Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Astana Master Plan Competition

It's an eclectic skyline, with a mix of contemporary and traditional styles of buildings.
In March, I received the following email:

Dear Mr. Geller 
Municipality of Astana would like to invite you to participate in the International contest for the development of the Master Plan Concept of Astana till 2030 (hereinafter referred to as - the Contest)  as an international expert in the jury of the Contest. Please find attached invitation letter with further information. Please kindly respond to this email and let me know if you have any questions.

Kind regards, Botagoz

Project Coordinator, Research and design institute “Astanagenplan” LLP, 22, A.Mambetov street Astana, Republic of Kazakhstan Z10K5C5

A model of the current Master Plan to be updated. I came back to Vancouver thinking our city really needs a Master Plan too.
At first I wasn't sure if this was a legitimate offer or some form of scam. However, since I had served on two juries in Russia, one for a 1000 acre property owned by Russia's largest bank in Moscow, and another in Kazan, I assumed it was legitimate and responded in the positive. 
I am so glad I did. Last night, I returned home after a week in Astana. While I knew nothing about the city when I first was invited, I now know much more. Astana (which means capital) became the capital city of Kazakhstan 20 years ago. Like Canberra, Brasilia and Chandigarh, this is a master-planned city. The first plan was prepared by Japanese archigtect Kisho Kurokawa.  Since then, it has grown to over 1 million people and needs to expand.

For this reason, the city launched another internatioal competition. It turns out that the other two international judges were Gil Penalosa, a highly regarded international planner originally from Bogata, and Riccardo Marini, who despite his name is really a Scot and who worked for many years as a Director for the Danish Planner Jan Gehl. In addition there were two judges from Moscow and the balance from Astana.
Each of the international judges delivered lectures to students at the local architecture school.
Over 4 days I got to learn about the city; participate in the consultant selection process; deliver a presentation to the Astana Economic Forum which included a most impressive array of speakers ranging from the former French President Holland to Roger Bayley of Vancouver!

I also gave a lecture to local architectural students on lessons in sustainability from Vancouver. I was exceptionally well looked after by the local organizers and think I may have received more than I offered. However, it was a very gratifying experience.

Astana was once labelled by CNN the world's weirdest capital city. Here are some photos. You can decide.
The Radisson Blu hotel where I stayed overlooking the river that bisects the city
Like many Asian cities, the buildings are lit up at night. This is an apartment complex

This and the sunset photo were taken from a revolving restaurant in the Beijing Hotel
While there, I met an individual in construction who spent 10 years in Vancouver. He kindly invited me home for lunch. This is a view taken from his 29th floor sub penthouse. It was as attractive and well-laid out as any high end luxury apartment in Vancouver.
While there are no longer a lot of Jews in the city, there are some and they have built a new synagogue.

Education is a high priority in the city. This university, named after the president, attracts students from around the world.
This delightful lady arrived at my hotel at 2:15 am to ensure that I got to the airport in time for my 4:50 am departure home! Thanks to you and everyone else who took such good care of me during my stay in your most hospitable and delightful city.

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