Can a ski jump be a work of art? Zaha Hadid’s Bergisel Ski Jump

By Anna Niederlander

Zaha Hadid,  Bergisel Ski Jump , 2002, concrete and steel, 134 x 316 m, Innsbruck.

Zaha Hadid, Bergisel Ski Jump, 2002, concrete and steel, 134 x 316 m, Innsbruck.

Architects have often described the difficult transition from college, where they were graded for innovation, to the real world, where creativity is limited to a budget. The harmony of science and art that architecture encompasses often gets rejected for pre-planned monotonous Highrise buildings. The only way to get those big commissions where the sky seems the limit is to build a name for oneself, one Zaha Hadid has achieved through personality and talent. She has left an ineradicable mark on the architectural world, her works gracing the skyline of major cities, while her product designs such as furniture and jewellery are seen in homes everywhere. She pushed the boundaries of architecture in every way, acquired numerous architecture awards and was arguably the most famous female architect of her time.

Many fellow architects speak of her as a tyrant whose work is "unbelievably arrogant," while others speak of her as a genius. However, what everyone agrees on is that, as her mentor Rem Koolhaas noted, she is "a planet in her own inimitable orbit.” She lost many building competitions and was discouraged by many at the start of her career, however, in the end, her office consisted of 400 staff and 950 projects in 44 countries. She has done things that were never done before, such as turn a ski jump into a monument and artistic landmark of a city: the Bergisel Ski Jump in Innsbruck.

“Few buildings can stand up to the Alps without retreating into modesty,” wrote Joseph Giobannini. Zaha Hadid manages this in the Bergisel Ski Jump in Innsbruck, first commissioned in 1999 and completed in 2002. The Austrian Ski federation sought to replace the old ski jump, which no longer followed the contemporary international standards, needing a structure which includes a spectator viewing stand, as well as a viewing terrace and a café. It was meant to be visited not just during a ski jumping composition, but also during a hot summer day to enjoy the view of the city and become one of the city’s main attractions. In other words, a ski jump was turned into a monument and a symbol of the city, one of which Innsbruckers today are still proud of.

It is 90 meters long and 50 meters tall, its design being so that it blends harmoniously into the landscape. Different parts were moulded into a single, minimal mass, and the ramp of the ski jump continues the slope of the mountain. There is a reason behind Hadid’s nickname “queen of the curve”; organic curves are omnipresent in her works. She calls the building an “organic hybrid” between a tower and a bridge, a combination of a vertical and a diagonal. The vertical is the tall shaft that takes up a seven-meter square plan. Two elevators take people from the bottom floor up to 40 meters above the peak of the mountain where the café is located. The observation desk allows for view of both the city of Innsbruck and the surrounding alps, allowing you to feel encompassed between diverging forces of nature and human built forces. 

The spaces we inhabit have an immense effect on the way we act. As Frank Duffy, one of the founders of DEGW (a spatial agency) said “buildings are agents of change. Buildings have a catalytic effect. They can express new ideas and push possibilities forward.”Bergisel Ski Jumpis renowned for its silhouette structure, as it connotes strength and an almost animalistic presence. It conveys a power and speed indicative to that needed in the act of ski jumping itself. Ski jumpers from other countries have always said that they enjoy coming to Innsbruck for the competitions, as the atmosphere and the surroundings are amazing. 


However, the expenses behind the construction of the Bergisel Ski Jump were high and many alterations had to be made before the final structure was completed. Further, the ski jump itself stands in stark contrast to much of the city itself. Innsbruck is a traditional alpine city with rich medieval origins and old architectural buildings, such as the Fürstenburg building, which suddenly find themselves being overlooked by a towering glass and concrete modern structure. This sparked some debate, as it seemedincongruous and out of place. In many ways, it is similar to the Louvre Pyramid designed by Chinese American architect I.M. Pei, located in the main courtyard of the Louvre Palace in Paris. When it was first erected, it sparked controversy by critics over the modernist style being inconsistent with the classic French Renaissance style of the Louvre. However, today it has grown to become a landmark of the city and a symbol of progress. The Bergisel Ski Jump has become a similar symbol to Innsbruck. 

According to Aaron Betsky, Hadid's work is about "the gathering together and bundling of the energy inherent in a site and situation", and "the intensities that come from condensing things, then opening up. At best it is intensely democratic, about removing barriers." In the winter time, ski jumpers leap of the ramp, and the structure makes their efforts look even more memorizing in that it is designed to look like it almost is part of their complete motion of defying gravity. In the summer, walking around it makes one feel as though one is walking under, through and around a towering sculpture. No matter when or how you encounter the sculpture it always seems to bring the best out of its surroundings, adding beauty to landscape, but also combining aestheticism with practicality. 



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