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CAC Cincinnati Arts Centre

Neutral, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA)

Video collage techniques helped envision the first American art museum designed by ZHA.


With the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art (CAC) in Cincinnati, Zaha Hadid became the first woman to ever design an American art museum. Being one of the largest and most dynamic contemporary art galleries in the United States, CAC was founded back in 1939, and was one of the first institutions to caterer visual arts in the country and was, noticeably, located in the center of the city, while many other institutions of the same level are scattered in the outskirts. However, since the 1960s, the CAC's galleries were housed on the second floor of a commercial development in downtown Cincinnati, thus virtually invisible from the street. It was in the 80s that discussions about a new, dedicated - and most importantly, visible! - building raised and led to a competition in 1997. The 97 participants were ultimately narrowed down to a shortlist of three names: Daniel Libeskind, Bernard Tschumi, and Zaha Hadid.

The CAC's committee asked each finalist to produce a concept booklet showing not a physical design, but the conceptual approach that they would take. In 1998, Zaha Hadid was declared the winner of the competition. The timeline is important to understand that the 2001 animation by Neutral was produced in the period between the proclamation of the winner of the competition and the completion of the project, dated 2003.

The location for the new CAC is a busy street corner in downtown Cincinnati, that runs along a pedestrian route, so the flow of visitors and citizens just passing by is constant. Zaha Hadid celebrated such an urban location for the institution, by blending the CAC in the cityscape, but, at the same time, she was proven able to design a project that would finally make it stand out - as it is what was missing in the previous CAC. In a very accurate piece appeared on ArchDaily, Luke Fiederer wrote, "Though it's heavy volumetric massing makes it appear as an independent and impenetrable sculptural element, the Rosenthal Center is in fact designed to pull the city in – past its walls and up, toward the sky. This inherent dynamism is well-suited to a gallery which does not hold a permanent collection, and is situated at the heart of a thriving Midwestern city."

As mentioned above, the CAC requested a concept booklet showing the approach to the museum and, even such conceptual approach is at the core of ZHA, this video benefit from it, being able to explain and show the future CAC through an abstract animation, compared with footage shot on location. This is to say that Neutral here takes a step forward in its collaboration with ZHA: not only it makes a display of the conceptual nature of the project, but it sews it with the actual look of the upcoming project (which was way more abstract in the other example taken in examination) and of its interaction with the city. The live footage, taken by Steve Gebhardt, is shot on location with digital 3D imagery, making this film an early example of Neutral’s video collage techniques.

In the words of Neutral: "Cincinnati's urban block geometry defines the design of this building by Zaha Hadid, in a vertical landscape of galleries and interconnections. The animation explores the upwards movement of this cityscape and aptly elaborates on the curved ground turning into a vertical backbone of the building."

(Story by Sara Marzullo, The Architecture Player)

Authors icon Credits

Mentioned projects: Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art - CAC (2001-2003)
Project location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Live footage: Steve Gebhardt
Concept, Direction, Production, Edit, Sound: Neutral

United Kingdom 2001
Duration: 3'02"