy school in Brixton, London; attended the opening of her opera house in Guangzhou, China, with its grotto-like auditorium; and completed the Riverside Museum, Glasgow’s charismatic new transport museum on the banks of the Clyde.
I walk up the ramp of the new Guangzhou Opera House, and suddenly it seems like Chinese New Year. The brand new skyscrapers that surround it, each named after some global finance corporation, burst into neon life, flickering and flashing in a way that makes Las Vegas seem like a mere twinkle. By contrast, the opera house seems almost serene – remarkable given that it’s the latest design by Zaha Hadid, an architect celebrated for buildings that shoot across the urban landscape like bolts of lightning. Yet, while the pulsating lights disguise what are regular office towers, once inside, Hadid’s opera house reveals itself in all its complexity, at once highly theatrical and insistently subtle.
Set in Haixinsha Square, a brand new stretch of south China’s ever-expanding trading city, the opera house takes the form of what appear to be two enormous pebbles that might have been washed up on the shores of the Pearl river, on which Guangzhou stands. Rough-shaped things sheathed in triangles of granite and glass protrusions, one houses the main auditorium while the smaller encloses a multipurpose performance space. There’s no question, though, that the opera house is best experienced at night. As darkness falls and the foyers fill up with people, the building magically comes to life.
The interior of Maxxi, the new contemporary art museum designed by Zaha Hadid, looking up from the lobby. (Photo: Roland Halbe)
What would Pope Urban VIII have made of Maxxi, the new museum of contemporary art designed by Zaha Hadid on the outskirts of this city’s historic quarter? My guess is that he would have been ecstatic.
This 17th-century pope, one of the most prominent cultural patrons in Roman history, understood that great cities are not frozen in time. He loved dreaming up lavish new projects over breakfast with his artistic soul mate, the Baroque sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. When Bernini needed bronze for the baldachin in St. Peter’s, the pope simply ordered it torn out of the Pantheon. Neither was afraid to make his mark on the city.
Since then the architectural scene here has become a lot duller. True, Mussolini commissioned some impressive civic works, most notably for the fascist EUR district. But for most of the last half-century Romans have been content to gaze languidly toward the past. The handful of ambitious new cultural buildings that have appeared, like Renzo Piano’s marvelous Parco della Musica, tend toward the dignified and respectable.
Maxxi, which opens to the public on Saturday for a two-day “architectural preview,” jolts this city back to the present like a thunderclap. Its sensual lines seem to draw the energy of the city right up into its belly, making everything around it look timid. The galleries (which will remain empty of art until the spring, when the museum is scheduled to hold its first exhibition) would probably have sent a shiver of joy up the old pope’s spine. Even Bernini, I suspect, would have appreciated their curves.
New York Times
(Photo from Edward Lifson’s “Hello Beautiful!” blog)
As my fellow archi-blogger Edward Lifson reported Monday, the tent fabric is finally going into place over the aluminum skeleton of Zaha Hadid’s much-delayed Burnham Plan Centennial pavilion in Millennium Park (below). But I’m hearing that the pavilion, which was supposed to be done five weeks ago, is likely to open a few days after its Aug. 1 target.
Emily Harris, the executive director of the Burnham Plan Centennial Committee, writes in an email: “While it still looks like the construction will wrap up on August 1, that is a Saturday, and we are concerned about weekend crowds as well as the cost of taking down the tent on the weekend. So I’m thinking early the next week – 4th or 5th to be safe.”
That’s not a final decision, she adds.
Jean-Guihen Queyras plays one of Bach’s cello suites at a specially designed space at the Manchester Art Gallery (Duncan Elliott)
A rewarding experiment in creating an ideal space to hear some of Bach’s most intimate music — the solo suites for piano, for cello and for violin — is taking place here at the Manchester International Festival. Zaha Hadid Architects was commissioned by the festival to take a top-floor exhibition room at the Manchester Art Gallery and turn what is basically a big black box into an acoustically and visually perfect place for performances of the Bach works.
When the festival opened on July 3 (before I arrived), the Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski played three programs offering three solo keyboard suites. On Saturday night, for the second installment in this series, I heard the elegant French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras play four of Bach’s six solo cello suites in this specially conceived environment.
Working with Sandy Brown Associates, an acoustical company, the team from Zaha Hadid has temporarily created a space within a space. Like an enormous, puffy ribbon, a long span of translucent off-white fabric with an inner metal skeleton twirls down from the ceiling in expanding circles, until it nearly surrounds the low platform stage and the seating area for some 200 listeners. The fabric, which undulates against the metal frame, both absorbs and deflects the sound. Clear acrylic acoustical panels, blended seamlessly into the overall design, hover over the stage area to further diffuse the sound.
Sitting in the enclosure was like hearing music from inside a supersize conical seashell. Between the gaps in the ribbon you could see the black gallery walls, so the effect was to create a sort of safe listening enclave within a much larger room.
In a program note Zaha Hadid, founding partner of the firm that bears her name, writes that she and her associates tried to articulate the “rhythmic and harmonic range” that Bach achieved “within the mathematical framework” of his music by exploring “a coherent integration of formal and structural logic.” I will have to take her word on this. All I know is that the space was a delight to be in and that the music sounded up-close and exceptionally vibrant.
New York Times
The al-Haram mosque can hold 900,000 people (Getty Images)
Two of Britain’s most-renowned architects are in the running for the single most audacious renovation in history: the redevelopment of Mecca.
Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid are among 18 architects to have been approached about redesigning Islam’s holiest city by building a mosque complex to host the three million Haj pilgrims who visit every year. The development would more than triple the central al-Haram mosque’s current 900,000 capacity, making it the highest-occupancy building in the world.
The plans are thought to be backed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. The remit is to “establish a new architectural vision” for Mecca’s 356,800sq m mosques complex. The King is to be presented with the proposals by Hadid, 58, and Foster, 73, with those of the other designers at an exhibition at the end of the month.
Sources close to the project told The Architect’s Journal the scheme is likely to be phased, the first stage taking the al-Haram mosque capacity to 1.5 million. That would rise gradually until three million was reached. Neither Foster nor Hadid wanted to comment on the project last night. Hadid’s spokesman said he “could neither confirm nor deny” speculation, while Foster’s office said: “It has been leaked and not from us so I’m unable to comment.”
Other sources describe the project as divided into two “tracks”, one looking at various alternatives for the northern expansion of the al-Haram complex, and the other at the al-Haram itself. Lord Foster’s firm, Foster & Partners, has been invited to partake in the former with 10 other firms including, reportedly, Atkins Design.
Zaha Hadid, with six other world-renowned firms, has been given the task of re-envisioning the al-Haram mosque itself, as well as “revisiting the whole area of the central district”. British engineers Adams Kara Taylor and Faber Maunsell are also thought to be under consideration.