Curious Design: Drifting through the Contemporary Arts Center

Zaha Hadid is on a roll. Just when I think she's reached her peak, she wows me with another amazing building.

Rome, Italy has recently been graced with Hadid's talents as the new Contemporary Arts Center, or Museo MAXXI, opened in the capital city, and it promises to continue the modernization of the Roman architectural scene. The structure, made up of an overlapping entanglement of curving "drifts," is one that is greatly concerned with its existence in the urban landscape; that is to say, the urban context of the area—which is greatly influenced by a group of army barracks—is highly influential on the placement and design of the structure. Hadid hopes that the Contemporary Arts Centre will continue the texture of the area and become what she calls another layer of "urban skin" on the site. As such, Hadid has constructed the site so that the structure blends with, yet also deviates from the ground so as to appear as an extension of the surface. The effect is a building that intertwines with the urban landscape, melding into the public dimensions of the city, creating lines of curvature that derive their part from the geometry of the already constructed site and draw continuity between past and present.

The structure itself reminds me of water currents, flowing in all directions, effectively moving space while being still. They create a world that is to be explored freely rather than be confined and restricted by specific entry points and location markers. The feeling you get is one of massivity; yet the structure still feels porous, free-flowing and immersive. The design suggest the content it should house; the space is not defined by the objects it will display, but rather the space should inspire pieces and exhibitions that manipulate and intensify object/space relations. The drifts, like the art pieces, should literally carry the spectator through the museum. In her own words, Hadid states "The paths lead away from the "object" and its correlative sanctifying, towards field of multiple associations that are anticipative of the necessity to change."

In her radical design, Hadid hopes that the Contemporary Arts Center will become somewhat of an "institutional catalyst" in that it will inspire architects to move away from the 20th century idea of museums as a "modernist utopia," or the idea that that museums are characterized by a white neutrality that, through its bleakness, enhances the experience between art and audience. Hadid challenges this notion with the understanding that architecture must maintain a critical relationship with contemporary "social and aesthetic categories." That is to say, the architecture is as integral to the relationship between art and audience as the art itself is. And her way of maintaining these relationships is a strict restructuring of the most fundamental part of a building: the walls.

As stated, the signature aspect of the MAXXI is the pliability and passivity of the environment. Typical museum walls, however, are constricting; constructed as privileged dividers that provide order, linear suggestion and related importance to a single structural aspect simply by what is placed on their surface. Here, walls run extensively across the site, inside and out, up and down, cursively and gesturally. Urban space becomes synchronous with gallery space, with pavilions and courtyards being enveloped in the same continuous structure. Walls become floors, or twist to become ceilings; or are completely negated to become large windows. The walls are also movable along the ceiling ribs, allowing for an ever adaptive environment that is inspired by the exhibition it houses. The building and all its parts—art, walls, people—are completely fluid and able to drift, so to speak, in and out of one another.

The MAXXI is just another brilliant creation in the expansive portfolio of Zaha Hadid. To see more of her incredible work, click here and be amazed.


Seth Plattner
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