Though Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa designed and planned Astana, Soviet theories on architecture, planning, and urbanism continue to shape the city’s built environment. A monumental, central axis and monolithic high-rise apartment blocks are legacies of Soviet architects and planners.
This aforementioned monumental axis dominates Astana’s layout. Buildings of civic and commercial importance are sequentially organized and framed by the broad arch of the KazMunaiGas building and the massive, golden-panelled, conical structures at the center of the House of the Ministries, which the axis bisects. Symmetrical in form and composed of geometrical shapes, this axis bestows order and harmony on Astana’s grid.
The Khan Shatyr, framed by the KazMunaiGas building
The Baiterek, framed by the House of Ministries
An aerial image of Astana’s Monumental Axis, from Google Maps
Although Kurokawa planned Astana, Soviet city plans, including the 1935 plan for Moscow which imposed order and created grandeur through axiality and symmetry, influenced Kazakh officials’ conception of the ideal form of a capital city. Georges-Eugène Haussman’s execution of Napoleon III’s plan for Paris and French classicism, as typified by the landscape design of Versailles, influenced Soviet planners and plans, including the 1935 plan for Moscow. Read about how Soviet planners propagated this city form in “Soviet Orientalism: Socialist Realism and the Built Tradition,” by urban historian Greg Castillo.
The Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, an example of Socialist Realist-Neoclassical
Architecture in Almaty, the Former Capital of Kazakhstan
Russian colonization and the later Soviet nationalization of pasture lands, disrupted Kazakhs’ migrations. In conjunction with the nationalization of land, the Soviet Union began a campaign to force Kazakhs to settle and urbanize. G. F. Dakhshleiger’s “Settlement and Traditional Social Institutions of the Formerly Nomadic Kazakh People” provides a concise history of the compulsory urbanization of the Kazakhs.
Throughout the Soviet era, Soviet theorists called for the construction of dense, mid-to-high-rise apartment blocks near places of residents’ employment with minimal private space and capacious communal areas. To better understand Soviet theorists’ points of divergence, you can read “The Ideal Soviet Suburb: Social Change through Urban Design,” by William Stephen Scott.
Astana’s residents, with limited exception, continue to reside in dense high-rises. Highvill, a sixteen-hectare mixed-use complex, will include six, twenty-three-floor apartment blocks, interior courtyards and playgrounds, restaurants, shops, a kindergarten, and a school when complete in 2015. Complexes like Highvill are antithetical to the yurt, the temporary, tent-like, traditional Kazakh dwelling, and are indicative of Soviet urbanism.
Credits: Photographs by Sunny Menozzi. Attributable information and data linked to sources.