“Building” is really a word too simple to describe the extraordinary 57,519 m² structure which emerges as if having grown out of the gently undulating landscape. Its three spaces -- the conference centre with its 1000-seat auditorium and multipurpose hall, library and museum -- and its glass-fronted openings are all wrapped in a single continuous and gently curving white surface.

Gentle arcs and tension-filled curves dominate the centre, which has been designed by Zaha Hadid Architects to connect its three distinctive cultural spaces while at the same time providing each with its own identity and privacy. The main entrance is located within the void created by the outer skin’s being “stretched” between the museum and the library tower.

In addition to conveying the aspirations of the only recently independent Azeri people, the Heydar Aliyev Centre’s softly curving exterior needs also to protect the cavernous interior from often severe weather (the name “Baku” is believed to come from the Old Persian for “wind-pounded”). The centre must also be able to withstand the possibility of frequent seismic loading, given the city’s susceptibility to earthquakes.

The physical realisation of such an edifice, without recourse to visually intrusive structural supports, is far from straightforward. And so a system was chosen that uses a futuristic space frame as its main structural element, together with curtain wall cladding comprising various, specially fabricated panels.

The external cladding, necessarily monolithic in appearance, includes panels cast from dirt-repellent, glass fibre-reinforced plastic (useful given the high level of air pollution resulting from Baku’s many oil refineries). Others are cast or poured - depending on their complexity of shape - from layers of glass-fibre-reinforced concrete and polymer.

A total of 15,000 uniquely curved panels, up to a maximum side of 1.5m wide and 7m long, will be screwed to fittings on the metal substructure of the building. Yet no special fastening system has been specified, only standard bolts and screws and standard drilled anchors systems for the concrete.

The building’s structural envelope includes more than 30,000 square meters of construction elements from ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe. Cut on site into 3m-long pieces and mounted on a lattice-like steep support structure, the Hoesch trapezoidal profiles have a profile depth of 100 millimetres. The galvanised steel is coated with polyester coloured RAL 9002 grey-white. The profiles are distinguished, asserts ThyssenKrupp, by their “consistent coating thickness and hardness, long life and a high degree of weathering resistance”.

They are not visible in the finished structure, as they form part of the weather-proofing trays that sit beneath the visible concrete and polymer external cladding. These trays are fixed to stools provided by the space frame nodes.

The centre’s inner finish is shaped to fit to its curved metal sub-structure, with internal panels made from cold-bent, two-layer, fibre-reinforced mineral boards. The floors, made from resin panels, “fall to each other”, with ramps connecting them in a continuous path of circulation. 

In a recent catalogue for an exhibition of her work in Vienna, Zaha Hadid asserted of her work, that “the most important thing is motion, the flux of things, a non-Euclidean geometry...”; few structures fulfill this requirement as well as Baku’s new Heydar Aliyev Centre.

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