Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Back Home in Astana

    It was very nice to return to Astana. While it seemed quite exotic the first time I visited last May, this time it seemed like I was returning home after Tbilisi and Baku. I stayed at the Marriott, which is well located, somewhat removed from the Radisson where I stayed the first time. The Innovation Week events were held in the hotel’s conference facility.
The view from my room. This is not the Kazakhstan most people expect if their only previous contact was Borat!
Given the choice between local vodka and Finnish vodka, I had to drink the local!

There were two days of talks, and the speakers include architects from Moscow, Spain, Jean Nouvel’s firm in Paris, and Portugal. Oh yes, and a Canadian. There were also speakers talking about Big Data, and innovative projects in Latvia including the Ghetto Games.

My favourite session featured Russian architect Sergei Tchuban who recently won a major European award, and one of Astana's best known architects. While the English translation of Tchuban’s talk was a bit difficult to follow (at times I thought I had a better understanding of what was being said in Russian, than the translator) his architecture was delightful. His thesis is that cities need to have a balance between 'look at me' buildings and good quality 'background' buildings. He designs both.
     I gave two talks. One explored innovative approaches to master planning and housing based on what’s been happening in Vancouver, like the talk I gave in Moscow. The other looked at how Astana might increase its attractiveness as a cultural city.

One of the students presents the results from their Charrette

The audience was predominantly young architects and student architects, some of whom also participated in design charrettes that were taking place while the talks were happening. They later presented their work to the full audience.

It wasn't all work and no play. A delightful evening with Антон Надточий of and Dos

The closing night, an elegant reception was held at which design awards were presented for local architectural projects. I was given a bottle of Rada designer vodka, a nice change from the bottles of BC red which I usually receive in Vancouver.

  After the event I toured around the city. A highlight was a visit to the round ball at the EXPO2017 site. The former Kazakhstan pavilion, it now houses 8 levels of displays on alternative energy. It is most impressive, especially since the country’s financial health is very much tied to oil! Indeed, a young man who served as a guide told me his is a university studying the oil industry, even though he’s surrounded by other energy sources including wind, solar, water, and space.

A new bridge over the river helps connects neighbourhoods and contribute to Astana's walkability

  It was a delight to be back in Astana. I very much enjoyed the experience, and appreciated the attention from the local organizers. My only regret was not spending more time with Indira Max, one of the key organizers, with whom I spent a lot of time on my first trip. Maybe next time. Thanks to all for a most fascinating four days in Astana.