Zaha Hadid is a star of the architectural scene, a visionary. She has recently inaugurated the central building of the BMW plant in Leipzig, a scene she stages in a dynamic play of perspectives and dimensions. Aiming at an egalitarian management style with no privileges in terms of architecture, hierarchy or office planning, the three renowned protagonists Hadid, BMW and Bene have succeeded in creating an integral and rare piece of art.
"There are 360 degrees, so why stick to one": a claim formulated by architect Zaha Hadid, born in Baghdad in 1950. When she launched her career as an architect, her ideas were novel and radical at the same time. To this day, she has been scoffed at for disseminating these ideas with great conviction, implementing them to perfection with unflinching verve.
Her own personal outfits draw a lot of attention too: Many articles written about her refer not only to a golden handbag that looks like a well-rounded human backside but also to her long lasting preference for fashion designs by Issey Miyake.
Considered complicated and unpredictable, a diva that might rage and storm: Indeed, these characteristics are very useful to her, almost a precondition for her pioneering ventures on extremely stony ground. Her answer is: "If I was a guy, would they call me a diva?" Apart from her basic talent, her intelligent, brave and self-confident manner as well as her capacity to tolerate not being everybody’s darling help her to survive in the architectural world where, as we know, nice smiles and polite consensus rarely foster interesting results.
Hadid sticks to her principles and has learned weathering difficult situations. Born in Iraq, she has lived in London as a visionary young architect with complex, expensive designs. For many years, her career was marked by a long series of glorious setbacks.
Winning many competitions, her projects usually remained unbuilt. The Fire Station built for Vitra in Weil am Rhein in the late 1980’s was her most famous major project for a long time. But the past few years have brought change.
Winning the Pritzker prize in 2004, she received the highest architectural award – the Nobel Prize of architecture, so to speak. It came as no surprise that she was the first female architect to ever win this prize. Hadid is the best known woman ever to rise to fame in the discipline, without primarily excelling in the field of interior design.
She has won competitions for an Aquatic Center and the Architecture Foundation in London, her second home. While Cincinnati boasts a museum, Rome has a centre for contemporary art, both designed by Hadid. Over the next few years, her master plans and structures will make an impression on the cities of Basel, Copenhagen, Peking and Berlin, to name but a few.
While construction is underway to build an opera house in Guangzhou, the Phaeno Science Center will be inaugurated in Wolfsburg late this year. Most of these projects originated from international competitions of high prestige.
After a declining museum boom, the automotive industry has become a reliable client to architects on the international scene. While Ben van Berkel is currently building the new Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart and Coop Himmelb(l)au are building Munich’s "World of BMW", Leipzig has just now inaugurated Zaha Hadid’s BMW headquarters.
Following an in-depth assessment of a number of locations, the contract was eventually awarded to Leipzig, the traditional trade fair city, whichhas recently launched the production of the fifth generation of the BMW 3 series. Leipzig was eventually chosen for its excellent transport infrastructure and location in central Germany, and its essential qualities as a cultural hub. So far, the project covers an area of about 290,000 m2 of the 208-hectare site of the plant. WPW, engineers from Saarbrücken, have planned assembly halls and accessory buildings for a workforce of approximately 2,000. The design is kept simple and builds on conventional industrial construction techniques.
Hadid’s competition-winning design has been placed in between these buildings: a structure of interaction and communication, the thriving heart of the entire complex, linking the three functions of chassis construction, paint shop and car assembly. It acts as the main entrance for BMW’s workforce and as a reception building interfacing the company and the general public. Hadid’s building not only offers room for 740 staff working in planning and administration, engineers and student trainees, but also a restaurant, conference rooms and departments engaged in quality assessment. In addition, the building provides shortcuts to access the various production departments, providing linkages through areas that facilitate communication and interaction.
Even the production process itself is impressively displayed. Conveyor belts float through the space and move car bodies to the assembly hall, featuring a continuous, moving and dynamic stage that ultimately reflects Zaha Hadid’s architectural approach.
While well-known stylistic features like neon lamps and other flowing, band-type strip lights accentuate serially connected spaces and geometries, additional enhancement, with striking impact, is derived from their interplay with the conveyor belts.
In fact, the conveyor belts ultimately give broad structure and integrate offset workspace planes which are interspaced by ramps and staircases. Architecture with a concern for non-hierarchical working: According to BMW, a single, though highly impressive, space with multiple partitioning that even adds further impact is "shared equally by all workers, ensuring egalitarian use of space – from the trainee to the plant manager".
The desire to eliminate hierarchies is not restricted to the building concept alone: The decision to offer workplaces of equally high quality applies to the entire workforce. Therefore, boasting three protagonists of renown such as Hadid, BMW and Bene, the central building of the BMW plant in Leipzig might serve as a rare example of successful implementation of an egalitarian planning approach - without any privileges at the level of architecture, management and office design.
The way Zaha Hadid plays with vistas, "speedy" perspectives and huge spatial dimensions has been met with enormous enthusiasm during the very first days of the plant’s operation. Thanks to its contrasting opposites of intimacy and boundless space, visitors and employees alike perceive the building as an intriguing microcosm whose many facets await to be rediscovered day after day.