HKDI Gallery

Online Exhibition

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About the Exhibition

The investigative spirit on which Zaha Hadid based her career continues in Zaha Hadid Architects’ ground-breaking work around the world. ‘Vertical Urbanism’, curated by Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) for the Hong Kong Design Institute, showcases this exploration on the theme of urbanism by presenting a range of design strategies taken by ZHA to create vibrant and sustainable community orientated spaces within dense urban conditions, opening up a dialogue around urbanism in the 21st century.

The exhibition begins with an overview of the ongoing research and development within the studio, often incorporating collaborations with renowned scientific institutions developing innovations in robotics, artificial intelligence, and digital fabrication which in turn informs the studio’s design process. A selection of key projects by ZHA is then presented via a large-scale projection. The presentation reveals series of architectural models, highlighting the studio’s range of work across culture, sport, transport, campus + headquarters, and masterplan projects.

The exhibition culminates with an in-depth presentation of tall buildings designed by ZHA over the past 15 years. Design strategies related to the urban context are highlighted as ways in which to facilitate a more sustainable and vibrant urbanism for the vertical city: density, ground interface, atria + bridges, façade, and sustainability. 

About Vertical Urbanism: High-rise High-density

Patrik Schumacher, London 2021

This essay argues for a vertical urbanism that delivers high-rise high-density as counterpart to the modernist strategies of low-rise high-density. It also seeks to address the wide spacing of high-rise buildings that still dominate planning orthodoxy. The agenda is two-fold: to maximise density and to maximise urban intensity in terms of communicative interactions. Density is not only a matter of space saving and the efficient sharing of services and amenities but - crucially - also a matter of knowledge exchange and cooperative integration within creative industry clusters in the knowledge economy. This requires a new high-rise typology as well as a new urban design. High-density urbanity can facilitate highly integrated lives rather than merely parallel lives, thereby contributing to creativity and productivity, and thus prosperity. 

Zaha Hadid started her career by injecting a new level of dynamism into architecture. Her work has been explosive, fluid and boundless - forcefully questioning the need for urban fortifications in her drive to establish a continuous, active ground-plane. The fragments of the exploded built volumes drift across this agitated ground, seemingly defying gravity. 


Zaha Hadid Architects, Unicorn Island, Chengdu

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid, Hong Kong Peak, competition winning design, unrealised, 1982 

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects / Zaha Hadid Foundation ©

Behind this spatial exuberance lies the real need to organize multiple, dynamic programmes within dense urban contexts. This leads to the rejection of closed forms and to the adoption of open-ended strategies of networking and layering. The horizontal was always the primary expansive dimension of this new dynamism. The Hong Kong Peak - metaphorically flipping the Hong Kong towers to generate a horizontal cluster of beams - was the paradigmatic early project of this first wave of work. The big public void, here carved out or captured and framed between the composition of horizontal beams, was thus a crucial intuition in the oeuvre of Zaha Hadid from the very beginning of her career. This idea of the void will reoccur again and again in this editorial. 

Since then, the generative digital design tools that became available to our discipline were congenial to our concurrent pursuit of complexity and empowered radically new concepts and sensibilities that ushered in the movement and style of parametricism. Twenty-five years later we are impacting at scale, across all project types. The high-rise typology was the most resistant and last to open up to the impact of the new complexity and dynamism demanded and delivered by the digital revolution. 

The skyscraper seems locked in the bygone Fordist paradigm of isolated segments and serial repetition. The tower typology is the last bastion of this bygone era and has so far largely resisted the injection of any significant measure of spatial complexity. Towers are still driven by pure quantity. Their volume is generated by pure extrusion and their inner space is nothing but the multiplication of identical floorplates. They are vertical dead-end corridors, usually cut off from the ground-plane by a podium. This formula has been applied for seemingly good economic reasons. However, this economy, an economy of costs rather than benefits, is increasingly dubious. 

The sky-scraper’s organizational structure is too simple and too constricting. Towers are hermetic units, which are themselves arrays of equally hermetic units (floors). This feature of strict segmentation with its characteristic poverty of connectivity is antithetical to contemporary work patterns and business relations as well as to contemporary urban life in general. The time is ripe to challenge the standard tower typology and demand that it too participates in the general societal restructuring from Fordism to Post Fordism. 

We are living in an era of unprecedented urban concentration. Contemporary urban life is becoming ever more complex, with divers, overlapping audiences, browsing through many simultaneous urban amenities. A dense proximity of complementary social offerings, and a new intensity of communication across different activities distinguishes contemporary life from the modern period of separation and repetition. Such a network of activities can evolve bottom up in an urban texture that offers the spatial connective freedom of urban channels and voids. What would it take to continue such an evolving synergetic urbanity within and across buildings? The answer is three-fold: dense spacing, voids and bridges. 


Zaha Hadid Architects, Bio-Medical Hub as part of the ZHA masterplan for One North district, Singapore, 2001 

Courtesy of Biopolis, photographs by Ken Seet


Zaha Hadid Architects, Atrium, Dominion Tower, Moscow, 2015 

Photographs by Hufton + Crow

The typical tower typology stacks up floors that remain blind to each other. Due to the usually centrally located core, the usable surfaces on each floor are also highly segregated. Towers are big investments and economic pressures are brought to bear demanding cost efficiency. But costs are only one side of an economic appraisal. A proper appraisal includes both costs and benefits in a cost-benefit analysis. The problem is that the benefit of providing floor surface is obvious and its measurement is trivial. While the appraisal of benefits of navigability, inter-visibility and inter-awareness afforded by voids is not so trivial and cannot be as easily measured. It might therefore be overlooked. What is required here is entrepreneurial market leadership based on the intuitive appeal of spaces with superb visual connectivity that will draw in clients who are willing to pay the extra costs and more. 

The idea could not be simpler: All buildings, especially towers, must become to a large extent empty, hollow, i.e., we must substitute usable floor surface with voids affording deeply penetrating internal vistas. 

The author has confidence that this will succeed within our contemporary knowledge economy with creative industry firms. Here real estate costs are only a small fraction of human capital costs, and the prospect of increasing creative knowledge worker productivity will be worth the expense of cutting voids into the dense packing of floors and desks. Visual density is more important than physical density because it facilitates density of communication. This is not only a matter of facilitating actual encounters, conversations, exchanges, and collaborations. It is successful already via the thrill and stimulation of being viscerally immersed within a cluster of creatives. This sense of stimulation has its own intuitive rationality: the prospect of encounters, of learning opportunities, of collaborative ventures – all productivity and thus life enhancing – attracts those of us eager to thrive professionally. 


Zaha Hadid Architects, Soho Galaxy, Soho China, Beijing, 2008-2012 

(left) Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects



Zaha Hadid Architects, Cluster Tower with Mega-atrium, Competition for Beijing CBD, 2012 

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

What is the point of agglomerating thousands of people within a headquarters tower, if not the facilitation of cooperation, planned and unplanned? Post Fordism implies that workers are no longer chained rigidly into an assembly line. Production is automated via reprogrammable robotic systems. This new technological era ushered in by the combination of computation and networking, and now further enhanced via AI, has an enormously expanded capacity to absorb innovations. Production robots can be re-programmed just in time and new service apps uploaded to billions. The same applies to software updates. The Fordist mechanical assembly lines had very little ability to take on product innovations on the fly. Here cycles of innovation were counted in years or decades rather than months and weeks. In any case, the workers were still locked into the assembly chain as well. In contrast, all work is now able to focus on continuous innovation: R&D, marketing, financing. As workers become creative knowledge workers, they must become self-directed nodes in a continuous process of network self-organisation. There is no way that this can be planned from above. The leadership is busy building open platforms that might allow this self-organisation to flourish. Buildings are one important type of platform that can make a difference. The costs of creating or renting these spatial communication platforms dwarf in comparison to the costs of the human capital that fills these buildings. A building that wastes and stunts this human capital is damaging the economy, irrespective of its own construction costs. All the ideas, innovations and productive collaborations that might have been the result of bringing thousands of smart people together, are the invisible opportunity costs that are missing from the calculations of each project budget. However, comparative analyses on the urban scale have demonstrated what urban economists call agglomeration economies. 

Parametricism has matured and is delivering sophisticated state of the art products at scale. The following projects demonstrate the experiential and communicative value that a vertical urban architecture with voids and bridges can deliver for the new global network society. More than ever, the task of architectural design will be about the transparent articulation of relations for the sake of orientation and communication. Differentiation, interfacing, and navigation are joined in a clear agenda that will require a sophisticated, versatile language of architecture. An expressed contemporary structure, like an optimized exoskeleton, helps naturally to differentiate the tower along its vertical axis. The exoskeleton also takes pressure off the core and allows more freedom for interior voiding. The voids which are strung along the vertical axis might fuse into a mega-atrium that also affords panoramic elevators to fly through a navigation space, functioning like a vertical urban street. An example for this is Zaha Hadid Architects’ Morpheus tower in Macao. 

Morpheus is a luxury hotel that plugs into Macau’s City of Dreams complex. The project deploys the device of an exoskeleton that gives ample freedom to the complex void unfolding inside. This vertiginous space of flying can be traversed via 180 degree glazed panoramic elevators. The void is negotiated by bridges that host social spaces like cafes and restaurants. Vistas open out into the urban context. 


Zaha Hadid Architects, Morpheus at City of Dreams, Macao, 2019 

(left) Courtesy of Melco Resorts and Entertainment

(right) Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects


Zaha Hadid Architects, Leeza Soho Tower, Beijing, 2019 

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects


Zaha Hadid Architects’ Soho Leeza tower in Beijing offers collaborative office space for hundreds of small and medium enterprises gathered around the world’s tallest atrium. The Mega-void cuts right through the tower in a continuous spiralling move that opens the tower to its urban context. The smooth trajectory of the void is punctuated by trusses that stich the two slices together. 

The twisting surfaces of the atrium give rhythm and dynamism to the space and also facilitate and vary the view up and down the atrium, revealing more than a straight wall would. The sky bridges serves as structural ties and punctuate the free flow of the space. 

Leeza SOHO’s atrium acts as a public square for the new business district, visually linking all spaces within the tower and creating a new civic space for Beijing that is directly connected to the city’s transport network. The atrium brings natural light deep into the building and acts as a thermal chimney with an integrated ventilation system that maintains positive pressure at low levels. This limits air ingress and provides an effective clean air filtration process within the tower’s internal environment. 

As with our Macao project, it is important that the mega-atrium is not a hermetic space but visually connects with the surrounding urban fabric. This reduces vertigo and enhances the sensation of freedom. Entering this space delivers a viscerally uplifting experience, reminiscent of the tallest Gothic cathedrals. 

The view from the neighboring urban spaces and towers into the communication void is as important as the views across the void and from inside out. The void draws its audiences in and up the tower. It reveals to each floor what goes on across many more floors, above and below, inspiring inter-awareness as a first step to productive social interaction. It also provides awareness of the urban life beyond. 

The idea of explicitly introducing navigation as a key agenda to be considered in the design of towers goes hand in hand with the attempt to inject a certain measure of differentiation and complexity into the vertical trajectory of the tower. The repetition of the same does not require a special design effort to facilitate orientation. And usually, the navigation of towers is simple: just step into the elevator and select the required floor. As the complexity of the tower increases and public functions start to penetrate the tower, navigation becomes an issue. Navigation means much more than mere mechanical circulation. Navigation is the perceptual and conceptual penetration of a deep space. A legibly configured navigation space is called for that affords a certain visual penetration and mental map. Floors are no longer segregated black boxes. 

Such a space invites roaming rather than merely the seeking out of a pre-planned, known destination. While maintaining a strong sense of orientation, a strategic browsing should be made possible, affording unplanned but non-random encounters, just like in a buzzing city fabric. This is the idea of ‘interior urbanism’. The question is: Can the idea of interior urbanism be applied to towers? One solution is the idea of the mega-atrium, the tower as a continuous void that can bring thousands of potentially inter-relevant activities into mutual view. An example of this is Zaha Hadid Architects’ headquarters design for the Tai Kang Conglomerate in Wuhan. 

This massive void gathers the many firms of the conglomerate, plus retail spaces and a small business hotel. This is a 21st Century city square, a truly urban interior. The dramatic spectacle of this interior urbanism delivers a thrilling sensation. But this sensation makes productive sense. The visceral attraction is signalling the anticipated richness of productive encounters. 

These spaces express and facilitate the complexity, dynamism, and communicative intensification of urban life in our 21st Century Network Society. Buildings must become porous and urbanised on the inside, allowing for increasing inter-visibility between the diverse social activities brought together, to maximize co-location synergies and to facilitate a browsing navigation. Another example of this is Zaha Hadid Architects’ Dominion Tower in Moscow where a synergy cluster of creative industry firms have naturally found each other. 


Zaha Hadid Architects, Mega-Atrium, Tai Kang Headquarters, Wuhan, 2016-2022 

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects


The motivation to move into cities, ever larger and denser, and into larger buildings, is clear: we come together to network, to synergize knowledge, to exchange and to cooperate. The built environment becomes an information-rich, empowering and exhilarating 360 degree interface of communication and networking. However, it thereby also becomes an experience. Lose yourself and discover yourself! 

The taller the tower, the more important becomes its mode of interfacing with the ground-plane. A large amount of traffic coming down from the tower usually occasions spatial provisions on the ground floor. For instance, in the case of a hotel tower, all additional facilities like lobbies, restaurants, bars, retail stores, etc. are located on the ground floor or near to the ground. Tall residential towers, as well as office towers, also demand ground level expansion. Usually these additional space requirements are catered for by means of discrete podium blocks that separate the shaft of the tower from the ground. One of our key ambitions has been to find convincing alternatives to the ‘tower on podium’ typology. Alternatives that avoid the intervention of a discrete third element between the ground surface and the tower itself. One such strategy is the sunken retail podium, as executed in ZHA’s Leeza Tower in Beijing. The last two projects featured here offer further solutions for an intensified, layered interfacing of towers with the public ground surface. 


Zaha Hadid Architects, OPPO Telecommunications Headquarters, Shenzhen, 2020 – 2025

Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects



Zaha Hadid Architects, Tower C at Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters Base, Shenzhen, 2020 – 2027

Renders by Brick Visual, Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid Architects’ design for a new headquarters for the telecommunication company Oppo places a cluster of towers on a terraced plinth that functions like a podium but integrates the tower with the public ground rather than cutting it off. 

The second relevant scheme currently on our drawing boards is a mixed-use twin tower scheme for Shenzhen – Tower C – located within Shenzhen’s Super Headquarters Bay. This scheme pushes the landscape-like terraced layering and multiplication of the ground to a new level, taking full advantage of the adjacent park. The would-be podium bleeds into the park, inviting visitors up into its depth via multi-level exterior access. The multi-level bridge connection offers another expanse of semi-public interaction space higher up the towers. Again, atria are also used within this deep would-be podium. 

The agenda of communicative intensification within and between densely spaced high-rise structures, via the combined strategies of clustering, bridges and atria, will articulate a new paradigm for the design of high-rise urbanism. On this basis the tower typology will receive a new lease of life in the central metropolitan societies, where the desire for connectivity (rather than pure quantity) drives urban density. In the future, even more than is evident already now, this super-dense build up will be a mixed-use build up, where multiple life-processes intersect. These life-processes need to be ordered in intricate ways that nevertheless remain legible and thereby empowering. 


Master Lecture & Online Discussion

▎Master Lecture Keynote Speaker ▎

Mr. Patrik Schumacher, Principal, Zaha Hadid Architects

▎Roundtable Discussion Panelists ▎

  1. Mr. Patrik Schumacher, Principal, Zaha Hadid Architects
  2. Ms. Florence Chan, President, AIA Hong Kong Chapter and Director, KPF
  3. Ar. Donald Choi, President, The Hong Kong Institute of Architects, President, Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design, and Executive Director and CEO, Chinachem Group
  4. Mr. Dennis Ho, Director & East Asia Regional Design Lead - Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture, ARUP and Co-Chair Education and CPD Subcommittee, RIBA Hong Kong Chapter.
  5. Mr. Anderson Lee, Founder, Index Architecture Limited and Associate Professor of Practice, Department of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong
  6. Ms. Shirley Surya, Curator, Design and Architecture, M+
  7. Prof. Hendrik Tieben, Director, School of Architecture in The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  8. Mr. Simon Yu, Director of Zaha Hadid Architects

▎Moderators ▎

Mr. Michael Chan, Head of Academic Development, Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI)
Mr. Henry Chan, Programme Leader of the Higher Diploma in Architectural Design Programme, Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI)

Exhibition Photos

Highlight Exhibits

City of Towers, 2010

The Peak Leisure Club, Hong Kong, 1982 - 1983

Serpentine North Gallery (Shell Structure Model), London, 2009 - 2013

Mobile Art - Chanel Contemporary Art Container (Shell Structure Model), Hong Kong / Tokyo / New York / Paris, 2008 - 2011

Heydar Aliyev Centre (Shell Structure Model), Baku, 2007 - 2012

London Aquatics Centre (Shell Structure Model)

- Robotic Assisted Design -

Thallus, 2017

Mathematics: The Winton Gallery, Science Museum: Design history of fabric pods

Mathematics: The Winton Gallery, Science Museum: Flow field visualisation of curatorial object positions, London, 2014 - 2016

Mathematics: The Winton Gallery, Science Museum: Flow field visualisation of flooring and benches

- Digital Timber -

Weathered Timber Glulam Cladding Prototype Cutaway, Roatan, 2021

Interior Cutaway Section of Residential Building Unit, Roatan, 2020 - In progress

Bend Plate Study, 2021

Digital Actuated Bending Plate Replica, scale 1:2, 2021

Curved Laminated Spatial Structure Node Element, 2021

Scaled Model of Spatial Curved Laminated Timber Structure for Digital Futures 2021, 2021

Disruption Days. Concept model of amenity space distribution with staggered funnels, Mexico City, 2018

Disruption Days. Housing distribution study for an 'owner-occupied' and 'rental' proposal within a tower building, Mexico City, 2018

- Cyber Physical – Metaverse -

Gameplay Player Traversal Paths, 2021

Cyber-Urban Incubator Project - Plaza, 2021

Cyber-Urban Incubator Project - Exhibition Building, 2021

- Function Img Graph Reps -

Cirratus Vase, 2016

Study Models of Metro Station Canopies Variations, 2019 - In progress

3D Printed Concrete Balustrade Block, Striatus Bridge, 2021

- Curved and Developable -

Study Model of Curve Crease Fold Rocking Chair, 2013

Study for Curve Crease Fold Table, 2014

Studies for a Curve Crease Folded Perforated Serving Platter, 2014

Curved Crease Folded Pleated Canopy, 2014

Volu Dining Pavilion, 2015

- ZHA Portfolio Models -

Beijing Daxing International Airport, Beijing, 2012 - 2019

Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul, 2007 - 2014

Infinitus Plaza, Guangzhou, 2016 - 2021

Opus, Dubai, 2013 - 2020

Unicorn Island Masterplan, Chengdu, 2018 - In progress

London Aquatics Centre, London

New National Stadium of Japan, Tokyo, 2012 / Unbuilt

- Vertical Urbanism Models -

CECEP Shanghai Campus, Shanghai, 2020 - In progress

Mercury House, Paceville, 2017 - In progress

Tower C, Shenzhen, 2020 - In progress

Yulon,Taipei, 2009 - In progress

Libertador Apartments, Buenos Aires, 2016 - In progress

Mandarin Oriental, Melbourne, 2016 / Unbuilt

1000 Museum, Miami, 2012 - 2019

OPPO Headquarters, Shenzhen, 2019 - In progress

Leeza SOHO, Beijing, 2015 - 2019

Generali Tower, Milan, 2004 - 2018

Nanjing International Youth Cultural Centre, Nanjing, 2011 - 2017

D’Leedon, Singapore, 2007 - 2014

Jockey Club Innovation Tower, Hong Kong, 2007 - 2014

The Henderson, Hong Kong, 2018 - In progress

Morpheus at City of Dreams (Presentation model), Macau, 2013 - 2018

Morpheus at City of Dreams (Atrium Studies), Macau, 2013 - 2018

Learning Resource

Exhibition Guide (Download PDF) 

Events & Public Services


Online Programme:

Online Master Lecture X Roundtable Discussion


Vertical Urbanism - The current practice in Asia and its future


24 March 2022 (Thursday) 


5pm – 5:30 pm HKT Master Lecture 
5:30 – 6:30pm HKT Discussion

Lecture Speaker: 

▎Master Lecture Keynote Speaker ▎

Mr. Patrik Schumacher, Principal, Zaha Hadid Architects

▎Roundtable Discussion Panelists ▎

1.      Mr. Patrik Schumacher, Principal, Zaha Hadid Architects

2.      Ms. Florence Chan, President, AIA Hong Kong Chapter and Director, KPF

3.      Ar. Donald Choi, President, The Hong Kong Institute of Architects, President, Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design, and Executive Director and CEO, Chinachem Group

4.      Mr. Dennis Ho, Director & East Asia Regional Design Lead - Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture, ARUP and Co-Chair Education and CPD Subcommittee, RIBA Hong Kong Chapter.

5.      Mr. Anderson Lee, Founder, Index Architecture Limited and Associate Professor of Practice, Department of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong

6.      Ms. Shirley Surya, Curator, Design and Architecture, M+

7.      Prof. Hendrik Tieben, Director, School of Architecture in The Chinese University of Hong Kong

8.      Mr. Simon Yu, Director of Zaha Hadid Architects


▎Moderators ▎

Mr. Michael Chan, Head of Academic Development, Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI)

Mr. Henry Chan, Programme Leader of the Higher Diploma in Architectural Design Programme, Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI)


English, simultaneous interpretation will NOT be provided.


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Exhibition Period   

19.01 - 13.06.2022 

(Closed on Tuesdays)  


Opening Hours  

10:00 - 20:00  



HKDI Gallery, Hong Kong Design Institute  

3 King Ling Road, Tseung Kwan O, NT  

(MTR Tiu Keng Leng Station Exit A2)  


Enquiries / +852 3928 2566  

*For everyone’s health and safety, capacity is limited, and an advance ticket is required for visitors.