September 11 2013

The Legacy of Soviet Architects and Planners in Astana, Kazakhstan

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, Astana, Kazakhstan

The Khan Shatyr, framed by the KazMunaiGas building

The Baiterek, framed by the House of Ministries, Astana, Kazakhstan

The Baiterek, framed by the House of Ministries

An Aerial Image of Astana's Monumental Axis from Google Maps, Astana, Kazakhstan

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.

Astana, Kazakhstan, The National Museum of Kazakhstan, an example of Socialist Realist-Neoclassical Architecture in Almaty, the Former Capital of Kazakhstan

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.

Highvill, Astana, Kazakhstan


Do you live in the former USSR? What is the legacy of Soviet urbanism in your hometown? Comment here or on Twitter! Share on Facebook!

Credits: Photographs by Sunny Menozzi. Attributable information and data linked to sources.

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, September 11th, 2013 at 9:39 am and is filed under Architecture, Landscape 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.


One Response to “The Legacy of Soviet Architects and Planners in Astana, Kazakhstan”

  1. Mike Jones Says:

    This is very instructive. It will assist in considering future plans for Astana. Please keep the analysis forthcoming.

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