AHEC: American white oak helps to achieve seamless spatial flow in Zaha Hadidís Heydar Aliyev Center of Baku/Azerbaigian,

15 October 2015

AHEC: American white oak helps to achieve seamless spatial flow in Zaha Hadidís Heydar Aliyev Center of Baku/Azerbaigian,

As part of the former Soviet Union, the urbanism and architecture of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on the Western coast of the Caspian Sea, was heavily influenced by the planning of that era. Since its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has invested heavily in modernizing and developing Baku’s infrastructure and architecture, departing from its legacy of normative Soviet Modernism.

Zaha Hadid Architects was apointed as design architects of the Heydar Aliyev Center following a competition in 2007. The Center, designed to become the primary building for the nation’s cultural programs, breaks from the rigid and often monumental Soviet architecture that is so prevalent in Baku, aspiring instead to express the sensibilities of Azeri culture and the optimism of a nation that looks to the future. The design of Heydar Aliyev Center establishes a continuous, fluid relationship between its surrounding plaza and the building’s interior. The plaza, as the ground surface; accessible to all as part of Baku’s urban fabric, rises to envelop an equally public interior space and define a sequence of event spaces dedicated to the collective celebration of contemporary and traditional Azeri culture. Elaborate forms, including undulations, bifurcations, folds, and inflections modify this plaza surface into an architectural landscape that performs a multitude of functions: welcoming, embracing, and directing visitors through different levels of the interior. In this way, the building blurs the conventional differentiation between architectural object and urban landscape, building envelope and urban plaza, figure and ground, interior and exterior. The Heydar Aliyev Center is a national symbol for Azerbaijan, a catalyst for regeneration and, in the broadest sense, a regional showpiece. Constructing Zaha Hadid Architects’ audacious design for the Center drew on expertise from Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as further afield. This explains the feel-good factor and can-do mentality, which made it possible. It was a labor of love and one that clearly paid off, given that it was named Design of the Year 2014 by the London Design Museum - a first for an architectural project. It is in the design of the auditorium that Zaha Hadid Architects’ approach can be seen at its most formalistic, and its swirling free-form geometry in American white oak was one of the practice’s principal challenges to the project team. For specialist Ankara-based contractor, İkoor, who were responsible for the construction of the auditorium, free-form meant anything but a free-for-all. The architects expected the outcome of their design exploration to be replicated to the letter, providing little scope for rationalization and no possibility of “design creep.” The forms of the auditorium, appearing to metamorphose in algorithmic sequence from one bay to the next, could not be reduced to repetitive modules. At the outset, İkoor were unsure how to proceed, evaluating the alternatives of a five-axle CNC router-milled solid wood shell, 45 mm thick for optimum acoustic performance, and a timber-clad carcass. They also considered CNC router-shaped polystyrene, strengthened with fiberglass and veneered with timber. Concerned about accuracy, unsatisfactory wood grain patterns, expansion and contraction, İkoor rejected these options for a fourth they called “engineered craftsmanship”, that involved working with Rhino software to accurately construct a carcass from horizontal and vertical MDF members. These members were CNC-formed, so they could be assembled to form a shape, which is a precise offset of the finished surface as modeled by Zaha Hadid Architects. Next, this surface was covered with four layers of accurately dimensioned 10 mm x 10 mm American white oak strips, successively glued, nailed, worked, and adjusted until they precisely matched the geometry modeled by the architect, checked with digitally generated templates. This was the crafted stage of the operation. Each bay of the auditorium comprises three sections, one for the ceiling and two for its flanking walls, assembled from 8 to 15 subcomponents. American white oak (Quercus spp.) American white oak has a creamy colored sapwood and a light to dark brown heartwood. White oak is mostly straight grained with a medium to coarse texture, with longer rays than red oak, producing a distinctive and attractive grain pattern. American white oak is widely available and is a popular choice in export markets around the world for many furniture, flooring and joinery manufacturers due to its colour consistency and the high volume of square edged lumber production, and veneer availability. The wood is hard and heavy, with medium bending and crushing strength. It is low in stiffness, but very good in steam bending. About AHEC The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) is the leading international trade association for the US hardwood industry, representing committed exporting US hardwood companies and all the major US hardwood production trade associations. AHEC runs a worldwide program to promote American hardwoods in over 50 export markets, concentrating on providing architects, specifiers, designers and end-users with technical information on the range of species, products and sources of supply. In addition, AHEC also produces a full range of technical publications.
For more information contact Mrs Rocio Perez-Iñigo, Senior Marketing Manager or visit the web site:

AHEC: American Hardwood Export Council 23 Austin Friars

LONDON EC2N 2QPl / United Kingdom

Tel +44 207 6264111

Fax +44 207 6264222

E-mail: rocio@americanhardwood.org