Illustrated Essay of Contemporary Architecture: MAXXI National Museum

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Illustrated Essay of Contemporary Architecture: MAXXI National Museum

This report will focus on MAXXI National Museum and it will provide a comprehensive review of Contemporary museum architecture (built in Rome in 2009)(fig 1.1), designed by the Zaha Hadid Architects. As it was said in “Museums in the 21st Century” there is no doubt to say that the evolution of contemporary museum architecture can be divided into pre-and post-Bilbao eras. Bilbao's buildings are a variety of architectural styles, ranging from gothic to contemporary architecture Such as Frank O.Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (build in Spain in 1997) which gives the begging of contemporary Bilbao movement. Rome has no obligation to turn itself into a trendy modern city; its glory rests on the achievements of antiquity, the Renaissance, and the baroque. In mid1990s a new policy in Rome for ’the promotion of contemporary architecture’ has tried to change the architectural understatement by its city governments, policy with different aspects, views and cultural activities, with willingness for novelty. The foundation of the MaXXI Museum was followed by international design competition combining all the new prospects. Hadid’s proposal is an impressive urban sculpture with dynamic and indefinite exhibition space. To construct this essay, various sources have been researched. Therefore, its consistency includes Architectural concept and urban strategy, Space vs object, Institutional Catalyst and Contemporary Spatiality. The essay was conducted in the form of a

survey, with data being gathered via books “GA DOCUMENT 99” by Yoshio Futagawa (2007) , “Museums in the 21st Century” by Suzanne Greub and Thierry Greub (2006) ,and the following articles “MAXXI Museum in Rome by Zaha Hadid Architects wins the RIBA Starling Prize 2010” by Levent Ozler, “ Zaha Hadid's MAXXI - National Museum of XXI Century Arts” by Zaha Hadid Architects,” Starling Prize 2010 Goes to Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI Museum in Rome” (unknown author).

With multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry Zaha Hadid architecture drive new approach, for example with creating Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, she evokes the chaos of modern life. She could be recognized as an architect of the baroque modernism. Baroque classicists like Borromini shattered Renaissance ideas of a single viewpoint perspective. Hadid shatters both the classically formal, rule bound modernism of Mies van der Rohe (“Form fallow function”) and Le Corbusier and the old rules of space — walls, ceilings, front and back, right angles. Reuniting the single viewpoint in multiple perspective points with fragmented geometry, she established actual forms that morph and change shape. Hadid lets the spaces to speak for them. Hadid’s obsession with shadow and ambiguity is deeply rooted in Islamic architectural tradition, while its fluid, open nature is a politically charged riposte to increasingly fortified and democratic contemporary urban landscapes. (Council & Museum, 2007)

In 1997 Zaha Hadid participates in international design contest, which one more time confirms her passion to contemporary urban landscapes. The competition consist in two stages, the first one was open international call for architects, MAXXI Museum Roof plan, (n.d.) fig2 of fifteen of which were selected from two hundred seventy-three (273). Among those fifteen were six Italians and nine foreign firms; among them were Vittorio Gregotti, and Steven Hall. The main issue race was for museum program and the urban condition for the Flaminio quarter of Rome, in the area of the former Montello military barracks. By showing the relationship and pathways through the site with two main orientations and the clear role of the urban spaces, she won the commission .Her sketches presented a series of overlapping layers, merged and shaped to a continuous space. Design was based on the idea to open to public and city. While she was working on Rome design she managed to complete Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati. Small completely dark and tight spaces were allocated in the art center of Cincinnati with articulation of the masses in the façade. While in Rome the building is horizontal rather than vertical, each of the galleries have own spatial status with access to natural light for a wide range of exhibit spaces and installations. (Greub, 2006)

However the modernist “fashion” in MAXXI fuelled the white ‘neutrality’ of most 20th century museums. She has been prepared to be challenged for the critical relationship with contemporary social and aesthetic categories. Showing art and architecture promotes several forms of identification at once. (Futagawa, 2007)

Visitors arrive in a dramatic double story atrium, with concrete Halbe R.( 2010) fig3 curved walls, open ceiling which captured the natural light dominated, by suspended steel staircase that flows down from the upper levels. There are five “gallery suites” with a uniform ceiling height of 6m, apart from the uppermost gallery where the floor is set at a rake. On the second and third floors, daylight enters via a continuous glass roof, supported on deep steel trusses. These trusses also include a mechanism to display paintings or sculptures that aren’t floor-mounted – the concrete walls themselves are tipped off the vertical. There is a limited materials palette: walls are in exposed concrete, or painted white, and the floor is reflective grey epoxy. To construct consistency and linear path they have created a critique of it through its emancipation. In its various guises -- solid wall, projection screen, canvas, window to the city -- the exhibition wall is the primary space-making device. By running extensively across the site, cursively and gestural, the lines traverse inside and out. Urban space is coincidental with gallery space, exchanging pavilion and court in a continuous oscillation under the same operation. And further deviations from the Classical composition of the wall emerge as incidents where the walls become floor, or twist to become ceiling, or are voided to become a large window looking out. By constantly changing dimension and geometry, they adapt themselves to whatever curatorial role is needed. By setting within the gallery spaces a series of potential partitions that hang from the ceiling ribs, a versatile exhibition system is created. Organizational is dealt with simultaneously amidst a rhythm found in the echo of the walls to the structural ribs in the ceiling that also filter the light in varying intensities.

Schumacher, P. (2010) fig 4

By the thin concrete beams in the ceiling, covered with glass and filtration systems it is emphasized the natural lighting. The same beams have a bottom rail from which art pieces are going to be suspended. The beams, the staircases and the linear lighting system guide the visitors through the interior walkway, which ends in the large space on third level. From here, a large window offers a view back to the city, though obstructed by a massive core. The use of natural light and interweaved spaces lead to spatial and functional, complex framework, offering changing and unexpected views from within the building and outdoor spaces. (Baan, 2010)

Furthermore, the building conforms to all relevant Italian legislation on energy efficiency, and calculations by ZHA in 2002 show that “the predicted heating energy usage for the MAXXI has the potential to be considerably better than the limits set by the law for a typical building of this type”. The building is fitted with a high efficiency heat recovery air-handling system, and efficient condensing boilers. CO2 sensors minimize the quantity of incoming fresh air that needs to be heated. In order to reduce the need for considerable horizontal ductwork and reduce fan energy, air-conditioning system was positioned close to each gallery. The galleries have a thoughtful signed external fixed shading system “the steel ribs” oriented to the south, adjustable external active louvers, as well as internal roller blinds to cut down on radiant energy and create lighting conditions for 50 to 200 lux. The artificial lighting is on a sophisticated control system. (Construction of MAXXI Museum, (n.d.))

To conclude I am going to emphasize once again the main characteristics of MAXXI National Museum .After the design competition, ten years later as theoretical project the design become a living institution, projecting an architectural manifesto and demonstrating the capacity of a modern architectural style. Breaking the classically formal, rule bound modernism of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier into multiple perspective points, Zaha Hadid established avant-garde architecture. The purpose of all architecture is the framing and staging of social communication and interaction. The purpose of all art is to experiment with new forms of social communication that project an alternative view of the world.


In the following comment will be justified the main challenges that Zaha Hadid’s team faced concerning the construction of Maxi building.

With the structural engineering were engaged Anthony Hunts Associates & OK Design Group. The mechanical and electrical engineering works were done by Max Fordham & OK Design Group. The project planning was done by ABT. And RIBA D and E. ZHA was appointed as site supervisor, which meant that every aspect of the contractors (Italiana Costruzioni and Societa Appalti Costruzion) design and construction that impacted on the look of the building had to be signed off by ZHA. But the contractor had more freedom on structural and M&E decisions. (Construction of MAXXI Museum, (n.d.))

The design posed two huge challenges to the concrete design. The first was structural, as the galleries are basically elongated concrete troughs cast inside, with the glass roofs working as lids to let light in. Only the floors and walls provide structural stability. The second challenge was Hadid’s demand for a premium-quality fair-face finish to all concrete surfaces with crisp circular holes left over from the shuttering bolts. The main aim was for the exposed joints to be kept to an absolute minimum. Reducing the number of exposed joints meant increasing the concrete pours to 70m in length and 9m in height, each pour requiring 260m³ of concrete. Formwork was assembled using laser beams to ensure precisely flat surfaces. A liquid self-compacting concrete mix was specified, with a fine aggregate of powdered limestone and epoxy resin additive, for optimum compaction and a smooth, crack-free surface finish. Each pour took up to 18 hours, with concrete mixed on site in four large batching plants. And as the large pours had to cure slowly and evenly, casting was banned whenever external temperatures were anticipated to reach above 25 ÌŠC. In Rome’s Mediterranean climate, this meant concrete could only be laid between November and April. The structure also included large gaps had to be filled with reinforced steel bars with density higher than 300kg/m3. By reducing the number of joints was necessary to increase the concrete poured over 70 meters high by 9, a complete plant, which required 260m3 of concrete in situ. The formwork was made in Germany, modular panels of 9 meters long and 2.4 high which were assembled at the site and were linked using lasers to ensure the flat surfaces in the discharge time. Dumping in these areas a liquid mixture consisted of self-compacting concrete, a fine aggregate of limestone powder and an additive in epoxy resin, which was allowed to settle uniformly by the force of gravity and which was cast around the reinforcement bars .While the concrete is poured, the formwork panels are controlled to check the protuberances nanometers. Finally, as the pouring of concrete has to dry slowly and evenly, without risk of overheating, had to take into account the outside temperature did not exceed 25 °, in the Mediterranean climate of Rome these conditions can result only from November to April.

Last but not at least in 2003, Rome was officially classified as seismic zone, which required that the structure of the museum was completely revised and reformed in some cases. Several sets of hydraulic pistons associated with the motion of the joints should be incorporated into the concrete walls and floors and discarded movement joints 5mm 3mm other less visible, among other measures. (Architects, (n.d))


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Schumacher, P. (2010). The Meaning of MAXXI – Concepts, Ambitions, Achievements. Patrikschumacher article./ fig 4 Retrieved from Meaning of MAXXI.html