Architect Zaha Hadid is known for her bold design choices. But she also known for her equally brash willingness to “design for dictators”—clients with murky human rights histories and pockets deep enough to support her ambitious creative visions.
Those two factors came to a head yesterday when the Design Museum in London named Hahid's Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, the winner of the Design of the Year award. Hailed by the museum for its “elaborate undulations and inflections,” the Heydar Aliyev has gorgeous white curves that suggest stretched and folded sound waves—fitting for a performance space that is home to the country’s cultural programs. Juror Piers Gough, of CZWG Architects, called the building, rather bizarrely, "as pure and sexy as Marilyn's blown skirt."
But other commentators let out a collective groan, as Hadid once again appears to be profiting from a collaboration with a repressive regime. The building honors Heydar Aliyev, a former member of the KGB who was accused of human rights violations, among other transgressions, during his three-decade reign over Azerbaijan, until his death in 2003. His son, Ilham, commissioned the building. Critics, including Human Rights Watch, have objected to the 250 forced evictions that paved the way for the center. For many architects and critics, as Co.Design has reported, that kind of community impact would cross a line.
Sparks were flying on Twitter as the design community learned the news.
Russell Curtis, the founding director of rcka architects, won this year's Royal Institute of British Architects emerging architect award:
Tom Dyckhoff, an architecture critic for the BBC, is also a research associate at Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London:
And here's the acerbic Olly Wainwright, architecture and design critic for the Guardian:
Hadid remains unmoved, and has yet to comment on the project in Baku.