by Jerry ElengicalFeb 07, 2022
Rampant urbanisation and high-density development in metropolises worldwide has left indelible marks on both the nature of contemporary urban environments as well as the larger natural ecosystems that support them. With the expected rise of urban migration in the future, both developing and developed nations will have to strive to address the mounting demand for housing, infrastructure, services, and public space that will accommodate the flood of new residents seeking employment opportunities, connectivity, and higher standards of living in cities. When coupled with the uncertainty faced by those living under constant threat from the impending fallout of man-made climate change, the need to rethink current paradigms of urban development is one that could shape the face of human civilisation as we know it. Presenting cases for what the future of urbanism could hold, globally acclaimed British architecture firm Zaha Hadid Architects is currently hosting two exhibitions: Vertical Urbanism and Future Cities in Hong Kong and China respectively, that showcase their explorations into this arena and its associated realms.
The first of the two, titled Vertical Urbanism, depicts the practice’s innovation in creating vibrant and sustainable community-oriented spaces within high-density urban domains. On display both as an online exhibition and an in-person showcase at the HKDI Gallery (affiliated with the Hong Kong Design Institute) until April 3, 2022, the exhibition has been presented through project documentation tools such as technical drawings, diagrams, visualisations, architectural models, video projections, and virtual reality experiences, analysing revolutionary new approaches in high-rise construction. It focuses on three aspects of the practice: the groundbreaking research of ZHA’s Computation and Design research group (ZHA CODE), revolutionary tower designs completed by the firm, and other high-profile projects from their extensive body of work - such as the One Thousand Museum in Miami, Leeza SOHO in Beijing, Opus in Dubai, Infinitus Plaza in Guangzhou, the concept for the OPPO Headquarters in Shenzhen, Tower C at Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters Base, and Thallus - an experimental installation for Milan Design Week 2017.
The exhibition traces the evolution of the firm - formerly headed by the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid - from seminal early ventures such as the Peak Leisure Club in Hong Kong (1982-1983) to more recent structures such as the Morpheus Hotel in Macau, a 40-storey free form high-rise exoskeleton comprising two interconnected circulation cores connected at the podium and roof levels. These instances, in addition to ongoing projects like The Henderson, delve into how reinventions of the tower typology could spell out a restructuring of metropolitan cities and societies in the coming century. For instance, although the Peak Leisure Club was never fully realised, it is often regarded as a pivotal moment in the renowned architect’s career, as its metaphorical inversion of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers into a public void shaped by dynamic configurations of horizontal beams garnered her much praise and recognition - particularly drawing attention to her practice’s distinctive design vocabulary centred on fluid forms as well as their penchant for defying traditional architectural norms.
While outlining the tenets of the exhibition’s theoretical framework in a formative essay, Patrik Schumacher, Principal at Zaha Hadid Architects, described five foundational components in the design of contemporary skyscrapers, namely: Density, Atria + Bridges, Façade, Ground Interface, and Sustainability. He explains the themes behind the exhibition’s curation in a press statement, noting, “The skyscraper seems locked in the bygone Fordist paradigm of segregating segmentation and serial repetition. The tower typology is the last bastion of this bygone era. 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.”
Schumacher elaborates, “The agenda of communicative intensification within and between densely spaced high-rise structures, via the combined strategies of clustering, bridges and atria, will articulate a new paradigm for the design of high-rise urbanism. On this basis, the tower typology will receive a new lease of life in central metropolitan societies, where the desire for connectivity drives urban density. In the future, even more than is evident already now, this super-dense build up will be a mixed-use build up, where multiple life-processes intersect. These life-processes need to be ordered in intricate ways that nevertheless remain legible and thereby empowering.”
In an official release, Dr Lay Lian ONG, Principal of HKDI & IVE (Lee Wai Lee) comments on the hybrid showcase, stating: “We are excited to collaborate with ZHA and present the Zaha Hadid Architects: Vertical Urbanism exhibition as part of HKDI’s interdisciplinary programme. Zaha Hadid was a radical innovator who has left an imprint on modern architecture and design that will endure for many years to come. This exhibition celebrates the ingenuity of ZHA, showcasing the depth of experience of one of the most renowned architecture firms in the world.”
Occurring in tandem with this, Future Cities is a monographic exhibition on view at the Future Design Arts Centre in the Chinese city of Chengdu until May 8. It examines revolutionary new ideas that are shaping the future of 21st century urbanism, as seen through their implementation in projects by Zaha Hadid Architects, highlighting the practice’s unencumbered spirit of inquiry and its proclivity towards crafting trailblazing, convention-defying architecture by harnessing the benefits of parametric design.
Schumacher expounds these notions stating, “The motivation to move into cities, ever larger, ever denser cities, and into ever larger buildings, is clear: we come together to network, to synergise knowledge, to exchange and to cooperate. The built environment becomes an information-rich, empowering and exhilarating 360-degree interface of communication and networking machine. In the future, even more than is evident already now, this super-dense build up will be a mixed-use build up, where multiple life-processes intersect. These life-processes need to be ordered in intricate ways that nevertheless remain legible and thereby empowering.” Under these guidelines, the exhibition examines milestone projects such as the Phaeno Science Centre in Germany, the Riverside Museum in Scotland, the Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan, the Bergisel Ski Jump in Austria, and London Aquatics Centre, diving deep into the details that made them crucial moments in the firm’s growth.
Common case studies between the two exhibitions include the likes of the upcoming Dnipro Metro Stations in Ukraine as well as Beijing Daxing Airport - a starfish-shaped complex that is one of the world’s largest air transport hubs. A section dedicated to the pioneering work being done by ZHA CODE has also been incorporated into the installation program of Future Cities, much like its counterpart in Hong Kong. Within the exhibition space hosting the showcase, floors and walls have been dressed with fluid curves and angular patterns - essential building blocks in the firm’s instantly recognisable design vocabulary that has captivated the architectural world for decades.
While Vertical Urbanism was centred on a layered, vertically driven form of urban development that was founded on a reimagination of the tower typology, the latter exhibition revolves around groundbreaking projects by the firm that are changing the nature of urban landscapes across the world. In essence, it serves to elucidate the practice's underlying values and philosophy to the general public through detailed case studies, whose intriguing revelations position Zaha Hadid Architects at the vanguard of new approaches to urbanism that may potentially signal a radical paradigm shift from business as usual.