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Zaha Hadid, MAXXI National Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome

Video transcript

we're just north of the center of Rome looking at sahaja deeds relatively new building the maxi museum devoted to 21st century art as we approach the museum we walk by military barracks and we just begin to spot the concrete facade of the museum resting gently on the older buildings poking its nose around the older buildings until we walk into a large piazza where the full width of the building is apparent in some ways it seems to have almost landed on that older structure the fact that it feels like it's landed suggested weightlessness despite the fact that it is an almost unbroken slab of concrete and that's in part because of the shadow created by the overhang of that concrete reminiscent of the International style and the work of people like blue caboose EA or Mies van der Rohe a-- and in the facade of the building rows of metallic columns that might remind us of bernini's Piazza at Saint Peters there's also the historical precedent of the use of concrete material that the ancient Romans perfected and used to shape space and she is very much the inheritor of that tradition although we don't see those ground arches like a Roman aqueduct er like the Pantheon it's almost like those round arches have tilted and become horizontal and move the visitor to the museum through ribbons of space zaha hadid has won virtually every major international architecture prize she was born in Iraq but is a British architect she holds faculty positions at numerous universities all over the world and right after school she had worked for Rem Koolhaas at his office for metropolitan architecture this was one of the most inventive and theoretically important architectural firms in the 1970s and 1980s Hadid is clearly drawing inspiration from modernism from constructivism from the work of the great Russian painters of the early 20th century like Malevich embedding a kind of early 20th century utopianism about the modern city and in the warm Gray's of the concrete in the silvery Gray's of the metal flooring and the blacks and whites and it reminds me of the interest in translucency transparency and opaqueness that you see especially in the work of artists like moholy-nagy in the early part of the 20th century as well as unabashed interest in the power of pure geometry so looking toward Islamic art as well as modernist architecture in fact she mentions the importance of having seen the minaret at Samara this massive figure that creates very clean stark geometric lines and that creates a kind of ribbon for people to walk up and there is that sense of ribbons of space of that path around the minaret coming undone and branching out when we walk through the spaces of the museum there is something very exciting about moving through this building and not knowing what one will come across next no matter which galleries we go into we're drawn back to these fabulous stairways that are black but lit underneath with white light we're walking on metal grids and this entire interior space seems to be a contrast between these wonderful curvilinear ribbons and strict rectilinear geometries and we see those rectilinear geometries in the walls with the blocks of concrete in the stairs and in the concrete beams that almost read as blades along the ceiling our ice shoots along those beams and are slowed only by the fins of the louvers but these stairways move like bands in and around those rectilinear shapes and feel very playful the staircase is not only bend but also double back creating sharp angles and they do feel playful almost as if you could have a huge metal ball that runs along as if they were a track but there's also a hint of the sinister and at least one critic has likened it to the Prince of paranasal in the way that they seem to move in every direction with a kind of endless multiplication of different spaces weaving together and going back out again sometimes rushing from one space to another and sometimes slowing down the architect said and I'm quoting here my first idea was about a delta where the main streams become the galleries and minor ones become bridges which connect to the and of course a delta is a river that Forks and flows into the sea what does it mean to design a museum in the 21st century if you think about the history of museums they're generally palaces that have been repurposed for example the Louvre in Paris which was the royal residence of the King of France or here in Rome the Vatican Museums the papal palace or you could think about many of the palazzi in Rome that were once family palaces that are now museum the Barberini palace for example or we could think about the early modernist architecture of a Museum of Modern Art Museum architecture says a lot about how we see ourselves and how we see our cultural heritage and how we move into the future do we look to the Past do we look forward and that's an especially salient issue here in Rome a city with an overwhelming history
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