Deconstructing cities

Besides towers, ZHA’s projects include Beijing Daxing International Airport. (Photos Courtesy of Hong Kong Design Institute)

If Zaha Hadid’s paintings of The Peak had come to life, Hong Kong would boast a leisure club and architectural landmark featuring horizontal beams with a large void carved out between a geological intervention in the hills of Kowloon.

Though never built, the breakthrough project from the early 1980s earned Hadid first prize in a competition and international recognition.

“Zaha Hadid started her career by injecting a new level of dynamism into architecture. Her vision has been explosive, fluid and boundless, forcefully questioning the need for urban fortifications in her drive to establish a continuous, active ground-plane,” said Patrik Schumacher, who took the helm of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) after she passed away in March 2016.

Hadid became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. She based her career on an investigative spirit, which is embodied in ZHA’s groundbreaking works around the world.

Until April 3, the “Zaha Hadid Architects: Vertical Urbanism” exhibition explores its design strategies in creating vibrant and sustainable community-oriented spaces within dense urban conditions, opening up a new dialogue around 21st century urbanism.

Presented by the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI) and Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Lee Wai Lee), the exhibition physically held at the affiliated HKDI Gallery is also accessible online for netizens to take a virtual tour.

Principal of Zaha Hadid Architects Patrik Schumacher. (Photo courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects)

A concept model of The Peak project is the third exhibit on the routing map.

“The horizontal was always the primary expansive dimension of a new dynamism. The Peak — metamorphically flipping Hong Kong towers to generate a horizontal cluster of beams — was the paradigmatic project of this first wave of work,” Schumacher noted in an essay for the exhibition. “The big public void, carved out or captured and framed between the composition of horizontal beams, was a crucial intuition in the oeuvre of Zaha Hadid from the very beginning of her career.”

The Iraqi-born Hadid moved to London in 1972 and studied at the Architectural Association School, where she later taught until 1987. She also held numerous chairs and guest professorships at universities around the world including Harvard, Yale and the University of Applied Arts in Vienna.

The visionary architect is particularly associated with the deconstructivism movement and its seemingly fragmented, messy and explosive structure. Hadid founded her eponymous studio in 1979 and completed her first building, the Vitra Fire Station, in Germany in 1993.

ZHA is known for breathtaking spatial compositions, with its portfolio including more than 70 award-winning projects while spanning from culture and corporate headquarters to mix-used and masterplanning.

Concept model of The Peak project in Hong Kong.

The Vertical Urbanism exhibition showcases ZHA’s projects through a variety of documentation tools — from technical drawings and diagrams, computer-generated visualisations, and architectural models, to video projections and virtual reality experiences.

The exhibition is thematically structured around the studio’s tower designs around the world and regional seminal projects as well as research by ZHA CoDe — its computational design research group.

ZHA CoDe collaborates with the world’s leading scientific institutions to develop innovations in robotics, artificial intelligence and digital fabrication. Highlighted exhibits include Thallus, an experimental structure investigating form and pattern generated by advanced manufacturing and computational methods.

ZHA towers are designed to deliver vertical urban architecture with experiential and communicative value.

“The skyscraper seems locked in the Fordist paradigm of isolated segments and serial repetition. The tower typology is the last bastion of this bygone era and has so far largely resisted the injection of any significant measure of spatial complexity,” said Schumacher. “The time is ripe to challenge the standard tower typology and demand that it too participates in the general societal restructuring from Fordism to Post-Fordism.”

Thallus with form and pattern generated by advanced manufacturing and computational methods.

Schumacher outlines five critical components of 21st century tower design: Density, Atria + Bridges, Façade, Ground Interface and Sustainability.

Highlighted projects include Leeza SOHO tower, which anchors the Fengtai business district, a financial and transport hub between the city and Beijing Daxing International Airport, also designed by ZHA.

“The Leeza SOHO tower offers collaborative office space for hundreds of small and medium enterprises gathered around the world’s tallest atrium,” said Schumacher. “The mega-void cuts right through the tower in a continuous spiralling move that opens the tower to its urban context. It is important that the mega-atrium is not a hermetic space but visually connects with the surrounding urban fabric.”

Other models on display include One Thousand Museum, a 62-storey residential tower opposite Museum Park in Miami; the Generali Tower within the CityLife master plan in Milan; and Tower C at Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters Base.

Model of Tower C at Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters Base.

The exhibition also presents two award-winning projects that encapsulate ZHA’s vision: the Morpheus Hotel at City of Dreams in Macau, as well as The Henderson tower in Central, Hong Kong.

The world’s first free-form high-rise exo-skeleton, the Morpheus Hotel features two internal vertical circulation cores connected at podium and roof levels to define its central atrium.

The design of The Henderson reinterprets the structural forms and layering of a Bauhinia bud about to blossom. Sheltering new civic plazas enveloped by nature, it connects with the adjacent public gardens and parks that flow into the generous communal spaces of the interior.

Four decades after Hong Kong missed out the realisation of The Peak project, the Pearl of the Orient will have The Henderson as a new architectural icon when the construction is completed probably next year.

Exhibit of the Morpheus Hotel, the world’s first free-form high-rise exo-skeleton.

Model of One Thousand Museum in Miami.

Zaha Hadid. (Photo: Steve Double)