I read with great sadness about the unexpected death last year of the formidable architect, Dame Zaha Hadid. It’s as if I’ve only just begun to appreciate her style and enjoy her unmistakable design and now she’s gone. Her’s was a unique and innovative architectural talent – and I for one will miss her. I’ve visited two of her buildings and will no doubt seek out her other oeuvre on my travels.
Weil am Rhein, Germany: My first recollection of her work was on a trip to Basel and the Vitra Complex, just a few miles across the Swiss border into Germany in Weil am Rhein. This was her first physically built construction – a fire station built in 1993 – which showed the early flourishes that would come to the fore in her later buildings.
Angles jarred, perspective was disjointed, senses were alerted – this was all intentional as this building was a fire station and its occupants had to be kept alert.
The Vitra Complex, based on Switzerland’s border with Germany at Weil am Rhein and easily accessible from Basel via a 15 minute bus ride (identification is required as you are crossing borders – take euros for the bus fare) – features a range of different architectural styles which give it a rich and unique vitality and distinctiveness. Buildings include designs by Tadao Ando, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, Frank Gehry, Nicholas Grimshaw, Alvaro Siza and of course, Zaha Hadid. Stay in Basel – a city famed for its architecture and visit Vitra by direct bus route for their own architectural tour.
Heyar Aliyev Cultural Centre, Baku, Azerbaijan: When hired by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts to help launch their property in Baku, I had the opportunity to visit Hadid’s spectacular building, the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre.
Flowing like an unstoppable line to infinity, pleated into folds, glass panels distorting the reflections of classic neighbours, this centre has to be the pinnacle of Hadid’s unique design style.
Situated in the middle of the city, starkly located in a vast landscaped square, the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre is a building that defies logical understanding.
There are almost no straight lines, a sinuous sphinx like structure, unlike anything I had ever seen before – the interiors are cocoon-like and the pure white tiles frame incredible cityscapes from every side.
I’ve taken a few images – I wish now that I’d take more – but none really capture the essence of this incredible structure. It’s a definite must-see on any visit to Baku. I stayed at the flame-shaped Fairmont Baku (itself a remarkable building designed by HOK International) and they can expedite and arrange visas for visiting the city often called “the Paris of the East”. The hotel is situated in one of the three towers and is lit up at night with a memorizing flame installation.
So farewell Zaha – but thanks indeed for the intelligent and life-affirming buildings you left behind.
For transparency, my trips to Vitra and Fairmont Baku were sponsored by Basel Tourism and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts respectively. Views are my own.
Photographer and contributor: Sue Lowry