Monday, July 12, 2010

The Pole is Raised. The Doors are Opened.

The Guardian is reporting on the opening of the Khan Shatyr in Almaty. For as much as we here tend to smirk at Nazarbayev's grandiosity, I do have to say that the Khan Shatyr is a lot more successful of a building then anything else he's built in Astana.

In construction, it looked like part Apollo Program, part Aggro-Crag, and part towering hymn to neo-Constructionist Architecture.  The Guardian focuses more on the people at the opening and their own Troubling Questions about Nazarbayev then the building itself, as one might expect:
The Khan Shatyr is the latest vanity project initiated by Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's increasingly autocratic president. Its opening ceremony, launched with a performance by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and closed with a burst of fireworks, was timed to coincide with Astana day, a new holiday to celebrate the country's capital. It was attended by Nazarbayev, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, Turkish president Abdullah Gul and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, among others.
But as much fun as Kremlinology and star-gazing could be, the article doesn't do the structure justice. Some of the Astana-based folks here would know better than me whether this is truly public architecture, made for the people to live and play in during the winter (my vote is for "no, definitely not" if you're curious). But the buzz within Kazakhstan is truly remarkable. And this a whole lot prettier and more coherent than anything else built in Astana (or Ashgabat, or Tashkent...) any time recently.

Michael Hancock went into the details about 18 months ago, so I'll just link to him rather than rehash 'em. Yup, they got the carpark and every other amenity promised shoved in there. And there are even more pretty pictures now. Is it the most munificent use of natural resource funds? No. But it is capable of being a symbol of the new Central Asia that'll deflect rote sayings about the Silk Road and swarthy Muslims. It's a step in the right direction.

Even if, as Geoff Manaugh so eloquently puts it,
...the building cuts an unlikely profile in its only semi-urban context. At dusk, through Webster's lens, it looks less like a structure parachuted in from the future, than the shell of an old expo whose excitement has long since faded. 
Even plastic-topped, beach-holding super structures can't defeat a summer evening's ennui.


  1. Check it. The Khan Shatyr is weird and placed in an entirely stupid part of town. I suppose the idea is to hopefully draw more traffic (other than business traffic) to the left bank (aka South Side, but for some reason Kazakhs call it the left and right banks of the river).

    All the real pedestrian traffic in Astana(which is somewhat negligible to begin with) is far away from Khan-Shatyr, so it'll be interesting to see if this changes Astana--otherwise it'll join the growing collection of monuments on the left bank that people drive up to, snap a picture of, and leave.

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