From Kazakhstan with love

Last year, British architect Sir Norman Foster unveiled a giant glass pyramid in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. Now, he is back, this time to build a huge tent that will shield a giant urban park.

The former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan has been getting a lot of attention lately, most notably due to the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which portrayed the main character, a Kazakh journalist, as a chauvinist anti-Semite who drinks water from a toilet.

But the oil-rich country has also been generating press for more notable achievements, particularly in its real estate market. At the end of last year, Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev unveiled plans for a huge transparent tent that would shield an indoor urban park in Astana, the country’s capital. Designed by famed British architect Norman Foster, the tent would reach 150-meters in height and cover approximately 100,000 square meters, complete with retail centers, canals and a golf course. Foster, the architect behind London’s Millenium Bridge and Beijing’s new airport, is designing the tent out of ETFE, a semi-transparent material that allows light through but protects against the elements—a key consideration in Astana, where temperatures can often drop to 30 degrees below Celsius. The project, known as Khan Shatyry, is scheduled for completion at the end of this year.

The Khan Shatyry is not the first major project launched in Astana. Last summer, Foster unveiled another of his creations: the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a 62-meter high glass pyramid that was also commissioned by Nazarbayev. The pyramid serves as the venue for another of the president’s brainchilds, the annual Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, an event he created in order to put Kazakhstan on the map as a player in global affairs.

More ambitious than any of these projects may be Astana itself. After moving the capital there approximately ten years ago, Nazarbayev’s government says it has spent approximately $15 billion (€20 billion) on the city’s construction. Today, marble palaces and gleaming skyscrapers rise like oases in the middle of the Central Asian steppe—a miniature Dubai in the former Soviet Republic. The Khan Shatyry should fit in nicely.