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  1. ArchDaily
  2. Projects
  3. Cultural Center
  4. Azerbaijan
  5. Zaha Hadid Architects
  6. 2013
  7. Heydar Aliyev Center / Zaha Hadid Architects

Heydar Aliyev Center / Zaha Hadid Architects

  • 01:00 - 14 November, 2013
Heydar Aliyev Center / Zaha Hadid Architects
Heydar Aliyev Center / Zaha Hadid Architects, ©  Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

©  Iwan Baan ©  Iwan Baan © Hufton+Crow © Hélène Binet +52

  • Project Team

    Sara Sheikh Akbari, Shiqi Li, Phil Soo Kim, Marc Boles, Yelda Gin, Liat Muller, Deniz Manisali, Lillie Liu, Jose Lemos, Simone Fuchs, Jose Ramon Tramoyeres, Yu Du, Tahmina Parvin, Erhan Patat, Fadi Mansour, Jaime Bartolome, Josef Glas, Michael Grau, Deepti Zachariah, Ceyhun Baskin, Daniel Widrig, Murat Mutlu and special thanks to Charles Walker
  • Main Contractor and Architect of Record

    DiA Holding
  • Consultants

    Tuncel Engineering, AKT (Structure), GMD Project (Mechanical), HB Engineering (Electrical), Werner Sobek (Façade), Etik Fire Consultancy (Fire), Mezzo Stüdyo (Acoustic), Enar Engineering (Geotechnical), Sigal (Infrastructure), MBLD (Lighting), Subcontractors and manufacturers MERO (Steel Space Frame System) + Bilim Makina (Installation of Space Frame System), Doka (Formwork), Arabian Profile (External Cladding Panels / GRC & GRP), Lindner (Internal Skin Cladding), Sanset İkoor (Auditorium Wooden Cladding), Quinette (Auditorium Seats), Zumtobel (Lighting Fixtures), Baswa (Special Acoustic Ceilings) + Astas (Installation of Ceilings), Solarlux (Multipurpose Hall Façade Door), Bolidt (Polyurethane Floor Finish), Kone Elevators + Ikma (Installation of Elevators) MM Mühendisler Mermer (Marble Cladding Works) HRN Dizayn (Landscape LED Installation) Thyssen Group (Escalator) Remak Makina (Fire Doors and Concrete-Cladded Doors) Tema (Gypsum Panel Works) MIM Mühendislik (Structural Steel) Elekon Enerji Sistemleri (Main Building Lighting Control System), NIS Epoksi Kaplama Sistemleri (Epoxy Works) Light Projects Group (Lighting Fixtures), Limit Insaat (External Skin Insulations and Structure)
  • More SpecsLess Specs
©  Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

From the architect. As part of the former Soviet Union, the urbanism and architecture of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on the Western coast of the Caspian Sea, was heavily influenced by the planning of that era. Since its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has invested heavily in modernising and developing Baku’s infrastructure and architecture, departing from its legacy of normative Soviet Modernism.

© Hufton+Crow
© Hufton+Crow

Zaha Hadid Architects was appointed as design architects of the Heydar Aliyev Center following a competition in 2007. The Center, designed to become the primary building for the nation’s cultural programs, breaks from the rigid and often monumental Soviet architecture that is so prevalent in Baku, aspiring instead to express the sensibilities of Azeri culture and the optimism of a nation that looks to the future.

© Hufton+Crow
© Hufton+Crow

Design concept

The design of the Heydar Aliyev Center establishes a continuous, fluid relationship between its surrounding plaza and the building’s interior. The plaza, as the ground surface; accessible to all as part of Baku’s urban fabric, rises to envelop an equally public interior space and define a sequence of event spaces dedicated to the collective celebration of contemporary and traditional Azeri culture. Elaborate formations such as undulations, bifurcations, folds, and inflections modify this plaza surface into an architectural landscape that performs a multitude of functions: welcoming, embracing, and directing visitors through different levels of the interior. With this gesture, the building blurs the conventional differentiation between architectural object and urban landscape, building envelope and urban plaza, figure and ground, interior and exterior.

© Hélène Binet
© Hélène Binet

Fluidity in architecture is not new to this region. In historical Islamic architecture, rows, grids, or sequences of columns flow to infinity like trees in a forest, establishing non-hierarchical space. Continuous calligraphic and ornamental patterns flow from carpets to walls, walls to ceilings, ceilings to domes, establishing seamless relationships and blurring distinctions between architectural elements and the ground they inhabit. Our intention was to relate to that historical understanding of architecture, not through the use of mimicry or a limiting adherence to the iconography of the past, but rather by developing a firmly contemporary interpretation, reflecting a more nuanced understanding. Responding to the topographic sheer drop that formerly split the site in two, the project introduces a precisely terraced landscape that establishes alternative connections and routes between public plaza, building, and underground parking. This solution avoids additional excavation and landfill, and successfully converts an initial disadvantage of the site into a key design feature.

© Hufton+Crow
© Hufton+Crow

Geometry, structure, materiality

One of the most critical yet challenging elements of the project was the architectural development of the building’s skin. Our ambition to achieve a surface so continuous that it appears homogenous, required a broad range of different functions, construction logics and technical systems had to be brought together and integrated into the building’s envelope. Advanced computing allowed for the continuous control and communication of these complexities among the numerous project participants.

© Hélène Binet
© Hélène Binet

The Heydar Aliyev Center principally consists of two collaborating systems: a concrete structure combined with a space frame system. In order to achieve large-scale column-free spaces that allow the visitor to experience the fluidity of the interior, vertical structural elements are absorbed by the envelope and curtain wall system. The particular surface geometry fosters unconventional structural solutions, such as the introduction of curved ‘boot columns’ to achieve the inverse peel of the surface from the ground to the West of the building, and the ‘dovetail’ tapering of the cantilever beams that support the building envelope to the East of the site.

© Hufton+Crow
© Hufton+Crow

The space frame system enabled the construction of a free-form structure and saved significant time throughout the construction process, while the substructure was developed to incorporate a flexible relationship between the rigid grid of the space frame and the free-formed exterior cladding seams. These seams were derived from a process of rationalizing the complex geometry, usage, and aesthetics of the project. Glass Fibre Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) and Glass Fibre Reinforced Polyester (GFRP) were chosen as ideal cladding materials, as they allow for the powerful plasticity of the building’s design while responding to very different functional demands related to a variety of situations: plaza, transitional zones and envelope. 

©  Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

In this architectural composition, if the surface is the music, then the seams between the panels are the rhythm. Numerous studies were carried out on the surface geometry to rationalize the panels while maintaining continuity throughout the building and landscape. The seams promote a greater understanding of the project’s scale. They emphasize the continual transformation and implied motion of its fluid geometry, offering a pragmatic solution to practical construction issues such as manufacturing, handling, transportation and assembly; and answering technical concerns such as accommodating movement due to deflection, external loads, temperature change, seismic activity and wind loading.

© Hélène Binet
© Hélène Binet

To emphasize the continuous relationship between the building’s exterior and interior, the lighting of the Heydar Aliyev Center has been very carefully considered. The lighting design strategy differentiates the day and night reading of the building. During the day, the building’s volume reflects light, constantly altering the Center’s appearance according to the time of day and viewing perspective. The use of semi-reflective glass gives tantalizing glimpses within, arousing curiosity without revealing the fluid trajectory of spaces inside. At night, this character is gradually transformed by means of lighting that washes from the interior onto the exterior surfaces, unfolding the formal composition to reveal its content and maintaining the fluidity between interior and exterior.

Section A-A
Section A-A

As with all of our work, the Heydar Aliyev Center’s design evolved from our investigations and research of the site’s topography and the Center’s role within its broader cultural landscape. By employing these articulate relationships, the design is embedded within this context; unfolding the future cultural possibilities for the nation. 

© Hufton+Crow
© Hufton+Crow
Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address. Cite: "Heydar Aliyev Center / Zaha Hadid Architects" 14 Nov 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <>
Read comments


Ahmadovich · November 05, 2016

This is magical <3

lz · May 11, 2016

hauntingly beautiful

Sapiverbum · April 11, 2016
Dennis M. Standley · April 06, 2016

Shocking....this is really one of the best architects

Shi Xuemei · September 15, 2015

Amazing!After visting Guangzhou Opera,this one makes me feel better about her.

Mr Konstantine · August 27, 2015

One of her best works...

Areeg Kiwan · March 24, 2015

stunning piece of is amazing .. i like the front elevation but i am in a bad need of more details about the heights & the planes ..

Степан Батькович · March 13, 2015

3ds max too much

Boguslaw Witkowski · March 10, 2015

And now Zaha, how to transform and humanize the ugly surroundings?

einas k · July 02, 2014


Hamid · July 01, 2014

Zaha Hadid again ... How long must endure the monotony of form and disenchantment web shed space?

Pierre · November 21, 2013

In this very rare moment, I can almost say that Zaha is elegant...

Mike Bond · November 18, 2013

With no doubt she made a huge sack of cash on this.

Anderson Schneider · November 16, 2013

Oscar Niemeyer reloaded... For better, for worse.

mike kane · November 15, 2013

The people look so irrelevant and lost in those vast spaces - maybe just to prove its not a rendering and its so 'oh my god!' big? and the final quote -'unfolding the future cultural possibilities for the nation' Azerbaijan - not particularly well known for its democratic transparency and human rights.
How ever will they keep the super-white super-clean. Not easy in a city surrounded by abandoned oil wells.

Emin · April 01, 2016 05:49 PM

!!!! dont true!!!!

Ignacio Arciniegas · November 15, 2013

Stunning.. liked or not Zaha, you must recognize the amazing work... That building is already an Icon. Impressive!!

gonzalo · November 15, 2013

Ostentatious to its full potential…not a fan at all, but i agree with Jack above.

Rhodgers · November 15, 2013

Have to say, usually I am wholly against Zaha's figurative preferences... but this is just a stunning piece of work. Agree, amazing.

Jack Booton · November 15, 2013

Say whatever stereotypical jabs you have against Zaha Hadid Architects; this building is a landmark of expressive form and tectonic construction. What a space it must be. Amazing.

valod · November 15, 2013

dear god


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©  Iwan Baan

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