Red Corner: Crazy Kazakh Capital

It is not so often that the capital of a country is up and moved, but if you’ve ever been to Almaty you’d understand the desire to do so.

Almaty is a boring, nondescript town that was the capital of Kazakhstan during Soviet times. But, when communism fell and Nursultan Nazarbayev, a strong-armed dictator, took control of the country, he decided to move the capital to an even more boring and nondescript town by the name of Astana. It was a strange thing to do at the time but years later, the decision became very clear: it offered Nazarbayev a blank canvas upon which to build a utopian capital.

Kazakhstan is one of those rare ex-Soviet republics that is actually rolling in the dough, thanks to some rather large oil deposits. Although the combination of oil and dictatorship rarely results in any good (and indeed the general population remains very poor in Kazakhstan) Nazarbayev is spending the money to build an overzealous, Albert Speerian capital.

Based upon a Kisho Kurokawa master plan, the new city is becoming awash with a fantastic array of crazy monuments, religious shrines, hospitals, apartment complexes and enormous government buildings.

These aren’t just slipshod architectural efforts, either. Some of the world’s greatest architects are pitching in to help, including Norman Foster whose funky Palace of Peace pyramid will be completed later this year.

I’m not sure what the city’s final look will resemble, but judging by similar megalomaniac efforts in similarly oil-rich countries, I’m just know I’m going to feel a whole lot worse every time I fill up my gas tank.