Design award for Zaha Hadid exposes architects’ moral dilemma

Written on July 2, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Film

heydar-aliyev-center-baku-z141113-hc3The announcement of Baku’s Heydar Aliyev Centre as the overall winner of this year’s Design Museum Designs of the Year is sure to provoke strong reactions.

The building, completed in 2012, is a wildly impressive and determinedly sculptural structure designed by London-based architect Zaha Hadid. Its fluid, white forms seem to emerge from the landscape of the city centre, the ground plane folding and swelling to become the building itself.

But it is a controversial choice. The cultural centre is dedicated to the father of the president, Ilham Aliyev. Heydar Aliyev was a divisive figure who was once a member of the Soviet politburo and gained such a reputation for corruption that he was expelled from his post as leader of the Azerbaijan SSR by Mikhail Gorbachev before becoming president after the collapse of communism.The current president has followed in his father’s footsteps, with the country now regarded as one of the most corrupt in the world while its authoritarian power structures and allegations of torture and elections widely criticised for their lack of transparency have further damaged its reputation.

As if that wasn’t enough, the city centre site for the cultural centre (and its increasingly grandiose surroundings) has been cleared through mass evictions, forcing citizens out of their homes and towards the outskirts.

The chairman of the awards jury Ekow Eshun, a writer, journalist and broadcaster, said of the building: “It’s beautiful. It’s inspiring. It’s the clear vision of a singular genius and we thought it was a remarkable piece of work.”

A fellow judge, architect Piers Gough, said: “It is as pure and sexy as Marilyn’s blown skirt”, while another judge, designer Kim Colin, did at least allude to some debate between the jury members. She said they “argued heatedly for and against, and then . . . finally agreed unanimously that the project deserves our utmost respect”.

The awards are split into categories, Architecture, Digital (whence last year’s winner, the UK Government’s website, emerged), Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Product and Transport. Hadid’s building won against competition from, among others, the PEEK Portable Eye Examination Kit (an app for diagnosing eye problems in developing countries), a collection by Prada, a chair by Konstantin Grcic and Volkswagen’s XL1 car.

It might seem an unenviable task to merge these wildly differing categories and find an overall winner. How can you compare a poster – Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” for Barack Obama’s election campaign won in 2009 – with a car? It does, on occasion, sound a little meaningless.

Ms Hadid has faced criticism already this year when she dismissed questions about the dire safety record for labourers working on the construction of her designs for the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, where 500 mostly Indian workers have died since 2012. She said architects “have nothing to do with the workers” on site.

In refusing to accept any responsibility for working conditions on site, Hadid has relegated the role of the architect to a kind of lone creative genius, divorced from the social and political conditions in which their architecture is realised.

Continue reading in Financial Times


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