The Office of Zaha Hadid

The Centre for Contemporary Arts addresses the question of its urban context by maintaining an indexicality to the former army barracks. This is in no way an attempt at topological pastiche, but instead continues the low-level urban texture set against the higher level blocks on the surrounding sides of the site. In this way, the Centre is more like an 'urban graft', a second skin to the site. At times, it affiliates with the ground to become new ground, yet also ascends and coalesces to become massivity where needed. The entire building has an urban character: prefiguring upon a directional route connecting the River to Via Guido Reni, the Centre encompasses both movement patterns extant and desired, contained within and outside. This vector defines the primary entry route into the building. By intertwining the circulation with the urban context, the building shares a public dimension with the city, overlapping tendril like paths and open space. In addition to the circulatory relationship, the architectural elements are also geometrically aligned with the urban grids that join at the site. In thus partly deriving its orientation and physiognomy from the context, it further assimilates itself to the specific conditions of the site.

Our proposal offers a quasi-urban field, a "world" to dive into rather than a building as signature object. The Campus is organised and navigated on the basis of directional drifts and the distribution of densities rather than key points.

This is indicative of the character of the Centre as a whole: porous, immersive, a field space. An inferred mass is subverted by vectors of circulation. The external as well as internal circulation follows the overall drift of the geometry. Vertical and oblique circulation elements are located at areas of confluence, interference and turbulence.

The move from object to field is critical in understanding the relationship the architecture will have to the content of the artwork it will house. Whilst this is further expounded by the contributions of our Gallery and Exhibitions Experts below, it is important here to state that the premise of the architectural design promotes a disinheriting of the 'object' orientated gallery space. Instead, the notion of a 'drift' takes on an embodied form. The drifting emerges, therefore, as both architectural motif, and also as a way to navigate experientially through the museum. It is an argument that, for art practice is well understood, but in architectural hegemony has remained alien. We take this opportunity, in the adventure of designing such a forward looking institution, to confront the material and conceptual dissonance evoked by art practice since the late 1960's. The path lead away from the 'object' and its correlative sanctifying, towards fields of multiple associations that are anticipative of the necessity to change.

As such, it is deemed significant that in configuring the possible identity of this newly established institution (housing both Art and Architecture), with its aspiration towards the polyvalent density of the 21st century, conceptions of space and indeed temporality are reworked. Modernist Utopian space fuelled the white 'neutrality' of most 20th century museums. Now, this disposition must be challenged, not simply out of wilful negation, but by the necessity for architecture to continue its critical relationship with contemporary social and aesthetic categories. Since absolutism has been indefinitely suspended from current thought on the issue of art presentation, it is towards the idea of the 'maximising exhibition' that we gravitate. In this scenario, the Centre makes primary the manifold possibilities for the divergence in showing art and architecture as well as catalysing the discourse on its future. Again, the 'signature' aspect of an institution of this calibre is sublimated into a more pliable and porous organism that promotes several forms of identification at once.

In architectural terms, this is most virulently executed by the figure of the 'wall'. Against the traditional coding of the 'wall' in the museum as the privileged and immutable vertical armature for the display of paintings, or delineating discrete spaces to construct 'order' and linear 'narrative', we propose a critique of it through its emancipation The 'wall' becomes the versatile engine for the staging of exhibition effects. 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 gesturally, 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. Organisational and spatial invention are thus 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.

It is in this way that the architecture performs the 'staging' of art, with moveable elements that allow for the drama to change. 'Sets' can be constructed from the notional elements of the gallery spaces. These are attuned to the particularities of the exhibition in question, materialising or dematerialising accordingly.

The drift through the Centre is a trajectory through varied ambiences, filtered spectacles and differentiated luminosity. Whilst offering a new freedom in the curators' palette, this in turn digests and recomposes the experience of art spectatorship as liberated dialogue with artefact and environment.

Phasing concept : Reinvention of the Institution and Transitional Space
Our phasing concept allows the museum to 'reinvent' itself in three stages over the construction period. We have achieved this by placing a transitional program inside some refurbished buildings. This process enables the museum to open four different exhibition spaces within one year. The overlapping of phased elements allows the museum to be completed in 4.5 -5.5 years.

Phase1:12 months
We propose the use of the existing two story buildings. These buildings will have a permanent program of management and curators offices and a transitional program of art and exhibition space. One of the single story existing 'sheds' at the rear of the site will be used with very minimal refurbishment for temporary art installations.

Phase2 :30 months
The major part of the museum will be built in phase2. Transitional exhibition space from phase 1 will move into the new museum.

Phase3 :21 months
The Library, Architectural museum and Independent exhibitions buildings will open. The remaining transitional program in the existing buildings will be replaced by the Atelier and apartments for fellows and a new Education centre. Surface car parking will be replaced by a new underground car park. The landscape above the car park will be a new surface for exterior artworks.


Mark Cousins (Director of General Studies & History and Theory at the Architectural Association, London)

Frances Morris (Curator Tate Gallery of Modern Art, London)



Study Paintings and Models of the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Rome


1. Rome Aerial View, Study Painting



2. Rome, Study Model




3. Rome Plan, Study Painting



4. Rome, Study Model




5. Rome, Detail Study Painting



6. Rome, Study Model



7. Rome, Study Painting