The Danish architectural practice BIG was awarded first prize in an open international design competition to design Kazakhstan’s National Library. The competition attracted 19 entrants - among them Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid – but BIG was the ultimate winner due to the modern, rational and classically anchored library vocabulary employed.

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Giant Foster-designed matrix for Kazakhstan

The latest addition to the metropolis of Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, will be an autonomous mini-city which has been designed to look like a three dimensional bar chart - a form that expressly echoes the ever-augmenting economic fortunes of the country.

Called Abu Dhabi Plaza, the superstar British architect Norman Foster has designed the complex to include an 88-storey tower, hotels, a "traditional” Kazakh market and a winter garden the size of a soccer pitch to offer Astanians the chance to enjoy constant temperatures of 10C (50F) – even in winter when it’s often –40C outside.

Situated along Astana’s ‘green axis’ – two immense intersecting boulevards - Abu Dhabi Plaza will be a staggered matrix of buildings with a retail and leisure podium and a hotel cluster at the base that rises to form a series of office and residential towers to the north. The retail podium will incorporate a light rail station and a public square. The entire complex is envisaged as a 24-hour landmark destination - offering complete living, leisure and work solutions.

The building’s formation - where the taller blocks of varying heights rise out of the matrix - has been designed to keep out the cold and maximise heat from the sun; the tallest towers are at the north and turn their backs to where the cold winds blow from the Steppes. Solar panels facing south will collect energy to heat water. In other words, the building is a pure expression of environmentally sensitive design.

The estimated completion date of Abu Dhabi Plaza is 2013.



Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, is only just over a decade old and a wide range of ambitious building projects are always in full swing... 1,700 cranes are currently in operation on 650 separate sites in a city which less than ten years ago, had a population of only 280,000, and today boasts - 800,000.

Building work in Astana is on an unprecedented scale; to date, investment totals an incredible KZT 1 trillion 500 billion – comparable to projects in Dubai, and the construction of Brasilia and Canberra. All the new projects bear the mark of the country’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In 1994, the president decided the capital of Kazakhstan would be moved here from Almaty. In 1997, the city’s name – briefly Akmola and before that Tselinograd - was changed to Astana — literally ‘capital’. Moving the capital to Astana allowed President Nazarbayev to build and — with the extraordinary level of foreign investment that the country has attracted since the discovery of its untapped oil reserves — to build on an epic scale...
On the right bank of the city isKhan Shatyry – a spectacular and unique, fully-functioning indoor city for 10,000 inhabitants designed by Norman Foster (celebrated for Beijing’s new airport and the transformation of the Reichstag). This immense structure – an area larger than ten football stadiums – regulates temperature and accommodates shops and leisure facilities such as a multiplex cinema , sports and concert halls. The upper floor of Khan Shatyry boasts a 'jungle' and a 'beach'.
Foremost among large-scale building projetcs is the Baiterek Tower or ‘Tree of Life’. It stands midway down the length of a 1.5km-long boulevard lined with flowerbeds, sculptures and fountains. Huge offices line either side of this thoroughfare: a national archive resembling a giant egg, a pair of 30-storey cones in gold mirror glass and a trio of towers… The Baiterek Tower was completed in 2002. It is 97m high (a figure that reflects the year in which Astana became the capital) and comprises an ‘egg’ of gold mirror glass held aloft on a ‘tree’ of white steel. The Kazakhs have dubbed it “The Big Chupa Chups” for its resemblance to the lollipop. A lift ascends into the egg to an observation deck with a platform that supports a triangular gold ingot in which President Nazarbayev’s handprint has been cast. The tower has come to symbolise the ambitions of the country much like the Eiffel Tower in France.

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In 1998, President Nazarbayev envisaged a permanent structure to house the Congress of World Religions (which takes place triennially in Astana). There was a site: directly behind the presidential palace. There was a time frame: it had to be ready by 2006. The President had been thinking about the form that this ‘Palace of Peace & Accord’ should take. He decided a pyramid would be suitable and contacted Norman Foster to design it. The pyramid, 62m wide and long, incorporates a sub-terranean 1,500-seat auditorium which today functions as an all-purpose performing arts venue. Blue and yellow light permeates the cathedral-like interior of the pyramid itself. On exiting a lift at level six, ramps ascend through a hanging garden and wind towards a circular platform with a wide oculus at its centre. Here, Brian Clarke’s stained glass windows can be admired (a flock of doves are pictured ascending towards the sun that is the central emblem of Kazakhstan’s flag). The building required a workforce of nearly 2,000 - supplemented by the Kazakh army in the final stretch.

A new bridge across the Ishim River; an outpatient medical facility, four monuments, a residential home for veterans and senior citizens were unveiled in Astana. A number of overpasses have also been completed and exit roads running towards the cities of Kokshetau, Kostanai and Pavlodar have been overhauled. 24 parking lots are being constructed to house 7,5OO cars each.

An additional two bridges are under construction, as well as 22 schools, a medical cluster, a 3,500-seat concert hall by the Italian architect Manfredi Nicoletti and a 3km-long Green Water Boulevard… Groundbreaking ceremonies have been held to celebrate the start of construction of the Nokian tyres plant, Nissan and General Electric assembly facilities.

New 5-star hotels, mosques and synagogue all function well - and a light rail metro line will open shortly (with a link to the airport). Landscaping work is also underway to make Astana greener. 400 hectares has been transformed into parks and squares and 40 thousand hectares of forest have already been planted around the city’s outskierts.

Kisho Kurokauwa, the late superstar Japanese architect designed much of the city plan, but in spite of the many extraordianry talents involved, President Nazarbayev is Astana’s ultimate visionary. “Our plans for Astana are grand” he explains. “The heart of the nation beats here. And I believe that the greater part of the city will be completed by 2012.”