Via New Eurasia: Sir Norman Foster, a famous British architect, is set to build another outrageous building in Kazakhstan. His first act of lunacy was the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a gigantic pyramid plopped down in the middle of the country’s barren capital, Astana.
Now, Foster is set to build a really big yurt, or, as the BBC calls it, a “giant tent,” 500-ft high and acting as its own little self-contained eco-system. Why good old Uncle Nazzy needs such excesses is a mystery to me, especially while his country still has issues with grinding and intractable poverty outside Astana and Almaty. Since Nazarbayev’s decision to move the capital up north just over a decade ago, he has spent nearly $15 billion on construction; Ben is right to see in this the shadows of Turkenbashi, the cultish leader of Turkmenistan.
It might not just be megalomania, however. When I was there in 2003, Astana was a tiny city, more of a village, with those annoying, expansive public squares that seem the hallmark of overly-planned socialist towns across the former Soviet Union. There were lots of tall, half-built buildings all over the place. The place looked like it was designed for growth, though, with pretty apartment buildings along the Ishim River, and a bunch of gigantic buildings with seemingly no purpose. Word among the expats was that most didn’t want to leave beautiful, mountainous Almaty for extra-cold, flat, isolated Astana.
Even a decade after the capital was officially moved up north, most embassies remain in Almaty. It is entirely possible Nazarbayev is just trying to make his shiny new capital city an attractive place to live—it is certainly surreal enough (seemingly a requirement for Central Asian capitals). If it also becomes a legitimate tourist destination, then, it might all seem worth it. But that still doesn’t mean Uncle Nazzy’s ego isn’t at the center of it all.