Skip to content


Post date:

Let’s go on a quick trip to Architectistan! Don’t forget to bring this map!  


First up’s Kazakhstan. Foster+Partners own it. There’s his Khan Shatyr, that giant tent-shaped shopping centre, that apparently was the brainchild of Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazabayex. Or so it says here. 


And who can forget F+P’s whimsical “Peace Pyramid” – or the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation – and which is also known as the ‘Foster Pyramid,’ after you know who. F&P’s site doesn’t add much but it does have some TERRIFYING IMAGES.

Foster & Partners - Peace Pyramid, Astana

This is OMA’s (on-hold as of 2007) proposal for a science campus in Almaty, Khazakstan. F+P 2 : 0 OMA


Nursultan Nazarbayev is the president of Kazakhstan, having gloriously won every election since 1990.


Also on the must-see list is the Kazakhstan Central Concert Hall by Studio Nicoletti Associati. Lots of black cars.

studio nicoletti

Just the day before yesterday, Kanye West was criticised for accepting a reported $3 million (£1.93 million) for performing at the wedding of the grandson of the President of Kazakhstan. Does he have a problem with that? Judge for yourself.

Next stop, AZERBAIJAN and Baku! BIG got in there first with the Zira Island eco-resort, famously modelled on the famous seven famous mountains of Azerbaijan. You could go here for more information and images, or you could go straight to the source. (requires muchos Flash) 

zira island

Fantastically, Zira Island is carbon-neutral, according to RAMBOLL and the BIG B.

energy circle

This new architecture not only recreates the iconic silhouettes of the seven peaks, but more importantly creates an autonomous ecosystem where the flow of air, water, heat and energy are channeled in almost natural ways.

Watch this next vid and share the dream.

These are Flame Towers by HOK. Now HOK aren’t generally thought of as starchitect league, but Flame Towers places them squarely up there with the brightest and best the world of architecture has to offer. As compelling as a car-crash. Read what HOK have to say.


Can we zoom out a bit?


What can one say? Anything but this, from HOK’s website.

HOK has designed an iconic building that has transformed the city’s skyline while promoting its historic identity.

Now, Azerbaijan has a Shia majority but, even so, in this far corner of what was once the Persian Empire, I’m unsure of the wisdom of the not-exactly-subtle allusions to Zorastrianism symbolism – playing with fire, methinks. One could stop and reflect upon how the development actually IS iconic in the original religious sense of the word – but back in the bus please – we’re moving on! Baku has more to offer.


More black cars! This building is gradually shedding its innocent working title of Azerbaijan Cultural Centre and slowly but surely coming to be known as the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre, as intended. Heydar Aliyev? “Who’s he?” you may ask. Ask no more.


The current president of Azerbaijan is Heydar’s son, Ilham Aliyev. His image remains largely controversial. He has been criticised for his alleged authoritarian rule and often described as a dictator by analysts and political commentators. At the same time, within internal politics, he has never had serious rivals capable of challenging his firm grip on the Azerbaijani politics. It is widely expected that the current level of popularity enjoyed by Aliyev will enable him to win the 2013 presidential elections.


Here’s Elton John’s gig at Tofig Bahramov Stadium in Baku. The concert was attended by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and his spouse Mehriban Aliyeva. This photo is from the first lady’s website.

elton john ayilev
September 23, 2007: For the first time in Azerbaijan, singer Elton John performed a one-day concert, which was held at the stadium named after Tofik Bakhramov in Baku. The concert was organized by Heydar Aliyev Foundation and sponsored by State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic. (APA)

Elton John seems to have escaped Internet censure, but not so Prince Andrew in 2010. That’s because Elton John is real British royalty.

azerbaijan prince andrew

Meanwhile, next-door in GEORGIA, they’re loving Jurgen Mayer H. They do like a nice bit of concrete there. This building, the Georgian Ministry of Highway Construction (or in Georgian: საქართველოს საავტომობილო გზების სამინისტროს შენობა) is a building in Tbilisi, Georgia. It was designed by architects George Chakhava and Zurab Jalaghania and was completed in 1975.

soviet architecture georgia

and given a twist by Rem Koolhaas in 2007 and presented as “A new typology for tropical living in Singapore”.


JMH has actually succeeded in creating a mini-architectural hotspot with his post-ironic Soviet-esque use of concrete. There’s a merging of minds somewhere. 

Mikheil Saakashvili is the president of Georgia. The government has been lauded for making “striking improvements” in the fight against corruption. In addition, the U.S. State Department noted that during 2005 “the government amended several laws and increased the amount of investigations and prosecutions [thereby, surely?] reducing the amount of abuse and ill-treatment in pre-trial detention facilities”. The status of religious freedom also improved due to increased investigation and prosecution [hmm…] of those harassing followers of non-traditional faiths.


Anyway, here’s Macy Gray working her magic in Georgia.

macy gray in georgia

And, in case you still don’t yet get what’s going on with all these mentions of architecture, here’s an article titled Ex-Soviet Georgia seeks pop star glamour. It’s the precursor to architecture in the same way as ‘sending advisors’ is the precursor to war. 

I’m not sure what’s going on in TURKMENISTAN but they’ve only got a little way more left to go to complete the switch from Stalinesque icons to Starchitect ones. After all, all it takes for buildings to exist is someone with money, land and a desire to build – and all the better if those someones want to make a statement as well. It looks like the conditions for starchitecture to exist in Turkmenistan are fundamentally in place although, they don’t quite get the starchitecture thing yet. These next two buildings were prizewinners at the 2012-2013 International Property Awards Europe.  


The president of Turkmenistan is Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. That’s him in the middle.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a photo during a reception at the Metropolitan Museum in New York with H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov, President of Turkmenistan, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

As seen on Slate, this is Jennifer Lopez singing Happy Birthday to President Gurbanguly June 13 this year. He’s a Cancer.

jennifer lopez turkmenistan

ARMENIA is on the map for some minor players. All it needs to do to attract the big boys is to get itself an economy and the simultaneous ballooning of cashflow and ego that brings. So far, all Armenia has to show is this proposal by Forrest Fulton Architects,


and OFIS‘s proposal for an earthquake-proof, solar-powered “Volcano” tower. To us proposals like this are nothing more than media fodder but they both meant a lot to somebody there.

volcano-towers-ed02 OFIS

I don’t know what’s going on in this next image but that’s Armenia’s president Serzh Sargsyan on the right – or is it the left?


UZBEKISTAN still has a long way to go. They seem a bit stuck in the past.

Ichan Kala, Khiva, Uzbekistan

But it’s coming around, only a matter of time. The president of Uzbekistan is Islam Karimov.


In 2009, Gulnara Karimova – herself a fledgling pop singer under the name GooGooSha

and daughter of Uzbek president-for-life Islam Karimov – paid Sting $1.6 million to perform at a government-sponsored arts festival in Tashkent. ‘Tashkent?’ you say? Aren’t you glad you brought that map? (UPDATE: “No more Googoosha singles?”)

Musician Sting performs on the opening night of his Symphonicity Tour in Vancouver

And there’s also this.

sting in uzbekistan

KRYGYZSTAN is blank slate, tabula rasa, etc etc.

Kyrgyzstan Burana Tower_20090617182247

For now though, some questions.

  1. Why does Macy Gray get criticised for giving a concert in Georgia yet it’s okay for Jurgen Mayer H to mop up business opportunities there?
  2. Why does Kayne West get criticised for giving a concert in Khazakstan yet it’s okay for Foster+Partners to further their own interests there?
  3. Why does Prince Andrew get criticised for his business links with Khazakstan yet it’s okay for Zaha Hadid Architects to design a building glorifying its former president?

To answer my own question, it’s because our age is one of ethical relativity and selective moral outrage. If we smugly consider the circumstances of production of our mobile devices, our trainers, and even our coffee FFS, then maybe we should pay a bit more attention to the circumstances surrounding the production of the architectural imagery we so eagerly consume. If musical performers can be held to account for commercial dealings with countries whose rulers play fast and loose with the human rights of their citizens, then so should architects. Architects are not beyond basic human ethics that ought to trump professional ethics. Maybe the RIBA charter and the ARB code of ethics could be updated to reflect this?

* * * 

Prior to the Beijing Olympics there was much hand-wringing over this very topic. The professional consensus was to not worry too much about it, the argument vaguely went, for we are doing those countries a favour. After all, what’s the point of living if it means living in a world without starchitects? The topic was dropped. I’m picking it up again.