February 10, 2007

Zaha's Performing Arts Center in Abu Dhabi: "Biological Beauty" or "Tourist Trap"

This week’s post is directed towards the recent unveiling of Zaha Hadid’s design for the Cultural Center in Abu Dhabi, which was commissioned by the Soloman R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Tourism Development Investment Company (TDIC). Zaha’s design relates to the surrounding cultural district, which will be populated by four additional institutions including the Contemporary Arts Museum by Frank Gehry Partners, the Classical Art Museum by Jean Nouvel Studios, the Maritime Museum by Tadao Ando, and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum (architect yet to be decided). Two comments (pasted below) to two blog posts from outside sources address issues of the project relating to first, the nature of the process that went into creating the design (and whether “organic architecture” is limited to the language of the signature style that Zaha has developed) and secondly, to the formal attributes of the project and the intent of the design (whether sensationalist or functional). The project is not only relevant to the topic of how the notion of urban space is progressing within the global community, but is also informative as to the role of architects within the socially and politically charged public realm within the Middle East.

Comment to Zaha Hadid in Abu Dhabi: Update from "Deezeen":

I agree that Hadid’s “biological analogy” is effectively applied to bring creative and inspiring solutions to both site and programmatic levels of the project. However, the notion of using “organic/natural” processes does not need to be constrained only to the curvilinear and amorphous formal language seen in Hadid’s work. Yes, the Center’s distinctive expression of form is one way of incorporating ideas relating to biological phenomena into the creation of space, but the processes seen in nature also employ more rectilinear and geometric forms and processes. When it comes down to it, the true test of the architectural process is the quality of the living spaces that manifest as its result. If Hadid only used eye-catching features for a strictly “sensationalistic” intent, than it is likely the spaces will be compromised as a result. However, if in fact the formal language of the project works for the enhancement of the occupied spaces of the building, than it would be unfair to allow the project to be given only to a sensationalist intent.

Comment to Keeping Up with the Jonses from "3 Quarks Daily":

I agree that the TDIC of Abu Dhabi and perhaps the Guggenheim Foundation have commissioned their architects to encourage tourism and to increase their local economy. However, I do not think that this can be seen as a reason to disregard the projects themselves as being of this same materialistic intent. Despite the growing trend of architecture as becoming a commodity used to boost national identity, it is still important to understand what the architecture itself is working to accomplish. Hadid’s Performing Arts Centre, for instance has integrated ideas relating to the circulation of people within the existing master-plan of the cultural center and has absorbed the dominant public corridors, the waterfront and pedestrian pathways. Hadid has used her architecture to embrace this energy and to open people up to ocean views, to views of the Abu Dhabi skyline, and to the rich program of performing arts theatres. Also public spaces have been integrated to the project in order to encouraged pollination between people along fluid pedestrian corridors. The meaning of her work thus goes beyond “destination architecture.”

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