Photo © Roland Halbe, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.
While most buildings remain in their place for decades, they can still express dynamic movement and fluidity. At least that is what the latest work one of the world's leading female architects, wants you to believe. With bundles of flowing curves around every corner, Hadid's new University of Economics Library and Learning Centre (LLC) in Vienna resembles a fancy stream-lined car rather than a traditional building. Situated at the center of a new university campus in Austria's capital, it is the biggest, tallest and most striking piece of architecture of the entire campus area.
The overall layout of the new campus for the Vienna School of Economics - which, the architects claim, heavily influenced their architectural design - is the result of an urban design competition. The site, in Vienna's Leopoldstadt area, is located right next to the famous fun fair grounds, Prater, and on the former 1873 World Exposition grounds. The campus thus needed to mitigate between the giant halls of the Messe Wien trade fair grounds to the north and Prater Park to the south.
In 2008, local office BUSarchitektur was commisioned to design masterplan of the campus and five other architects were chosen to design the buildings, one of whom was Zaha Hadid whose design for the main building had convinced a jury chaired by Wolf Prix.
At a cost of €492 million the site was turned into a small-scale city for students. The buildings housing the different institutes are placed within an urban landscape, intersected by an internal pedestrian-only east-west path. The LLC is placed along this path and forms the heart of the area. It rises like a polygon with straight lines on the exterior and a whole universe of curvilinear and fluid shapes inside.
The building was developed as an urban block with slopes. While the interior edges all seem to join together, the exterior edges are cut sharply. The façades - some of which are tilted up to 35 degrees - are characterized by two elements (one grey, one white) separated by a glass joint. This setting facilitates orientation and marks the two primary areas from the exterior.
The main block houses the service area, the learning centre and the library, with student services and library management located in the smaller block. The two pieces entangle themselves in eachother and the gap between them forms a ravine that runs through the entire building. The atrium is flooded by natural light from the skylights above and the giant free-formed canyon serves as the public plaza of the center and of the school as a whole.
Corridors and bridges create super-smooth transitions between the different levels. All floor plates and walls seem to seamlessly grow out of one another and wrap themselves around the central atrium. Ramps lead to the library and services on the first floor while the security and lockers are located on the mezzanine below. Visitors access the library and management offices via ramps and stairways spiraling up. All areas are connected via platforms, terraces and galleries.
The spiral-shaped vertical circulation winds upwards, culminating in a studyroom on the top level with a great view of Vienna. This spot 28 meter above the ground, faces the central square with a massive glass façade - nicknamed "the monitor" - extending more than 16 meters over the entrance. The great cantilever has quickly become the new landmark for the whole university.
Thus, it is no surprise that the LLC is meant to function as the school's central reception area and signature space. Some 24,000 students and 1,800 employees use the library. Overall, the idea of the pedestrian urban park, which is a key part of the masterplan, has skillfully been translated into architectural form that appears highly dynamic and spatially very impressive.