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Zaha Earns Mixed Marks Designing for Her Alma Mater

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A top-heavy, concrete-clad, largely cantilevered building by reigning Queen of the Curve Zaha Hadid recently opened at the American University of Beirut, where Hadid earned both her undergraduate degree in mathematics and one of her many honorary doctorates, and Lebanon's Daily Star reports that the reception has been mixed from students and faculty alike. The first thing that anyone acquainted with the all-white, sci-fi-svelte appearance of her recent designs might notice is that it doesn't look much like them. It's got none of the exoskeletal extravagance of her Macau tower, and looks positively brutalist compared to her upcoming addition to Dubai's skyline, but given that the plan for AUB's Issam Fares Institute was selected by a competition jury all the way back in 2006, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. With Hadid criticism bingo, the "it looks like a spaceship" space is free, but the list of gripes this building has earned is nothing short of robust.

According to Zaha Hadid Architects, the facade was chosen to "take full advantage of the region's tradition and expertise of working with in-situ concrete," while paying attention to the fact that existing AUB campus buildings were "constructed in concrete throughout the 20th century in a variety of revivalist and modernist styles." Despite this attempt at echoing the surroundings, architect and AUB lecturer Sandra Rishani, who "[doesn't] mind that the building is controversial," still feels that "somehow its very out of context and it doesn't try to negotiate between the space and the negative space left over." For his part, the director of the Issam Fares Institute agrees that "it absolutely doesn't fit in," but holds that "no new building fits into its environment. No building built today in Beirut or New York or Paris is going to fit in with buildings built in 1895."

Meanwhile, in the no less critically astute Dezeen comments section, it's been said that the rhombus-shaped or windows could never be "beautiful enough to compensate for their impracticality." The building has been called the result of Hadid "busting another blood vessel making something wilfully [sic] wiggly that should be straight," while its implementation of concrete has been compared to "absolute perfection." One commenter who claims to be an AUB architecture student lists its "many flaws in terms of outdoor circulation" as "massacring the site by not allowing sunlight to penetrate the nearby Nicely building," as well as having "railings around the 'public space' under the cantilever, which makes it very difficult to access," also adding that interior finishes "seem very ad hoc." Finally, another reader poses a question that gets right to the heart of the matter: "Does anyone know if Zaha Hadid also writes in italic type?"

· Zaha Hadid uses concrete and cantilevers for Issam Fares Institute in Beirut [Dezeen]
· AUB's Issam Fares Institute's new building gets mixed reviews [The Daily Star]