Although digital production now defines the architectural output of Zaha Hadid’s firm, 2D forms of representation are always the inception of her ideas. In 1988, due to her innovative, radical 2D paintings, she was invited to participate in the Deconstructivist Architecture Exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, where she, along with several other inventive artists and architects, presented ground-breaking works. The Deconstructivist exhibit was so successful that it progressed to a complete movement, which was defined as an “architectural style influenced by deconstruction that encourages radical freedom of form and the open manifestation of complexity in a building rather than strict attention to functional concerns or conventional design elements.” It was considered a movement rooted paradoxically in the concept of “instability,” and progressed to define some of Zaha’s future design decisions.
Zaha Hadid is known equally as an artistic master as well as an architectural master, dedicated to blurring the distinction between the two disciplines. When the competition for the MAXXI emerged (Museum of the Twenty-First Century), her initial approach took the form of 2D paintings that harkened back to her early days of Deconstructivist art.
Between the end of the 1900s and the turn of the 21st century, the architectural realm of Rome was being heavily altered. There were many new buildings being constructed that were pioneering a new era of modernity within a tremendously ancient city: Renzo Piano’s Parco Della Musica, Richard Meier’s Museum of the Ara Pacis and Dives in Misericordia, and Fuksas’ Nuvola. When the competition for the design of the MAXXI was released, the modern face of Rome was emerging and creating a new realm of possibilities for the advancement of Roman architecture.
Using the generative lines of the city, Zaha created a very elemental sketch that has become the famous concept of her wildly successful building- the energy lines. The energy lines were extruded from the morphology of the urban fabric, and a direct result of the surrounding context. The site itself sits near the origin of two axes that connect Piazza Del Popollo and Ponte Sisto in one direction, and the stadium and Via Guido Renio in the other. Therefore, the MAXXI was conceived of as a gravitational hub of the surrounding urban frame, and the form determined by the urban fabric and urban permeability. The energy lines were almost exactly extruded to generate the eventual mass of the building, creating major and minor streams across the site. The major streams were the galleries, and the minor streams were the connections and bridges that provided the more functional components of circulation. These streams are the walls that flow, converge, and dissect, thus generating a pattern of interior and exterior spaces. The site itself was a complex L-shape that meandered between existing buildings, which was used to the design’s advantage; “…taking it as an opportunity to explore the possibilities of linear structure by bundling, twisting, and building mass in some areas and reducing it in others- creating an urban cultural center where a dense texture of interior and exterior spaces have been intertwined and superimposed over one another.”
The form, which generated a plethora of rich spaces throughout the continuous tubes that wind around the site, entirely defies any notion of typology or any notion of what a museum should represent. Zaha believed that a museum should be “art containing art,” rather than a “quiet” museum that recedes behind the presence of the art. While the design received immediate praise and won the competition, the challenge emerged of the actual construction of such a complex form.
The MAXXI was constructed as a bearing wall system in auto-compacting concrete to allow the linear volumes to fly through the air with the same energy and movement as in the initial design concept. Highly extensive formwork was constructed, which consisted of Swedish plywood panels and coated in Italian linen oils to provide the smoothest concrete possible. To allow natural light to penetrate the structure, as well as to enforce the notion of the energy lines, glazed roofing with GFRC (glass fiber reinforced concrete) support beams were installed. There exists a unique juxtaposition of a very basic pallet versus the complex form, which allows people to project ideas and individual experiences on the interior; as Zaha said in one interview on this design dichotomy, “I want people who occupy my spaces to interpret my spaces.”