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Zaha Hadid's Twisting Tower: JCIT, Hong Kong

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on May 12, 2015 at 01:19 PM

Fantastic forms, implausible structuring and untraceable perspectives – these are a few trademarks of Zaha Hadid's architecture. The Iraqi-British lady architect, who has captured the imagination of an entire generation of creative minds, has unfailingly attested all her designs with this unique signature! Despite the organic structure and the fluidity of spaces, forms and lines in them, which one would assume to be a cause to blend in with the surrounds, her works stand out. Perhaps, they do so because they are juxtaposed against a landscape of repetitive, boxy, inorganic forms that have come to occupy the mainstream of building activity. In fact, so out-of-the-box is her thinking that her designs often been described as neo-futuristic. Born in Baghdad in 1950, after a course in mathematics at Beirut she went on to study architecture in London. She was mentored early in her career by masters like Rem Koolhas and Ella Zenghellis, whom she later partnered and finally set up the firm Zaha Hadid Architects in London, which employs a staff of 350 today. She has also undertaken many high profile interior architecture and product design projects the world over. She teaches at several universities, holds many fellowships, and has received a number of awards including the prestigious Pritzker prize and the Sterling prize. Broken geometry and multiple perspectives are some of her signature techniques. At times criticized for designs lacking philosophy and working on projects commissioned by dictatorial regimes, she has continued relentlessly on her explorations of uncharted domains of space and structure to give the world some stellar architectural creations. The Jockey Club Innovation Centre in Hong Kong is one such, completed in 2014.

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The Impression

An uneven stack of giant sun caps, or perhaps, paper dishes with shiny cutlery peeping from in between them to gleam in the sun – this is the impression that the form of the JCIT building evokes at first look. As we move towards the entrance at the southern end, the stack morphs into a giant ship, cutting through the sea, all the floor bands swooshing in upward motion to form a sharp bow to its hull. As one finally enters the building through its intimate entrance porch, one is sucked into a maze of seemingly unending lines, passages, stairways, escalators and lobbies all crisscrossing and swooshing in gentle upward or downward motion. This internal maze is lit up at every level by ribbons of natural and artificial light, swooshing across in harmony with the other elements. The natural light coming from randomly placed rows of full height glazing, and the artificial one from long ribbons of lighting concealed in the ceilings. This entire chaotic interior, from floor to ceiling, is done in a monochrome of peaceful white shades. There is no denying that, inside out, this building evokes a sense of awe and intrigue – a trademark of every Zaha Hadid design.

The Structure

Fifteen storeys high and having 15,000 sq m of built space, the JCIT is located on a tight, irregular plot at the north eastern strip of the university campus. Major roadways interchange along its northern side, while the university football ground bounds the southern side. Essentially a podium and tower structure, it does away with the boxy typology by getting the floors to morph from base to tip gradually in a fluid progression. This also makes the floors shift away from the ground central position at every level, causing its vertical axis to appear tilted and twisted. The line of placement of glazing on the facade follows different perspective points at each floor level, making them appear and diminish randomly. The entire scheme makes the building appear like an uneven stacking floors which is about to topple! The interiors carry the play of broken geometry and multiple perspectives to another level, where it appears impossible to trace any line, passage, stairway, railing or just any space to its end. Even the floors appear to be non horizontal, swooping upwards or downwards as part of this crazy maze. Remarkably, all this is achieved while sticking to basic rules of building layout like centralisation of services and transportation, voids and courts for interior lighting and connect. Another striking aspect of this design is that it totally downplays the verticality of the tower, through the eye catching precariously stacked, horizontal floor bands. It’s amazing what a little twist in the structure can achieve visually.

The Building

The Jockey Club Innovation Centre, as part of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus, houses the HK PolyU School of Design as well as the Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation. Studios, workshops, labs, exhibition and event areas are arranged on 15 floors of space around courts, voids, stairs, escalators and elevators so as to encourage interactions between students and disciplines. The tower’s design aspires to encourage a multidisciplinary environment and establish a culture of free thinking, research and enquiry. In the words of the design team, “the JCIT creates a new urban space which enriches the diversity of university life and expresses the dynamism of an institution looking to the future”. The atmospherics are set in the endless lines and boundless spaces of the JCIT for the innovators of the future to attain their creative Nirvana.

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