The new Mayfair in St Kilda Road, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects in conjunction with Elenberg Fraser, marks the first residential project from this highly illustrious British-based practice. Developed by UEM Sunrise, and exclusively marketed by Kay & Burton, Mayfair brings the buzz of London to Melbourne’s premier boulevard.

Mayfair, as with most of Zaha Hadid Architecture’s designs, are known for their curvaceous forms. From the front entrance, leading to the 150 apartments, there’s a sense of movement both inside and out. “We took our cues from rolling waves. But each wave, as in nature is unique,” says architect Michele Pasca di Magliano, Associate Director of Zaha Hadid Architects, pointing out the larger ‘wave’ that frames one of the penthouses, one of six at Mayfair. As with Mayfair’s façade, the lines are rarely straight in the apartments. The kitchens, for example, feature black marble splashbacks and curved island benches. The bathrooms are also organic in form, with elliptical-shaped freestanding baths. Even the joinery, although rectilinear, is ‘engraved’ with curvaceous brass bands, once again, suggesting movement. “These apartments have a strong point of difference, from the one-bedroom apartments through to the lavish penthouses,” adds de Magliano.

To herald the arrival of Mayfair, there’s an exhibition on the 18th floor to celebrate not only the architecture of Zaha Hadid, but also the practice’s impressive repertoire of designer products, from furniture and household items, through to fashion. Stephen Crafti took a sneak preview of the Zaha Hadid Architects, Reimagining Architecture (from 4 November until 20 December).

Many of the items featured in this exhibition, such as the skewed and elegant steel vases, could easily be interpreted as architectural maquettes. The series of Crevasse vases on display, designed for Alessi in the early noughties, were not however transformed into a residential or office tower. But other items on display certainly informed the practice and inspired many of its projects.

Di Magliano, together with his colleague architect Viviana Muscettola, also an Associate Director, spent their valuable time guiding this writer through the impressive array of models, furniture and numerous ‘jewels’ sprinkled through the magical world of Zaha Hadid.

Di Magliano points out some of the key buildings that have emanated from the practice, including starting the conversation that it took many years before the first project came to fruition. “The initial years of the practice focused on competitions. It was almost 10 years before anything was built,” says di Magliano, pointing out the first project that was, the Vitra Fire Station in Weil-Am-Rhein, in Germany, completed in 1993.

Hadid incorporated features of the existing fire station, but cleverly added a series of striking contemporary layers in the process. Now functioning as a museum, this building ‘expresses the tension of being on the alert’. MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, completed in 2009, is also singled out as a milestone project. The 18th century barracks have been exquisitely transformed with sinuous concrete forms, while still leaving the historic façade intact.

On display is the Antwerp Port House in Belgium, completed in 2017. The overscaled ‘diamond’, capturing the city’s history as a diamond centre, was recently included in this writer’s design tour of Belgium. Seeing the model is one thing, but experiencing the undercroft of this massive ‘gem’ in reality was a highlight of the tour. As with the fire station in Germany, there’s a wonderful juxtaposition of past and present.

The Heydar Aliyev Centre, in Baku, Azerbaijan, completed in 2012, also highlights Zaha Hadid Architects’ masterful sinuous lines. Named ‘Design of the Year 2014’ by London’s Design Museum, it was cited in its award as ‘a masterwork of invention and execution’.

Whether it’s the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Azerbaijan or the London Aquatics Centre, completed in 2012, there’s a sense of ‘floating’, of forms that appear considerably lighter than the highly complex engineering suggests. The roof of the London Aquatic Centre, for example, appears to ‘hover’ over the swimming pools, reducing elements to the human scale in the process.

While the models, all protected under glass, provide an overview of the projects, the furniture and household items could easily be interpreted as a ‘built form’. “These smaller items allow the practice to test its ideas, with considerably fewer (if any) town planning constraints. And unlike a building that can take five years to realise, a vase can be produced in six months to a year,” says Muscettola.

Zaha Hadid’s Nova Shoe for United Nude provides an entrée into Hadid’s world for a fraction of the cost of buying one of the Mayfair apartments. The four-tiered stacked shoes, made from injected moulded plastic, are as futuristic as the apartments. Then there’s the customised fireplace, designed especially for the Mayfair apartments. Made from Corian, this gas fireplace includes a place for the television and a nook to warm oneself by the fire. If the flames don’t provide sufficient light, then there’s Aria chandelier for Slamp, a sculptural pendant with fins. Movement is an obvious reference in all of Zaha Hadid Architectures’ designs. The ‘Liquid Glacial Stools’, for example, smooth to the touch, feature a series of ripples below the seat suggesting the flow of water.

While most of the furniture and objects in this exhibition can’t be touched, with many placed within glass display cases, there’s an installation called ‘Z-Play 11’, an intriguing collection of modular lounges, stools and tables that can be easily reconfigured to suit one’s abode. In a combination of black and white, these puzzle-like forms could be the new ‘beanbag’ (think 1970s) for the 21st century.

Zaha Hadid Architects Reimaging Architecture exhibition provides an important insight into the workings of one of the world’s most revered architectural practices. The body of work shown, not only exemplifies new ways of thinking, but, as importantly, how design can change the way we both use and interpret space, be it in an apartment or in our everyday lives.

Many of these items can be fully appreciated when seen in the context of one of the display apartments at Mayfair.

The exhibition Zaha Hadid Architects - reimagining architecture is open until 20 December from 10:30AM-5:30PM at Level 18, 412 St Kilda Road.

Lifestyle & Design

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