A PATH OF CONCESSIONS

Architect Miguel Saraiva’s vision of the city of Nur-Sultan.

When I first heard that the Central Asia’s tallest skyscraper was going to be built in Astana (that was the name back then), I had a passing notion about how Kazakhstan was taking the natural step in economic development – going tall downtown of the capital city.

After all, it was a trend in fast developing countries for almost a hundred years. It was expected and completely normal considering the goal of appealing Kazakhstan as the independent country it became worldwide. In the past five years, a lot has changed in Nur-Sultan aside from its name. Parallel with getting a new airport, a railway terminal and amonorail network, the city hit a million mark, short after it housed the International Expo 2017 And after the dust settled and international attention moved to Dubai 2020, the lives of local people remained forever changed. The capital of Kazakhstan heads towards becoming a world metropolis, and there is no turning back.

But the future city I had visioned took a slightly different turn from what I’ve been imagining.

As an architect whose bureau has been developing proposals for some of the notable landmarks in Nur-Sultan, my designs have always been incorporated with the basic principles that are “a must” of today’s city planning. Human-scale, Sustainability and Placemaking have always been in the heart of our proposals for projects such as Expo 2017, Green Quarter City, Choreography Academy Kazaja, Memorial Complex, among many others. It was not only S+A’s professional responsibility to design that way – bydoing so we wanted to provide a guiding hand that would pull other components of future city structure to follow. The true leaders of any trade should guide by example, so should the leaders of architectureand urban design.

So, the Astana from my vision was a result of a path of concessions between economic, social and political spheres towards an Urban Planning Strategy privileging architectonic quality and urban comfort– where the qualification of public space coexists with just enough density and a necessary variety of uses, promoting mobility: the creation of multiple city centers within the city. And, in order to accomplish a vibrant sustainable city, it was required not only the time to allow its natural settlement, but also a strong strategy and a specific infrastructure aside from energy and transportation. Thus, the outer ring road would be heavily planted all the way with thick layers of both evergreen and seasonal trees.

With this kind of capital investment, the surrounding suburbs would be protected from ring road noise, and the city would benefit from wind and dust reduction. Inside the ring road, the tamed wind would work as the natural ventilation, pushing the smoggy air out of the city boundaries and circulating through buildings’ specially designed ducts, but maintaining a comfortable breeze on the streets.

Aswitnessed in our proposal for Green Quarter City, for example, the buildings were designed andpositioned with regard to wind main orientation: their form prevents crazy draught around the corner,their interior design uses outside air movement as natural ventilation supplement. Priority was alsogiven to sun exposure, and concealment.

The active solar panel equipped roofs and technical walls were turned towards the direct sunlight, while the windows of living quarters were cascading down the facades in order to receive the optimal afterglow. The exposed facades had solar protection techniques including devices of various patterns, so that different buildings would have unique identities providing its users with much needed glare control and heat reduction during the summer, while allowing the desirable sunlight to enter during winter. The use of these type of passive solar techniques would give the tenants the possibility to have a comfortable and healthy interior environment without the excessive use of active systems consuming energy, so that altogether they would respond directly to the specificity of the local climatic conditions: extreme heat in the summer and especially extreme cold in the winter.

At the level of the public space, outside open areas are crucial for the citizens’ health and wellbeing. Trees were spread along the streets and new parks, alongside with other shading and/or snow protection structures which can be power generators providing charging point for electric cars and shade at the same time. A great amount of city parks emerge from the formerly closed and unusedhectares of land, where the pedestrians can then roam the friendly open-plan cityscape with lineargreen parks connecting public spaces and buildings. PPP initiatives could be created to reform the dead corridors between buildings and elevate them into new public spaces and linear parks. An improved network of public transportation would be implemented in the existing transport infrastructure and the improvised car parking lots would be given back to the city, either as public space or new buildings with the construction of public multistory garages becoming a trend and filling the unpleasant urban voids.

With the achievement of the city center, Nur-Sultan becomes a full scale international economic hub of Central Asia, where all the unbuilt land-plots receive an appropriate urban development in a spirit of metropolis. The Central Asia’s tallest skyscraper gets company of several shorter cousins answering tothe demand on Zero Energy Buildings for the most advanced economic hub being the center of the NewSilk Road of modern times. The transition-era residential buildings around Baiterek are renovated following the new trends of urban living: more livable, sustainable, and affordable homes to address the present and future urban challenges. The old village district Chubary becomes gradually re-planned and rebuilt to a high-rise commercial area transiting towards a more leisure-oriented content, as it gets closer to the riverside. The “renaissance of Chubary” results in a more intense connection between thetwo sides of Ishim River and brings prosperity to the old districts along right riverbank. The riverside is returned to the people.

And because “memories” are what gives “soul” to Cities, the iconic architectural/urban elements of the soviet times should be kept and receive a status of “a monument to soviet transition era”. Rather than temporarily renovating the facades along the Republic Boulevard, creating a forged illusion of quality, the city authorities should adopt a strategy of elevating the spirit of the neighborhood and comfort of living with human-scale, giving priority to residential building courtyards and elimination of dead-ends.

Old factories should be refurbished and converted into cultural hubs attracting startups and new businesses connected with the local resources and demand.

One should respect Kazakh nation for the extent to which it is ready to change, to absorb world’s knowledge, practice and experience in order to grow and push through and up the ladder towards leading developed countries. But one of the most important lessons international practice has taught us, is that the path Kazakhstan is currently taking, is one that must be threaded upon carefully and patiently, step by step. Astana, from my vision, has been walking a very long path to reach this imagery. And that path was full of intersections and concessions.