World’s tallest tent opens in Kazakhstan

When you think of Kazakhstan you probably think of nomads living in tents, but today’s Kazakhstan is rapidly modernizing thanks to an oil boom, so it’s appropriate that the Central Asian nation is now home to the world’s tallest tent.

Technically, it’s the world’s largest “tensile structure”, meaning something held up by poles and cables. A tent, in other words. At 150 meters (492 feet), it’s the also the tallest building in the capital Astana. It encloses more than 100,000 square meters, including a park, cafes, restaurants, 700 parking spots, shopping areas, even an artificial beach.

Called the Khan Shatyr, it’s a unique architectural wonder. One of the challenges of building it was Astana’s rough weather. The Khan Shatyr’s website proclaims, “What do you feel like doing everyday at Astana? It is -30C outside.”

Not the best slogan, but certainly realistic. Astana has the distinction of being the second coldest capital in the world (after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), with freezing temperatures six months of the year and winter temperatures that have been measured as low as −40 °C (−40 °F). In the summer it can get up to 35 °C (95 °F). The tent’s skin is made from a special plastic that allows sunlight in while still acting as an insulator. Air vents keep ice from forming on the surfaces and keep the interior at a constant temperature.

Kazakhstan has large oil reserves and the government has been riding a wave of petrodollars that it has used to fund a massive building campaign in the capital. Astana is said to be the biggest construction project in the world, and taking a look at the huge structures in the gallery photos it certainly is a strong contender. The city is the brainchild of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Khan Shatyr was opened on President Nazarbayev’s 70th birthday.

The government has been trying to sell Kazakhstan’s capital as a tourist destination, and marvels like this will go a long way towards compensating visitors for the weather. With rugged scenery, Baikonur Cosmodrome (where Yuri Gagarin launched into orbit to become the first man in space), ancient mosques, medieval walled cities, and traditional folk who live in much smaller tents, Kazakhstan is a good choice for the adventure traveler.

Image courtesy Nigel Young/Foster + Partners.