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The Meaning of MAXXI – Concepts, Ambitions, Achievements
Patrik Schumacher, London 2010

Published in: Zaha Hadid Architects, MAXXI: Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rizzoli International Publications, New York 2010
Photos: Iwan Baan


MAXXI, Rome 2009

A Built Manifesto

The completion of MAXXI ten years after the design competition is a moving event: the transformation of a radical concept into a project, of the
project into a building, and finally the transformation of the building into a living institution. For us MAXXI started ten years ago as a theoretical
project, as one more competition entry in a series of such entries understood as radical experiments in design research. After its completion MAXXI
remains a theoretical project in the sense of projecting an architectural manifesto demonstrating the capacity of a new architectural style: parametricism.
What characterizes the new style are new concepts and new values, both in terms of an expanded formal repertoire and in terms of a new understanding
of function or performance. Parametricism pursues the very general aim to organize and articulate the increasing complexity of the social institutions and life
processes of post-fordist network society. For this task parametricism aims to intensify the internal differentiation and cohesionwithin an architectural design
as well as the design’s external continuities within given urban contexts. Parametricism offers a new, complex order via the principles of differentiation and
correlation that is clearly distinct from the principles of separation and repetition that characterized modernism.
Prominent cultural buildings, especially contemporary art centres, are the perfect vehicles for stating general architectural positions.
It is here that avant-garde architecture finds the occasion to be critically recognized as worthy dimension of socio-cultural development.
The particular institution of the contemporary art museum is able to give discursive space to the building as architectural manifesto.
Radical architectural innovation can exist here due to the openness of the very institution of art within contemporary society.
The purpose of all architecture is the framing and staging of social communication and interaction. The purpose of all art is to experiment with new
forms of social communication that project an alternative view of the world.


MAXXI, Rome 2009 – Soft Opening, Main Entrance

MAXXI, Rome 2009 – Soft Opening, Main Lobby


The Art Museum as Catalyst

“Art” today is an open-ended platform to reflect new social phenomena and ideas. It is all about the playful invention and dissemination of radically
new perspectives on life. Contemporary art centres thus offer a frame or clearing for the unknown and untested to burst forward. A pertinent brief
for an art centre is thus rather abstract, open-ended, and essentially paradoxical: calling for an anti-institutional institution. It is a vacant field defined
only negatively as the refusal to perpetuate the status quo and as a demonstration that things might be otherwise. There can be no strict typology as
there is no positively specified content. “Art” is subject to the open-ended series of re-interpretations of the very concept of art by each new generation
of artists. The only certain constitutive characteristic is that it is public, i.e. that it initiates public events and constructs a public space of engagement.
It is here that society can experience itself as self-made and self-making. In this sense art and the art museum have replaced religion and the church as
space of society’s self-encounter. The creative has replaced the sacred. In principle any political, social, economic, moral, cultural or technological question
can be brought forward for public exposition, reflection as well as critical and creative exploration within the domain of contemporary art.
Nothing is off-limits. Art is also the domain where new technologies and media of communication are first explored. It is the zone of incubation for
all ideas  - including architectural ideas -  that need space to develop before facing the performance pressures of the real world.
The architectural frame  - the museum -  should thus be a catalyst and incubator with respect to experimental modes of public exhibition, collective
communication, and social gathering. All disciplines, discourses and practices use the art system as their brainstorming platform.
Avant-garde museums that dare to enlist avant-garde architecture to re-define the frame within which they invite curators and artists to construct these
platforms are thus venturing into a second order brainstorming: brainstorming about brainstorming. To the extent to which innovation and thus extended
brainstorming becomes the order of the day in many or most arenas of social life the design of a contemporary art centre might entail, reveal, and
accentuate features that might be of general relevance to way architecture should frame the contemporary spaces of social communication in general.
This is the premise according to which MAXXI can offer a pertinent manifesto statement for the architecture of the 21st century.
The features that are worthy of generalisation are those that increase architecture’s capacity to construct spaces that achieve higher densities of
communication and event participation through strategies of continuous differentiation, deep layering, and simultaneity.


Zaha Hadid Architects, Urban Master-plan for MAXXI, London 1999

MAXXI, Rome, Flaminio District, Rome 2009

MAXXI, Rome, Via L. Poletti, Rome 2009


Urban Strategy and Architectural Concept

The design took its initial point of departure from the geometry of the immediate urban context. Two urban grid-directions meet at the site.
The two directions are drawn into the project-site. The resultant angle-divergence of 51 degree is mediated by means of curves.
The second, decisive design concept was the imposition of a strong, rigorous formalism: the formalism of striation involving parallel lines that bend,
branch, bundle or intersect. These lines were later interpreted as walls, beams, and ribs, as well as staircases and lighting strips.
The formalism gained particular functional significance by taking the essential functional substance of the museum  - the wall, everywhere understood
as potential exhibition/display surface – as the fundamental space-making substance of the project. The design is thus constituted via the “irrigation”
of the site with exhibition walls. The walls run mostly parallel. The curves that mediate the change of urban direction are taken as opportunities to
change the spacing between walls, or as opportunities to intersect walls, while maintaining the condition of parallel flow, as well as tangential branching
and confluence. The play of parallel walls, augmented by branching and intersecting wall trajectories, produces both interior and exterior spaces.
The walls are not always grounded, but the play of walls operates on three primary levels. This implies that some of the walls operate as long spanning
beams, or as far-reaching cantilevers. One set of walls takes a sloping trajectory that leads to a terracing gallery on the inside. The walls allow for broad
openings so that long, deep beams result. Between the walls arrays of ribs participate in the overall laminar flow of lines and thus further accentuate the
directionality of the gallery spaces. These ribs structure the glass roofs that filter natural light into all gallery spaces. A continuum of correlated architectural
elements is established: walls, beams, and ribs. Everything joins the formalism of linear, streaming elements. This also involves the ramps and staircases and
thus ultimately the circulatory flow of the audience. Everything flows.


Zaha Hadid Architects, Streams irrigate the site – build up in three layers, 1999

Zaha Hadid Architects, Project Formalism – streams of walls/beams/ribs, 1999

MAXXI, Rome 2009 – Soft Opening, Gallery Zone – 2nd vertical connection/interchange


Field versus Object

The flow, bifurcation and confluence of architectural elements affiliates to the multiple trajectories of the urban context and embraces the existing
buildings on the site that are incorporated into the new institution. The project’s unity and coherence is thus constituted internally as field rather
than externally as object. The building turns the corner and partly embeds itself into the context. It has no overall shape that can be visually grasped
in a single glance. Instead it opens a characteristic “world” to dive into (rather than a building that confronts you as signature object). The new urban
campus is organised and navigated on the basis of directionality and the distribution of densities rather than through boundaries or key points.
This is indicative of the character of the MAXXI as a whole: a porous, immersive field condition.
The field is a force-field of lines. These lines cannot be individuated (and individually arranged) like elements in a modern composition.
Within a field the single element is never of concern. What matters are field-qualities that emerge from the interplay of a multitude of elements.
The medium of lines utilized in MAXXI allows for a gradual transformation of the resultant field-qualities: straight zones flow into curved zones,
zones with laminar flow change into zones of layering and intersection. These different qualities are associated with different functional meanings.
The even, laminar flow produces art space for concentrated encounter. The intersection and layering of lines is correlated with vertical connections
that afford level changes. Vertical and oblique circulation elements are located at areas of confluence, and intersection.
The project contains two such zones of visual and circulatory interchange. First the great public foyer, and then a second moment of vertical layering
and connection is offered internal to the domain of galleries. In both cases these zones are not spaces that are in any way delimited.
They are singularities, or moments of intensification within a continuous field. It is here that the visual scene is most deep and multi-directional.
Intensity substitutes for extensity as medium of spatial definition.The living building, filled with wandering crowds, reveals the compositional concept
much more strikingly than the empty building. At the two points of global confluence noted above, the simultaneity and deep layering of all communicative
events is evident in all directions: people are layered in front, behind, as well as suspended above, and below. The lived reality fulfils the promises of the
design project: a fluid sequence of spatial situations that traverses a suspenseful development from quiet evenly flowing zones to multi-directional,
multi-layered zones. The deep, penetrating vistas, multiplied by a multitude of surprising shifts in perspective, affords an open-ended wandering through
the building without any determinate beginning or end-point. Wherever you are, the space draws you further, bringing new aspects into view with every step,
and offering new choices to continue your path.



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