Hadid - MAXXI - Stirling Prize 2010
"This is a mature piece of architecture, the distillation of years of experimentation, only a fraction of which ever got built," remarked the jury in the October 2 prize announcement.
Museum in Context
The architecturally dramatic new museum stands in north central Rome, a few miles northwest of the Colosseum. The wider neighborhood, surrounded on three sides by a meandering bend of the Tiber River, is home to several prominent buildings built for the 1960 Olympic Games, such as Pier Luigi Nervi's Palazzetto dello Sport.
The more recent Parco della Musica complex by Renzo Piano lies just to the east. But the buildings immediately surrounding MAXXI are low-rise structures, mainly army barracks and industrial buildings from the early 1900s that have fallen into disuse.
Just such an industrial building occupied the MAXXI site prior to its selection for the new museum. And that two-story, hip-roofed building still stands — its century-old forms preserved and incorporated into the new museum. MAXXI uses this older structure, and a connected courtyard wall, as a contextually appropriate interface with the street.
From there, the three-story, 21,200-square-meter (228,000-square-foot) museum hugs the interior edges of its L-shaped site, leaving considerable open space to the east and north. This forecourt mediates the building's relationship with adjacent streets, accommodating access from many directions and drawing users toward a common entry point.
Moving past the threshold, the early-20th-century industrial structure is subsumed within boldly curving forms.
Hadid's design for MAXXI incorporates several details that will be familiar to anyone who has studied her earlier works. The building's relatively transparent ground-floor entry area is recessed below deeply projecting second-story forms. The upper elements nearly seem to float in space, except for strategically placed rows of cylindrical steel columns, much like those Hadid used in the Vitra Fire Station (1994).
The culminating external form and internal space at MAXXI is a cantilevered rectangular gallery that rises up from the building mass below, turning sharply to project beyond the second floor, with an effect similar to her Bergisel Ski Jump (2002).
Exposed-concrete walls provide the primary structure of MAXXI. The largest few pairs of these run in parallel to form four top-lit channels that bend and twist in three dimensions. The irregular intersection of these wide channels forms the building's three-story entry and wayfinding space, while their solitary ends enclose four of the five gallery suites.
One of these channels turns dramatically upward, forming the cantilevered gallery whose glass end wall overlooks the courtyard below. Meanwhile, smaller channels wind around and through these major tendrils, serving secondary roles as additional circulation and service spaces.
Inside each curving channel, an armature of evenly spaced steel beams parallels the concrete side walls in three dimensions, supporting a roof of double-pane, low-e coated glass panels. The relatively small steel beams are visually emphasized by much larger glass-fiber-reinforced concrete (GFRC) fins that hang below the beams into the interior space.
The continuous roof skylight and light-colored interior walls of MAXXI combine to produce a consistent daylighting effect throughout. Epoxy-enameled galvanized steel screens hover above the skylights to mitigate heat gain through the roof, while mirrored diffusers and operable aluminum louvers control light levels within the galleries.
MAXXI's irregular walls eschew the conventional role as a neutral backdrop for art. The architects describe the walls as "the versatile engine for the staging of exhibition effects" rather than "the privileged and immutable vertical armature for the display of paintings."
In this, the architects sought to create a structure that embodies the mission of the institution it houses, by seeking to redefine the viewer's understanding of art — and architecture's role in art — in the new century. A set of movable elements provides additional infrastructure for exhibits, allowing suites to be configured and reconfigured to meet the needs of the art on display.
The first Stirling Prize win for Zaha Hadid Architects, MAXXI is the firm's fourth project to be shortlisted for the award. The other three projects were Nordpark Cable Railway in Innsbruck, Austria (shortlisted in 2008); the Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg, Germany (in 2006); and the BMW Central Building in Leipzig, Germany (in 2005).
Hadid's accolades also include the Pritzker Architecture Prize, for which she was the first female laureate, in 2004, and the 2009 Praemium Imperiale architecture award from the Japan Art Association.
"In the past, Zaha Hadid was said to be famous not for the buildings she had built, but for the ones she had not built," wrote the Praemium Imperiale jury, "a reputation brought on by avant-garde concepts and idiosyncratic designs that seemed to stand in the way of her project's actual execution. Recent years, however, have seen a series of completion of major projects."
"[S]he is now perhaps the world's most talked-about architect," the jury ventured.
Hadid directs her London, United Kingdom, practice with Patrik Schumacher.
MAXXI was selected from a cohort of six projects. The 2010 Stirling Prize shortlist also included two other museum projects, both involving historic structures: an addition by Rick Mather Architects to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England; and the restoration and rebuilding of the Neues Museum in Berlin by David Chipperfield Architects with conservation architect Julian Harrap Architects. The other three shortlisted projects were Bateman's Row, a small mixed-use project in London, by Theis and Khan; Christ's College School in Guildford, England, by DSDHA; and an addition to the historic Clapham Manor Primary School in London, by dRMM.
Criteria for the final prize selection included design vision, innovation, and originality; capacity to stimulate, engage, and delight occupants and visitors; accessibility and sustainability; how fit each building is for its purpose; and the level of client satisfaction.
The RIBA awards the Stirling Prize annually, with cosponsor The Architects' Journal. This year the prize was also cosponsored by Benchmark, with associate sponsors Ibstock and NBS. Named after the architect Sir James Stirling (1926-1992), the £20,000 prize honors an exemplary building either built in Britain, or designed by a firm whose principal office is in Britain and built elsewhere in the European Union.
This is the award's 15th year. Past winners include Maggie's Center in London, by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners; Accordia housing development by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Alison Brooks Architects, and Maccreanor Lavington; the Museum of Modern Literature by David Chipperfield Architects; the Scottish Parliament by EMBT/ RMJM; 30 St. Mary Axe by Foster + Partners; the Laban Centre by Herzog and de Meuron; and Gateshead Millennium Bridge by Wilkinson Eyre Architects.
The RIBA Stirling Prize 2009 jury was chaired by Ruth Reed, RIBA president, and also included Ivan Harbour, architect, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners; Edward Jones, architect, Dixon Jones; Professor Lisa Jardine, historian and writer; and Mark Lawson, broadcaster.
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David Owen is the managing production editor of ArchitectureWeek. More by David Owen