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Kazakhstan: Astana modern architecture

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Astana modern architecture | Kazakhstan | Asia

[Visited: January 2013]

It was still very dark and cold when I walked from the railway station of Astana towards the new part of town. When I reached the river Ishim and saw the modern white bridge with coloured ilghts on top spanning it, I knew I was about to enter the modern part of Astana. Shortly after that, I reached the Triumph of Astana, a huge residential building on the northern side of modern Astana. The sky was turning a dark blue, and I knew that I would finally be able to see my surroundings. The wind was blowing across the street, and I kept myself reasonably warm by continuing to walk. I turned towards Saryarka Avenue, passing a classical, white building with a facade with columns, and cranes at the back, wondering if this was a museum or opera building under construction.

Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): Yellow lights on Baiterek Tower with part of the skyline of Astana in the background

By now, I had reached the western side of Nurzhol Boulevard, the focal point of the developing capital of Kazakhstan. When it was ordered by decree that Akmola was to be turned into the new capital in 1997, and renamed Astana (simply meaning capital in Kazakh), it gave the city planners and international architects the unique opportunity to define an entirely new city from scratch; with plenty of space and money, a new skyline has already risen from the steppe of central Kazakhstan, while more development is still in the making, considering the amount of cranes I could see in several areas of the city. My first stop was the Khan Shatyr shopping complex, an interesting building by Brit Norman Foster, resembling a tilting, transparent tent that turned out to be surprisingly big inside. From here, I crossed the spacious Park of Lovers, which looked pretty bare on this early January day; the sculpture of a Kazakh couple gives a human touch to the imposing architecture all around. I walked to yet another shopping mall on the other side of the street, towards the Nur Astana mosque, a modern white-and-gold building which slender minarets surrounded by snow.

Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): The walls resemble waves, yet these buildings are called the Northern Lights

From here, I returned to Nurzhol Boulevard, also called Round Square, even though it is a rectangular, 2km long boulevard lined by one impressive, shiny skyscraper after the other. My few years old travel guide turned out to be outdated: there were already many more buildings than mentioned on its map. The boulevard is spacious, and there is a clever play with different levels, giving various impressions of the hypermodern city. At times, the flashy buildings reminded me of modern cities in the Middle East, like Dubai, but the very low temperature and the layer of snow reminded me that I was in the middle of Kazakhstan; in fact, Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world. I was inevitably drawn towards Baiterek tower, the symbol of Astana that also features on all the paper money of Kazakhstan. 97 metres high, symbol for the year Astana was turned capital, it has a golden globe on a white cradle; it is full of symbolism, as Baiterek is tree of life in an old Kazakh legend. Continuing from here, I passed exclusive apartment blocks before I reached two conical, gold-covered towers, which effectively close off Nurzhol boulevard; behind it, I found a lower area, government buildings, and the Ak Orda, the presidential work palace and the far end of Nurzhol boulevard. Walking around it, I realized that after the pompous buildings I had seen before had ended: behind it, I found the Ishim river again, and the emptiness of the steppe, even though I could see some buildings in the distance. On the southern side of the square in front of Ak Orda, I found the Concert Hall, another fancy building. I now walked back in the dark, finding different coloured lights on Baiterek Tower, changing from white to yellow, to blue and purple. I went up, to find out that the views were not as spectacular as I had hoped, as the golden windows reflect the light, thus blurring the view. At the top platform in the golden globe, you can put your hand in a golden handprint of president Nazarbayev and make a wish: Kazakh families were busy doing this, and taking pictures of it. Once back to ground level, I walked past the Northern Lights, lit in white lights, and back towards the KazMunaiGas building, now standing out for the lights stressing its contours, behind which I returned to the Khan Shatyr building, which had a purple light from within. It was time to leave Astana; I wondered what I would see if I would come back to this curious city.

Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): Winter afternoon on Nurzhol Boulevard
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): One of the twin golden, conical government buildings closing off the eastern side of Nurzhol Boulevard
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): The tall skyscraper housing the Ministry of Transport and Communication, nicknamed Lighter or Swordfish
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): Looking up the three wavy towers, nicknamed the Northern Lights
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): View towards the east over Nurzhol boulevard with twin towers and Ak Orda, the presidential palace at the end of the boulevard
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): Baiterek Tower dwarfed by the skyscrapers along Nurzhol Boulevard
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): The Triumph of Astana, a colossal building in the new part of Astana
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): The Nur Astana mosque just south of Nurzhol Boulevard
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): Baiterek Tower with the skyline of the eastern part of Nurzhol Boulevard in the background
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): The Astana Concert Hall, close to Ak Orda on the eastern side of Nurzhol Boulevard
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): Night view of the Khan Shatyr shopping complex
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): Modern building on Nurzhol Boulevard with sculpture of camel bearing a shanyrak in the foreground
Picture of Astana modern architecture (Kazakhstan): The contours of the KazMunaiGas building in the evening

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