HEYDAR ALIYEV CENTRE Signature Landmark of 21st Century Baku

Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid left a remarkable legacy of pacesetting design masterpieces around the world when she sadly passed away in 2016 aged just 65.

The first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2004), and also the first female recipient of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Royal Gold Medal, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012 for services to architecture. In reports following her death, The Guardian newspaper described her as the “queen of the curve”, while the New York Times said she “liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity… (her) soaring structures left a mark on skylines and imaginations around the world, and in the process reshaped architecture for the modern age”. Major works created by Hadid include the Beijing Daxing International Airport and Guangzhou Opera House in China, MAXXI Museum in Rome, Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University (US) and London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 London Olympics. In addition to Daxing Airport, Qatar’s Al Wakrah Stadium (built for the 2022 FIFA World Cup) was still under construction when she died.

Then there is the Heydar Aliyev Centre. In 2014, the 57,500 square metre building complex in Baku (Azerbaijan) won the top prize at Design Museum’s Designs of the Year awards ceremony in London. Describing it as one of her most important recent works (together with the London Aquatics Centre), Hadid said, “This was an incredibly ambitious project and for me. It was always my dream to design and build the theoretical project and that was the closest thing to achieving that.” The project was led by Zaha Hadid Architects associate Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu, who, in an interview with the awards’ media partner Dezeen, noted that the building reflected the romance and optimism of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Union constituent republic that gained independence in 1991. “They wanted to have something unique, something which is looking at the future, somehow showing their soft, romantic side but at the same time their optimistic side,” said Bekiroglu. “When you look at Soviet era (architecture in Azerbaijan), it’s more like monumental internalised authoritarian buildings. So we wanted to use this building as an opportunity to soften it up and totally depart from that.” Zaha Hadid was appointed as the design architect of the centre in 2007, after winning the commission in a competition. Designed to play an integral role in the intellectual life of the city, and extending over eight floor levels, the building houses a 1,000-seat auditorium, a conference hall, exhibition gallery spaces and a museum – all set in a public plaza. It is meant to represent a fluid form, with a flowing, curved style that eschews sharp angles and “folds” the landscape’s natural topography. The centre’s shell comprises a steel space frame and glass-fibre-reinforced concrete panels, concealing vertical supports within the walls. “It blurs the rigid line between urban and architecture, inside and outside,flooring ve rsus cladding and volume versus ground,” Bekiroglu told Dezeen. Reflecting the fluidity of traditional Azeri architecture, “They have floral patterns and all this ornamentation (that) runs from the flooring to the walls and to the dome. So we wanted to do that in a contemporary way.”

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