Posted: 14 June 2011 by Hugh Pearman RA Magazine contributor
It’s a strange object, to be sure. Is it some kind of warped industrial shed? In a way, yes. It’s Zaha Hadid’s Riverside Museum in Glasgow, the city’s new £74m museum of transport. Built in the postindustrial area of Clydebank at the point where the River Kelvin flows into the Clyde, it is a giant, fluid zigzag of a building.
It is somewhat disorientating, outside and in. One of its great dark-glazed ends faces the Clyde, the other faces inland, but in between it goes for quite a stroll to left and right. Its pleated, concertina-like steel roof is sliced off abruptly at the ends, but this jaggedness turns to sinuous smoothness as it turns this way and that. The building takes its cue both from the flowing and mingling of the two rivers, and from the remaining nearby dockside structures with their sawtooth roofs. Added to that, for good measure, is the notion of the winding road or railway track. And inside, you see why.
Finished in pale yellowish green throughout (a colour apparently chosen so as not to make the place seem like some kind of white-walled art museum) it’s as if the whole place has been lined in thick coloured icing. The pleated roof is visible internally which means that – as with her Stirling Prize-winning MAXXI contemporary art museum in Rome, another sinuous building – there is a powerful sense of movement and flow through the column-free space.
Just as well, because curatorially, this new transport museum seems like one enormous traffic jam. Every inch of space is jammed with all kinds of historic vehicles – trains, trams and cars mostly. Fascinating, but there is far too much stuff, and the collection has not been edited enough.
So you have to separate the architecture of the building from the overcluttered curation. The Riverside Museum is interesting, original but – by Zaha's sky-high standards – not great. For me her exploration of the sinuous form and the ribbed roof is done much better and more delicately at her masterly MAXXI in Rome. Nor am I keen on the relentless single interior colour applied to every possible surface apart from the floor. Overall it feels a bit cartoonish. Maybe I'm just suffering from a surfeit of exquisite new art galleries.