Weird and wonderful

Kazakhstan’s architectural ambition


Santiago Calatrava in discussions with Kazakhstan government to build most ambitious Astana project yet.

A general view of downtown with the Astana Opera building (front) in Astana, Kazakhstan, October 8, 2015. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

It is already 20 years since Kazakhstan moved its capital from Almaty to Astana.

In the intervening years the new capital has become a reference point for bold, wonderful and, sometimes, simply strange architectural statements.

This week, a new project was announced which could dwarf all of the other buildings made in the past, a dome that would cover the entire city center of Astana.

Let’s take step back for a second and consider the underlying thinking behind such a project. Kazakhstan is today the richest country in Central Asia due to its considerable oil and gas production.

The influx of capital the country has received over the past few years allowed the country to experiment with industries that had until then remained in the background, namely tourism. Over recent years Kazakhstan introduced a worldwide television advertising campaign featuring the country’s various wonders, particularly the city of Astana.

Most recently, in the summer of 2017, the Astana World Expo brought additional international attention to the city and boosted an already expanding tourism industry.

However, the city’s authorities are faced with a challenge: located on the world’s biggest steppe, with no other major city around it in a radius of 1,200km, and at an elevation of around 350 meters, Astana suffers from harsh winters when the temperature sometimes drops down to minus 40 degrees Celsius.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s proposed solution? A dome covering part of the city center to allow people to be “outdoors” in the winter, removing the need to wear burdensome cold weather clothes.

Meetings were held last week with famous bridge-building Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to discuss the possibility of covering Water Green Boulevard, a new avenue under construction in the city center.

If such an endeavor were ever to be attempted it would be in Astana. After all, the city is well known for its fantastic projects.

Here are TBY’s top-three picks of astounding architectural projects in Astana.

Khan Shatyr

A shopping mall/entertainment center covering a floor area of 140,000 sqm and reaching a height of 150 meters, Khan Shatyr is the world’s biggest tent. Inside it resembles a small neighborhood of cobbled streets, restaurants, and shops, all enveloped in a transparent fabric tent roof. Unveiled in 2010 by President Nazarbayev, the structure is designed to maintain pleasant temperatures inside throughout the whole year, despite the striking weather changes outside. At a cost of USD400 million, Khan Shatyr stands as one of Astana’s most unique structures.

Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (The Pyramid)

Standing a few hundred meters away from Khan Shatyr is the Palace of Peace and Accord, better known as the pyramid due to its shape. Designed to express the cultural and ethnic diversity of Kazakhstan, this odd-looking conference hall boasts a 62-meter high pyramid-shaped top, covered with glass hexagons that change colors throughout the day. Under the pyramid one can find the Museum of National History, the Research Center of World Religions, the Library of Spiritual Religious Literature, as well as a massive opera hall. Every three years the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions is held here.

Kazakhstan Pavilion

Last but not least, we must mention the Kazakhstan Pavilion at the 2017 Expo. An eight-story high gigantic glass globe standing on top of a podium, 80 meters in diameter, the building offers 15,000 sqm of floor space over its eight floors. The building itself is astonishing, and served as the centerpiece of the Expo, intended to form a new part of the city of Astana after the Expo. While the Expo itself failed to attract as many visitors as similar events elsewhere, the globe is set to remain a major attraction for the city going forward. It is the world’s biggest spherical building, and its photovoltaic panels covering its outer surface makes it particularly environmentally-friendly, apt for an Expo focused on the future of energy.

A general view of Ak Orda, the official residence of Kazakhstan’s President, in Astana, June 13, 2011. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

There are many other iconic buildings in Astana; the Presidential Palace, modelled to look like Washington’s White House only much bigger, the unfinished Abu Dhabi Plaza, Central Asia’s tallest structure built at a cost of USD1.6 billion, or the Kazakhstan Central Concert Hall, designed to look like a giant blossoming flower, are just some.

In Astana, creative freedom, access to funding, and political will have combined to create an astonishing, albeit sometimes strange, architectural aesthetic.

You may also be interested in...


Energy & Mining

Water under the bridge

Hydropower and the Angolan example

View More


Aswan High Dam

The story of Egypt's mighty Nile levee.

View More


Investopia 2023

The second annual Investopia event has identified the industries of the future.

View More


Nigerian Elections 2023

Bola Tinubu has won the vote, but will he also win broader approval in the populace?

View More
Credit: Shutterstock / MartinLueke


Stuck in Suez

The Suez Canal’s 2021 blockage has highlighted a few points about the strategic waterway’s importance.

View More

Health & Education

Brains Boxes

How has Qatar Foundation helped shape the human capital of the nation?

View More
View All Articles