Rising sinuously on a small hill on the outskirts of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, on the western shore of the Caspian Sea is the Heydar Aliyev Centre designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. This remarkable building stands out and stops you in your tracks. Opened in 2013 the Heydar Aliyev Centre aspires “to express the sensibilities of Azeri culture and the optimism of a country that looks to the future.”
The Centre consists of double curved topological surfaces forming gigantic and complex asymmetrical shells that sit on the top of a hill where a series of landscaped terraces leading up to the Heydar Aliyev Centre itself.
The plaza outside the building is an ideal location for the installation and display of contemporary, three-dimensional art. The complex was designed to be the hub for the culture of Azerbaijan. The exterior’s fluidity continues in the interior design in its use of space that houses a museum, auditorium and convention centre.
The building’s exterior covers an area of almost 40,000 square metres and is clad in glass fibre reinforced concrete and glass fibre reinforced polyester. The recent application of topology in architecture has led to a radical transformation in the way space is conceived and built. The techniques and materials used for construction allow this transformation of space to be realised. Topological architecture today rests on a set of new ideas of space.
The exterior is bought inside and the interior outside by the materials used that enhance the transformational fluidity of the Heydar Aliyev Centre’s design. The nature of ‘fluidity’ is a key element that is expressed throughout Islamic art and design from architecture to carpets and even calligraphy.
Iraqi born Zaha Hadid grew up in Baghdad and completed her education in the UK and Switzerland. She studied mathematics at the American University in Beirut before moving to London and trained at the Architectural Association. She was the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize and her name makes a regular appearance in lists of visionary thinkers with outstanding global influence. Zaha Hadid was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012 for her services to architecture and is a Commandeur de l’ordre des arts et des lettres from France.
As well as recently picking up the Architecture Award from London’s Design Museum the Heydar Aliyev Centre also won Design of the Year 2014. Now in its seventh year, Designs of the Year gathers together a year of cutting-edge innovation and original talent showcasing the very best in global Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphic, Product and Transport design.
Opened to the public in March this year Zara Hadid Architect’s London Aquatic Centre has won the Royal Institute of Architecture Award and earlier this month the 2014 Civic, Culture and Sport category at the New London Awards that recognise the very best in architecture, planning and development in the capital.
The range of architectural styles encountered in Baku today reveal much about the city’s past. The UNESCO World Heritage listed Old City is surrounded by substantial remnants of 12th century walls and dominated by the even earlier Maiden Tower. Skirting this historic centre are grand buildings and luxurious homes built in the 19th and early 20th century. These are testimony to the riches and European influence an oil boom bought to the country. Seventy years of Soviet occupation of Azerbaijan from 1920 to 1991, however, witnessed a change in architectural style and urban planning to Soviet modernism. The urban landscape of the city has been rapidly changing since independence in 1991.You can glimpse recently constructed buildings and the urban transformation of Baku in the following footage including footage of the constuction of the Heydar Aliyev Centre.
You can enjoy some additional views of the interior and exterior of the structure in this video by the BBC.
Learn more about Baku urban planning projects, the historic centre of the city and the cultural centre construction in the following video.
Photography by Helen Nicholson.