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Spotlight Article

The New Baku

Azerbaijan America Alliance
October 27, 2014

Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city, cannot claim or be defined by a particular architectural style or era of development. An eclectic variety of architectural styles are represented in the living city, including the 12th century maiden tower, remnants of Azerbaijan’s Soviet occupation, and the strikingly modern Flame Towers.  

As the capital of a rapidly rising democratic power in the Caucasus region, Baku is quickly growing and modernizing. Without any predominant style to guide the city’s development, Baku has complete freedom to define a new, unique, and reflective style for its capital. The Haydar Aliyev Center is a triumph in the face of such a daunting opportunity. 

The center, named design of the year in 2014 by London’s Design Museum, is bold, modern, and creative. A bright white undulation in the city’s landscape, the building more closely resembles sculpture than architecture. As the site for the majority of the city’s cultural events, it is the home of Baku’s cultural identity. The design is a very deliberate departure of the normative Soviet modernist buildings that surround it, seeking to “express the sensibilities of Azeri culture and the optimism of a nation that looks to the future,” in the words of the Zaha Hadid Architects responsible for designing the center. Zaha Hadid is an award winning Iraqi-British architect. She was the first ever women to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004 and she was the recipient of the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011.

The design pays particular attention to maintaining fluidity between the space outside and the space inside. The folds, undulations, and sweeping joint-less walls and ceilings all serve to invite and embrace visitors to different levels of the interior while blurring the distinction between outside and inside. The continuity between inside and outside is further developed through careful consideration for lighting. The building is lit differently during the night and the day, and semi-reflective glass allows an indication of the inside without entirely revealing the space. This continuity seems a perfect physical metaphor for a center that is meant to embody and represent within its walls the cultural sensibilities of the surrounding city outside.

Opened less then a year ago, in may of 2013, the center already boasts an impressive series of exhibitions. In April of 2014, creatively using the outside of the center, a video mapping was projected onto the building. The fifteen-minute video celebrated the history and culture of Azerbaijan, including the Gobustan petroglyphs, music, carpet weaving and modern art, and was accompanied by music by Isfar Sarabski, a famous pianist and composer.

The center has also hosted more conventional exhibitions. In May of 2014, an exhibition of contemporary art from Azerbaijan and its neighbors, entitled “Love Me, Love Me Not,” featured work from 16 artists from Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and Georgia. In March 2014, American singer-songwriter, Michael Bolton performed a concert featuring his greatest hits. In December of 2013, the center hosted the world premiere of "Cradle to Cosmos,” an exhibition of the history of space exploration.  “Cradle to Cosmos” went on to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Milan after its premier.

Azerbaijan, still a young nation establishing its identity, has made a triumphant and worthy contribution to that identity in the Haydar Aliyev Cultural Center. Baku will always be a composite of its fascinating diverse history, but the Haydar Aliyev Cultural Center is an impressive and representative contribution to the mosaic.





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© 2015 Azerbaijan America Alliance
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