July 31 2013

Will Daring Architecture Produce Monotony in Astana?

Astana has a predilection for post-modern, avant-garde architecture. The construction of wildly creative, contemporary architecture in Dubai and Tokyo cemented these cities’ reputations as modern urban centers. Likewise, Astana will be “the Dubai of Central Asia,” according to Kazakhstan’s government, a bastion of modernity in a region that tends toward the traditional. 

This penchant for the daring can produce a mundane cityscape, however. The edifices of Astana’s one-of-a-kind skyscrapers are glass – reflective glass, opaque glass, but not transparent glass. These sleek, other-worldly high-rises often reflect one another, producing a monotonous scene. It should be noted that temperatures in the city fluctuate dramatically over the course of a given year, from roughly -40º Fahrenheit to 100º Fahrenheit. Therefore such glass is a practical choice because it reduces heat loss during the frigid months and heat absorption during the hot months.

Glass-paneled building in AstanaGlass-paneled building in Astana

When buildings are faced with reflective glass, consideration must be given to what those buildings will reflect. Hancock Place on Copley Square in Boston, Massachusetts, provides an example to be emulated. A reflection of the historic Trinity Church, designed by eminent architect H. H. Richardson, graces the contemporary skyscraper. The pair engage the eye, providing a pleasant merging of the modern and the traditional.

Hancock Place

As a fifteen year-old city, Astana is short on historic architecture. In this regard, Astana’s greatest assets are its parks, tree-lined thoroughfares, and landscaped civic and institutional commons. When new skyscrapers are built, care should be taken to situate these structures so that their exteriors reflect green expanses. An illusion of greenery will envelop the passerby, providing a visual respite. Care should be taken to prevent birds from flying into non-existent habitats, however.  

 Glass-paneled buildings on the Esil River Bank

Opaque glass can delight the eye when employed in moderation and with pleasant colors, but it can create a discontinuous cityscape that exhausts the eye when utilized to excess. Furthermore, it crudely divides the built and natural environment (as in casinos and similar places of ill repute). By incorporating transparent glass edifices, or windows, into their plans, architects designing prominent buildings in Astana might create a more harmonious cityscape, and merge the built and the natural. Such a merger, or symbiosis of the man-made and natural, is a core principle of Astana’s master plan. 

What do you think of glass constructions in your city? Do they enhance or detract from the cityscape? Comment here or on Twitter! Share on Facebook

Credits: Photographs by Sunny Menozzi and Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners. Data linked to source. 

Sunny Menozzi

Sunny Menozzi's military duties have taken her to diverse and exciting places, from Singapore to Arizona, South Korea to Afghanistan, and North Carolina to Hawaii. Sunny's travels inspired her interest in cities, especially how they function, the impact of the built environment on the residents, the methods planners employ to shape natural features, and the vibrancy that can be cultivated by good planning and design. She will begin her pursuit of a master's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall of 2013. Sunny plans to focus on reuse and historic preservation, community-building, and economic and environmental sustainability. She hopes to contribute to projects that repurpose military bases. An avid runner, Sunny is interested in the design of recreational trails and policies that encourage the development of walkable communities. She holds a B.S. in International Relations and Russian from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 at 9:19 am and is filed under Architecture, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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4 Responses to “Will Daring Architecture Produce Monotony in Astana?”

  1. Krystal Says:

    I’ve never been a fan of all-glass facades because they seem sharp and uninviting to me. However, if the intention is to create a dazling travel location where skyscrapers light up the night and still enhance the local scenery, it might be worth seeing how this master plan turns out…during the temperate seasons.

  2. Sunny Menozzi Says:

    Krystal, thank you for commenting! I concur, as a resident, I find Astana’s cityscape somewhat garish, but it does captivate tourists. It is quite unlike most places I’ve been, with the exception of perhaps Tokyo.

  3. Elizabeth Rodriguez Says:

    I guess I like garishness better than “fake quaintness” – which I abhor! A lot if how this will be perceived will depend on what is going on at street level. A lot of unbroken expanses of glass at would be really bleak. On the other hand, if there is a lot going on at street level it will really warm up the environment.

  4. Sunny Menozzi Says:

    Elizabeth, thank you for commenting! In June I wrote a blog on Astana’s greenery, which is a good foil, I think, for the city’s all-glass, avant-garde buildings.

    If you’re interested, you can read my blog on Astana’s greenery here: http://www.globalsiteplans.com/environmental-design/landscape-architecture/the-indispensable-greenery-of-astana-kazakhstan/)

    I would not describe Astana’s streets as lively or vibrant. Astana is a young city; it was founded as an extension of Akmola fifteen years ago. There are empty lots in between buildings and the streets rarely become crowded with pedestrians. Connections between pedestrian spaces are frequently tenuous. It is a somewhat quiet city – especially in the winter.

    I draw a distinction between cultivated quaintness, which I appreciate, and contrived quaintness, which I critique. Woodstock, Vermont is a fine example of cultivated quaintness, I think. Cultivated quaintness is the product of an organic and gradual process of development that yields an aesthetic that is coherent, but not typically unitary. The local administration might impose a form-based code for the purpose of historic preservation, for example, or to elicit a desired aesthetic, but the code permits, and even encourages, eclectic modifications and improvements by owners. The resulting “quaintness” emerges naturally over time, dynamically reflecting the different periods of an area’s history in its built environment. When I say contrived quaintness, I have in mind communities like Tombstone, AZ, or places where the local administration imposes an arbitrary, meticulous code that creates a quasi-cinematic aesthetic that remains static.

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