Dubai's downward spiral, while completely predictable and well-deserved, is still a great disappointment to fans of hubristic architectural spectacles like myself. The opening of the Burj Dubai is cold comfort as stocks sink faster than the artificial islands of the Palm. Abu Dhabi's chastening bailout means that Dubai's future, if it has one, lies in the safe, predictable gaudiness seen all over the Persian Gulf. Dubai was certainly reprehensible in many ways, and inherently doomed to fail, but it was one of the most spactacular architectural visions the world has ever seen. I hope its end will be met with regret as well as schadenfreude.
Thankfully, the void left by Dubai's collapse did not remain empty for long. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, is vying for Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's role as the world's most ambitious architectural mastermind. Grandiose cities are not unusual these days; vaguely avant-garde silver towers are popping up everywhere from Shangahi to Mexico City. Astana stands out for the speed of its construction and the sheer exuberance of its architecture. After Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991, Astana was designated the new capital despite its remote steppe location and forbidding climate. Its population doubled in recent years, and Nazarbayev began constructing a massive governmental complex funded by oil dollars.
Like Sheikh Mohammed, President Nazarbayev shrewdly uses fantasy architecture to draw attention to a hitherto unknown corner of the globe. The ability to envision and construct such a flamboyant array of pyramids, palaces, and gilded pillars is more impressive than any display of might, and fits Astana's founding principles of religious understanding, nonviolence, and equality. I'm thrilled that Dubai's magnificence lives on, especially in a city that replaces slave labor with New Age-y spiritual harmony.
This is the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. It contains houses of worship for many denominations, an opera house, and a museum of Kazakh culture.
It glows at night!
Bayterek, the city's most famous landmark.
The top of the tower surveys the city, as well as offering visitors the opportunity to place their hands in Nazarbayev's golden handprint!
However, doing so does not grant access to the presidential palace.
Enterntainment center designed by Sir Norman Foster; intended to be a gigantic transparent tent covering a portion of the city.
I will continue to mourn for Dubai, but Astana gives me hope for the future of fantasy architecture (at least until its economy crashes).