Five Museums Designed by Zaha Hadid

The star architect designed museums from Ohio to Azerbaijan

Zaha Hadid is one of a generation of "starchitects" who competed for and won high-profile commissions for cultural institutions worldwide. The British-Iraqi architect is known for her futuristic buildings with dramatic, swooping lines that seem to defy gravity and linearity. The worlds of art, design and architecture all mourned her untimely passing on March 31, 2016 when Hadid died in Miami following a heart attack. 

Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq, studied mathematics at Beirut University and then moved to London. She came of age during the student rebellions of 1968, a fact that revealed itself in her affinity for Soviet avant-garde design.

Among her peers at the Architectural Association of London were Rem Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi. Very quickly they were recognized as a hotbed of extraordinary architectural talent. But while others in the group were known for their rigorous written statements and philosophical ideas, Hadid, the youngest among them, was known for her beautiful drawings. 

She was a partner at Office of Metropolitan Architecture with Rem Koolhaas and set up her own company, Zaha Hadid Architects in 1979. In 2004 she became the first woman in history to receive the prestigious Pritzker Prize for Architecture and 2012 she was knighted by Queen Elizabeth and became Dame Hadid.

As fans and critics take stock of her extraordinary career, Hadid's museums stand out in her oeuvre of work as especially revolutionary. 

Here's a retrospective of Zaha Hadid's six museum designs from Michigan to Rome, Ohio to Azerbaijan.

01 of 05


The exterior of MAXXI in Rome
Fondazione MAXXI
Via Guido Reni, 4a, 00196 Roma RM, Italy
Phone +39 06 320 1954

MAXXI might be considered Zaha Hadid's most successful building. Short for Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo (National Museum of 21st Century Arts) it is a contemporary art museum in the Flaminio quarter of Rome, just slightly north of the city center. Like the Whitney Museum of American Art or The Met Breuer, it is an interdisciplinary space for exhibitions and performances.

The museum honors Rome's history with a seamless use of concrete, something the Romans mastered as best seen at the Pantheon. Her design also references the minaret in Samarra and Bernini's columns in the main piazza of the Vatican.

The museum almost seems like a spaceship dropped into a rather unassuming neighborhood in Rome where none of the neighboring architecture looks anything like it. 

The building commission was integral to the museum's mission.

"The MAXXI design goes beyond the concept of the building-museum. The complexity of the volumes, the curving walls, the variations and intersections of the levels determine a very rich spatial and functional configuration that visitors may pass through via ever different and unexpected routes."

Hadid was adamant that the museum would not be an "object container" but an art campus that would overlap, connect and flow to create interactive spaces.

The space was also crafted to be suitable for a busy schedule of temporary exhibitions spaces. There are few immovable walls and the staircases seem to float within the museum's interior. The open ceiling allows natural light to flow inside.

02 of 05

Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center

Exterior of Contemporary Art Center Cincinnatti
44 E 6th St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, USA
Phone +1 513-345-8400

Hadid's very first building in the United States was the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center. It was also her first commission for a public space and a defining work where she revealed her brilliance for designing art exhibition spaces.

The genius of the CCAC is the way that art and the street are united. The lobby is a floating plane that slopes down from the back of the building. Openings are sliced into the walls to provide views into the various galleries. There are also three holes cut vertically through the museum that bring natural light to each floor. The overall effect binds light, people, and art together into a space not defined by walls. 

CCAC presents a constantly changing program of contemporary art exhibitions and performances. Their mission is to impact regional and global communities by providing changing arts experiences that challenge, entertain and educate.

The museum is also known as the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art.

03 of 05

Messner Mountain Museum Corones

Messner Mountain Museum Corones
Messner Mountain Museum Corones
Plan de Corones, 39030 Marebbe BZ, Italy
Phone +39 0474 501350

The Messner Mountain Museum Corones in Bolzano, Italy opened on July 24, 2015. It is the final building in a series of six erected on mountaintops across South Tyrol in museum project created by mountaineer Reinhold Messner. The museum has over 1,000 square feet of exhibition space dedicated to the traditions, history, ​and discipline of mountain climbing.

The building appears to be buried in the mountainside. Hadid explained that visitors could descend into the mountain, explore caves and grottos and then emerge through a mountain wall and onto a terrace that overhangs panoramic views of the Alps and Dolomites.

04 of 05

Eli and Edythe Broad Museum at Michigan State University

Eli and Edythe Broad Museum at Michigan State University
Eli and Edythe Broad Museum
547 E Circle Dr, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
Phone +1 517-884-4800

This building commissioned by contemporary art patrons Eli and Edythe Broad can be seen in "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" during a cocktail party with Lex Luthor. 

Hadid's building looks nothing like the traditional brick buildings that define the campus of Michigan State University. It has a steel and glass facade which stands as a beacon for the contemporary art exhibitions inside. Hadid commented that the museum's facade was designed to have "an ever-changing appearance that arouses curiosity yet never quite reveals its content."

The museum was built with a $28 million dollar donation from the Broads. It was also intended to be an economic driver for East Lansing and bring over $5 million dollars of tourism money to the city. The Hadid-designed building is now a point of pilgrimage for serious contemporary art fans who make the small college city a destination.

Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05

Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center

Zaha Hadid's museum design in Azerbaijan
Public Domain
1 Heydər Əliyev prospekti, Bakı 1033, Azerbaijan
Phone +994 12 505 60 01

The signature building of Baku, Azerbaijan, the Heydar Aliyev Center was designed to be a fluid form that springs naturally from the landscape. The smooth facade connects the museum, auditorium, multi-purpose hall and all entrances into a single surface that extends into the interior of the building as well.  It was named the Design of the Year by London's Design Museum. Many critics consider it to be Hadid's crowning achievement and the full realization of her signature swooping style.

Controversy marked several of Hadid's projects.The Baku museum, in particular, is named in honor of Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer who became the leader of Azerbaijan and has been associated with many human rights violations. 

The opening exhibition called “Life, Death, and Beauty” featured the art of Andy Warhol. Rotating exhibitions feature world-class artists.

1 Heydər Əliyev prospekti, Bakı AZ1033, Azerbaijan

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Five Museums Designed by Zaha Hadid