Architecture: Jockey Club Innovation Tower (Zaha Hadid)

Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid), view from the podium of the university’s campus

The visually stunning Jockey Club Innovation Tower (JCIT) at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University was designed by renowned British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (www.zaha-hadid.com) and was completed in 2014. The building is representative of Hadid’s bold architectural style and love of curves. The building hosts the university’s School of Design (www.sd.polyu.edu.hk); studying in such a futuristic and unique building must be inspiring for many of the school’s students.

View from the opposite side (from Block Z of the university campus)

In terms of its architecture and design, there are some things I love about the building and other things aspects I would question.

The Positives

Let’s start with the positives. The building has an intriguing, almost amorphous shape, created from curves, irregular angles, overhangs, leans, bends and creases. Its shape looks different depending on where you are viewing it from. Viewed from the northeast, it resembles the prow of a massive ship rising up from the water.

Jockey Club Innovation Tower (view from the northeast)

Viewed from the main campus podium to the southeast, it looks like a hillside that someone split open, revealing a cross-section of geological strata.

Jockey Club Innovation Tower (view from the southeast)

These are two satellite images taken from Google Earth. I had no idea the building was shaped like this—with two oblong sections joined together (note: the green color is scaffolding erected for renovations).

Jockey Club Innovation Tower: Image from Google Earth

Looking at the building from straight above, it looks like it could be a Star-Wars-style spaceship.

Image from Google Earth

Let’s see how it looks from other angles.

Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
The building catching the late afternoon sun
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
View from the north
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
A pedestrian footbridge links the JCIT (and the main campus) to Block Z of the campus
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
View from the campus podium
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
This section is particularly ship-like
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
Interior (looking down)

The Flaws

Although I love the way the building looks, in my opinion, it doesn’t fit in well with its surroundings, particularly the existing architecture of the campus. It is almost entirely boxed in by the chunky and blocky, reddish-brown buildings of the fortress-like university campus, which is itself boxed in by large highways and overpasses on all sides, with a huge highway-cloverleaf to the northwest (beyond which are two more large red brick buildings). When the building is viewed from a distance, all that brick, concrete and traffic makes it look small and out-of-place (and if you are not actually on campus, there are only a few places where you can get an unobstructed view of the building).

View from the north: highways and brick buildings (there are more brick buildings behind Innovation Tower)
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
Innovation Tower (center) and Block Z (right)

Should Zaha Hadid’s design be criticized for what is essentially the brutally ugly design of the campus in which it resides? Probably not. It is difficult to think of anything except for a chunky, red brick building that would fit in with the existing buildings. Perhaps the problem lies with the university’s decision to build yet another complex of chunky, red brick buildings (called Block Z) to the northwest of Innovation Tower at the same time as Hadid’s project was under construction. This new block only served to obstruct views of Innovation Tower and further box it in.

Another problem with the design of the building is that if you are up close at ground level, some parts of the structure are not very inviting..

Jockey Club Innovation Tower: a less attractive view
 Jockey Club Innovation Tower: a less attractive view
Four years after completion, the exterior is starting to show stains.

It seems that when viewing the building, to fully appreciate it’s beauty, you need to find a Goldilocks vantage point—one that isn’t too far away and one that isn’t too close. .

Another flaw is that the interior is not particularly engaging. It is full of interesting angles, and the windows let in a lot of natural light, but the grey tile floors, plain off-white walls, relatively low ceilings and narrow passageways give some parts of the interior a utilitarian feel.

Corridor

For example, on one floor (see the photo below), a staircase occupies the center of the interior, making it the visual focal point, but there is nothing interesting about the staircase; it is just just a concrete staircase that extends straight down. The staircase also serves as a kind of light well for the floor below, but for a design feature that dominates two floors of the building, the staircase is not very attractive. It does create ‘space’, but it also removes space where people could actually congregate and forces them into narrow passageways on either side of the stairwell.

Staircase

Some of the rooms look spare, utilitarian and uninviting. This meeting room (see the photo below) shows one of the issues with having angled exteriors. They provide interesting shapes on the outside but can cause inconvenience for the actual users. For example, if you are fairly tall, you wouldn’t want to walk near the window.in this room.

Meeting room

In his overall-very-positive analysis of the Jockey Club Innovation Tower, Hakan Anay notes some of the problems with the interior:

JCIT is essentially based on floor plans. For each level, plan organization tries to address two apparently incompatible things: on the one hand, it tries to establish a spatial organization with reference to the programmatic requirements; on the other hand, it tries to fit itself into the confines of the outer shell, which was already there. As a result one can identify a number of dead-ends, cramped, leftover spaces, or spaces those do not exactly fit to their respective functions.

www.adjournal.net/articles/65/658.pdf

Since the building’s completion in 2014, the building has been frequently covered with scaffolding, which leads me to believe there may be issues with the exterior cladding and louvres. I wonder how the building will hold up to the ravages of time and weather (and I wouldn’t want to try cleaning the windows!).

Jockey Club Innovation Tower & Scaffolding

To sum up, I get the impression that the university wanted a visually striking showpiece and an example of cutting-edge architecture, and that is what they got. However, the architects and university planners could have done more to (1) integrate the design into the campus, (2) create a more attractive and inviting ground-level experience and (3) create a more vibrant and engaging interior.

Links

Photo Galleries

To view the images at a higher resolution (2048 x 1365), you can go to the following galleries:

Three Questions

  1. What do you think of the overall design of the building?
  2. How could the building be better integrated into the university’s campus?
  3. What changes can be made to the interior?

Art Challenge

Draw a building in a similar style.


photos & text by longzijun

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