Zaha Hadid is probably my favourite living architects, despite the fact that I have never even seen one of her buildings. Few of them have been built, and I have seen exhibitions of her work, for example the show at the Guggenheim a couple years ago. She is the only woman to have won the prestigious Pritzker Prize in architecture, and she defies both gravity and the human imagination. Here is her latest endeavour, and I might just have to get myself to Italy next spring to see it.

From the outside, the Maxxi building appears almost modest. Hadid explains that she hopes it will be fashion-proof. Instead, she has reserved her architectural firepower for the interior ...

Should curators wish to create more galleries, floating walls can be hung from the dark concrete ribs snaking along the building's ceilings; these can support a sculpture weighing up to a tonne. Photograph: Roland Halbe
by Jonathan Glancey, Monday 16 November 2009 21.30 GMT

Excerpts from the article:

The walls of Hadid's new museum, unveiled to the public this month, not only curve but change in depth as they do so. There are moments where walls become floors and even threaten to become ceilings, diving and curving like bobsleigh tracks. (When I went there last week, Hadid told me she wanted the building's concrete curves to "unwind like a ribbon in space".)

This is a building of few colours: black, white, grey and the varied cream of exposed concrete. The walls and balustrades of the gallery's extraordinary stairs and passageways have been finished in the thick black primer used as an undercoat for new cars. (Highly durable and slightly rough to look at, the paint is surprisingly smooth to the touch.) The stairways rise up through the lobby, with their bare metal treads, disappearing mysteriously into the far recesses of the museum; the effect is cinematic – Piranesian, even – and wholly compelling.

In one sense, however, Maxxi is happily old-fashioned. It has been built on-site by local contractors using materials close to hand; Rome led the way when it came to concrete construction 2,000 years ago, and these ambitious new curved walls are made of Roman concrete. "It does sound odd when I say it," says Racana, "but this has been a little like building a medieval cathedral." And, like a medieval cathedral, the museum is in fact several structures gathered together. Tough new legislation ensuring the ability of new buildings to withstand seismic shock was put in place after the earthquake of October 2002, which rocked Italy's Molise and Puglia regions, and was felt in Rome. As a result, the museum consists of five separate buildings leaning against one another, designed to withstand powerful natural shocks.

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