Thursday, July 5, 2012


Photo of the Day: MAXXI Museum, Rome (Zaha Hadid, 2010)
One of the buildings I was most looking forward to seeing on this trip was Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI Museum in Rome.The MAXXI museum was completed in 2010, after our previous class trip to Rome, so I was excited to see something new in Rome. I was also looking forward to comparing this structure to other Zaha Hadid buildings that I have studied, in particular the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, which I had the opportunity to research and visit on the UIUC Baker Fellowship in 2007. I was somewhat critical of the workmanship and construction quality at Phaeno, and I was interested to see if there were similar construction issues in Rome.

MAXXI has a number of common themes related to Zaha Hadid’s work, based on my past experiences:
Drawn-Out Circulation Spaces
The most obvious characteristic is her use of over-dramatic circulation spaces as a means to shape the architectural experience.As in many of her other works the circulation spaces at MAXXII take on a life of their own, and become focal point spaces within the experience.The circulation elements themselves, ramps and stairs, are often much longer or more dramatic than they need to be based on functional requirements, becoming over emphasized movement spaces that are about the experience of movement and light.Personally this is one of my favorite characteristics of Zaha Hadid’s work. Moving through the interior spaces she creates is quite a memorable and dynamic experience.

Overlapping and Intertwining (and Spatial Layering)

The floor plan at MAXXI, as seen in the concept sketch below, is a series of overlapping and intertwining lines. This is not just a 2 dimensional compositional technique, as these intertwining lines in plan are extruded to become intertwined spaces layered in section. The sense of overlapping and intertwined spaces is another common theme in Zaha Hadid’s work. In the MAXXI museum, as you move up and through the spaces, there is this sense of continuously interlocking spaces in section, where the boundary between one gallery and the next is defined by ramps and level changes, but lacks a clear spatial definition in the traditional sense. This blurring or intertwining of spatial boundaries creates a series of dynamic spaces at the MAXXI museum, whose experience is mediated by the dramatic circulations spaces that both define and connect the “individual” galleries.

For me the most interesting detail at the MAXXI museum is the linear skylight and baffles that light the galleries. These linear elements act to both diffuse light as well as create a visual connective ribbon in the overhead plane, which further blurs the spaces together into a continuous ribbon of space as envisioned in the early concept sketch. Maybe I am just a sucker for interesting light modulating details, or maybe it is because this detail reminds me of a warped Renzo piano ceiling - whatever the case may be, these continuous strips of light are fantastic.

Craft and Detail
As I mentioned before, I was disappointed with Zaha Hadid’s Phaeno Science Center in Germany due to its noticeable poor workmanship. I was concerned at the time that perhaps Hadid’s ability to manipulate digital forms had outpaced the ability to have these forms be well built and finely crafted. For me, the importance of craft and detail cannot be overlooked even for the best of formal innovation, after all, architecture in my opinion is both a built art as well as a discipline of building science. The MAXXI museum, however, did not seem to have noticeable issues with craft and detail as I experienced in Germany. Is this because of a better skilled workforce, improved material decisions, formal constraint, or a more mature Hadid? I am not sure, but I suspect that it is a combination of all of these things.
One lingering question I have is related to the roll of innovation in Design. I generally believe that one important aspect of good design is innovation. As designers, we are always pushing boundaries, trying to invent places and spaces that have not yet existed. When we visited this building, several of my students remarked that the spaces almost gave them vertigo, making them feel physically a bit uncomfortable. I was asked if this was intention. Personally, I don’t think so. I think the spaces were intended to be dynamic and innovative. But the question remains, is there a danger in pushing too far towards being innovative? Can the desire to seek “new”and “innovative” unintentionally result in the creation of uncomfortable spaces? I didn’t necessarily feel this way about the spaces at MAXXI. I found the museum to be spatially dynamic and stimulating. But the question is still a good one, and a potential reminder not to be blinded as a designer simply by the new and innovative. I think it is important not to forget big picture, that design is about creating memorable and meaningful places, and perception varies depending on the individual.


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