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Zaha design award sparks backlash

The Design Museum’s decision to hand the Design of the Year Award to a building named after a former KGB boss came in for widespread criticism

Zaha Hadid Architects’ Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, became the first architectural project to have ever won the award since it was launched by the Design Museum in 2008.

Architect and CZWG co-founder Piers Gough, the only member of the jury to have visited the scheme, called it an ‘intoxicatingly beautiful building by the most brilliant architect at the height of her office’s powers’, adding that it is ‘as pure and sexy as Marilyn’s blown skirt’.

But the move sparked protests from human rights groups given that the 57,519m² building is named in honour of a former Soviet secret police general who went on to rule Azerbaijan for 30 years and whose son, Ilham Aliyev, is now in power.

Rebecca Vincent, advocacy director of Art for Democracy – an Azerbaijani human rights group – led criticism in the Independent that the prize was unhelpful.

‘Any international group with an interest in Azerbaijan should be raising these issues stronger and clearer,’ she said.

Hugh Williamson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and central Asia division, told the paper that the country’s former president Aliyev ‘was an authoritarian leader and his son is now’.

He said: ‘There are widespread human rights abuses going on now in Azerbaijan […] that is the context in which such a prize is given. It is the context in which an architectural company is working there.’

The organisation also said that the building was constructed after local people living on the site were evicted by force.

But the judges – who have not commented on the human rights row – described the design building as a ‘pinnacle moment’ in the work of Hadid’s practice.

A Design Museum spokeswoman said: ‘There always has and probably always will be a huge amount of debate around the ethical implications of large scale architectural projects. Designs of the Year always provokes a strong reaction, and the conversation around the realities of contemporary architecture is one that we want to be a part of.’

Previous story (AJ 30.06.14)

Zaha’s Heydar Aliyev Centre crowned 2014 Design of Year

Zaha Hadid Architects’ Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku has scooped this year’s Design of the Year Award - the first architectural project to have ever won the prestigious accolade

The victory means Hadid is both the first woman and the first architect to win the award since it launched in 2008.

The centre in Baku, which opened in November 2013, was described by judges as a ‘pinnacle moment’ in the work of Hadid’s practice.

Piers Gough, who sat on the judging panel, described the scheme as an ‘intoxicatingly beautiful building by the most brilliant architect at the height of her office’s powers’.

He added: ‘It’s swooning fluid on the outside and inside, belieing its size and complexity. The thousand and one geometrical junctions are consummately mastered and segue seamlessly into each other. Sitting atop a swooping zigzag landscape that would be a winner even without the building, It is as pure and sexy as Marilyn’s blown skirt. Without an ounce of awkward argumentative modernism in its bones. It rather reads like a sweet love letter to Zaha’s homelands.’

Jury member Kim Colin, of Industrial Facility added: ‘A great architect needs a great client, technology, the public, the landscape and the right time. The jury felt that for Zaha’s office, this is a pinnacle moment in their portfolio, a sign of international maturity. The jury argued heatedly for and against, and then we finally agreed unanimously that the project deserves our utmost respect. This architecture should make us talk for years to come.’

Commenting on the building, Hadid said: ‘The surface of the Heydar Aliyev Centre’s external plaza rises and folds to define a sequence of public event spaces within; welcoming, embracing and directing visitors throughout the building. It’s an architectural landscape where concepts of seamless spatial flow are made real – creating a whole new kind of civic space for the city.’

Controversially the 21,000m² centre was named after former president Heydar Aliyev - a former KGB boss accused of human rights abuses by Amnesty International. During the design process Hadid was criticised for putting flowers on his grave.

The scheme had already seen off competition from Alison Brooks’ Stirling Prize-shortlisted Newhall Be housing scheme in Essex, David Chipperfield’s Museo Jumex in Mexico City and a modern art gallery in Dunkirk by Lacaton and Vassal, to win the architectural category of the awards.

Previous winners of the award, which is open to all aspects of design including architecture, digital design, fashion, furniture, graphics, product design and transport, have included the London 2012 Olympic Torch, the Plumen lightbulb, and the government’s revamp of its website.

The Design of the Year 2014 category winners

  • Architecture Heydar Aliyev Centre, Baku by Zaha Hadid Architects
  • Digital PEEK (Portable Eye Examination Kit) by Andrew Bastawrous, Stewart Jordan, Mario Giardini, and Iain Livingstone
  • Fashion Prada Spring/Summer collection 2014 by Miuccia Prada
  • Furniture Pro Chair Family by Konstantin Grcic
  • Graphics Drone Shadows by James Bridle/booktwo.org
  • Product The Seaboard Grand by Roland Lamb and Hong-Yeul Eom
  • Transport XL1 Car by Volkswagen

Previous Design of the Year Award winners

  • 2013 GOV.UK – UK Government website by GDS
  • 2012 London 2012 Olympic Torch by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby
  • 2011 Plumen 001 by Samuel Wilkinson and Hulger
  • 2010 Folding Plug by Min-Kyu Choi
  • 2009 Barack Obama Poster by Shepard Fairey
  • 2008 One Laptop Per Child by Yves Béhar

All of the nominated designs are on display in an exhibition at the Design Museum until 25 August 2014.

Previous story (AJ 23.04.14)

Hadid triumphs in Design of the Year Awards

Zaha Hadid Architects’ Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku has been crowned the winner of the architectural category for the Design Museum’s 2014 Design of the Year Award

The project saw off competition from Alison Brooks’ Stirling Prize-shortlisted Newhall Be housing scheme in Essex, David Chipperfield’s Museo Jumex in Mexico City and a modern art gallery in Dunkirk by Lacaton and Vassal, amongst others.

Awards judge Piers Gough of CZWG Architects described the scheme as ‘an intoxicatingly beautiful building by the most brilliant architect at the height of her office’s powers’.

He added: ‘It’s swooning fluid on the outside and inside, belieing its size and complexity. The thousand and one geometrical junctions are consummately mastered and segue seamlessly into each other. Sitting atop a swooping zigzag landscape that would be a winner even without the building. It is as pure and sexy as Marilyn’s blown skirt. Without an ounce of awkward argumentative modernism in its bones. It rather reads like a sweet love letter to Zaha’s homelands.’

The architecture category is one of seven categories in the awards which also recognise digital, fashion, furniture, graphic, product and transport design. The winners of each category are now competing for the overall Design of the Year Award which will be announced at the end of June.

Last year the prestigious prize was picked up by the redesign of the UK government website – GOV.UK

All of the shortlisted designs are on display at the Design Museum until August 25.

Previous story (AJ 11.02.14)

Hadid, Brooks, and Chipperfield buildings in running for Design of the Year

Just two UK schemes have made the shortlist in the architectural category for the Design Museum’s 2014 Design of the Year Award

Alison Brooks’ Stirling Prize-shortlisted Newhall Be housing scheme in Essex was named among the finalists alongside the only other UK scheme, namely 6a Architect’s façade for Paul Smith’s store in Mayfair London.

Zaha Hadid Architects, David Chipperfield Architects and John Pawson also made the shortlist with buildings in Azerbijan, Mexico and Germany respectively

The architecture category is one of seven categories in the awards which also recognise digital, fashion, furniture, graphic, product and transport design.

All of the shortlisted designs will go on display at the Design Museum from March 26 to August 25. Judges will choose a winner from each category and one overall winner, to be announced later in the year.

The full list of architecture nominations

  • Child Chemo House, Osaka by Tezuka Architects
  • Façade for Paul Smith, London by 6a Architects
  • Frac Centre, Orleans by Jakob + MacFarlane
  • Frac Nord-Pas de Calais, Dunkirk, by Lacaton and Vassal
  • Heydar Aliyev Centre, Baku by Zaha Hadid Architects
  • La Tallera Siqeiros, Mexico by Frida Escobedo
  • Makoko Floating School, Nigeria by NLÉ
  • Mont de Marsan Mediatheque, France by Archi5
  • Museo Jumex, Mexico City by David Chipperfield Architects
  • Newhall Be, Essex by Alison Brooks Architects
  • Praca Das Artes Performing Arts Centre, Sao Paulo by Brasil Arquitetura
  • St Moritz Church, Germany by John Pawson
  • The New Crematorium at the Woodland Cemetary, Stockholm by Johan Celsing
  • Wa Shan Guesthouse, China by Wang Shu

Readers' comments (3)

  • The human rights issue is of course fundamental but even on the matter of design one has to question this award. Notwithstanding its technical virtuosity and architectural bravura am I alone in finding this building a cartoonish, vacuous, gestural monster? Hardly the best of Hadid's work.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • You may have a point, Peter, but if Piers Gough says not, who are you to question it ? However, I would be interested to know if it reflects the old KGB chief's hand movements while signing away suspected spies to the gulags ? swoosh . . . . gone

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • 'sexy as Marilyn’s blown skirt’? The first thing I thought of was a Smurfs hat!

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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