If a nation does not know its history, if the country loses its history, then its citizens have nowhere to go.
Mirzhakyp Dulatuly

«Decisive battle for the beautiful»

«Decisive battle for the beautiful» - e-history.kz
This is how N.A. Nazarbayev called search for the best project of master plan for the new capital city. Famous Kazakhstan’s architect Amanzhol Chikanayev is recalling how international competition was

Amanzhol Shaimerdenovich was born and grew up in taiga Siberian village and dreamed to be an artist and graduate Institute of Art named after v. I. Surikov from his childhood. But the destiny had its own plans. In the midst of virgin land development in Kazakhstan he moved back to the homeland with his family. In 1965 talented and forward young man arrived to Tselinograd and entered just opened Architectural Faculty in the Agrarian Institute.

He has not become an artist; however, he has become one of the architects of the city which is a symbol of the state nowadays. The name of Amanzhol Chikanayev will remain in the memory of the city forever along with those who created architectural look of new Kazakhstan’s capital.


Amanzhol Chikanayev, graduate student of the Moscow Architectural Institute, 1978

Amanzhol Shaimerdenovich, could you tell about your participation in the development of Astana’s master plan?

— For the first time, I heard about the transfer of the capital on television. I was quite delighted as I had been living in Tselinograd since 1965. I received education, lived and worked here. That was great news because our city, like a whole Kazakhstan, was in crisis after the collapse of the USSR. Such architects as Kaldybai Montakhaev, Tokhtar Yeraliev and others started arriving from Almaty. I respected them deeply: I was just a lecturer and they were practical men.

In 1996, when everybody knew that the capital would be in Akmola but the transfer was not carried out, I arrived to Almaty. Of course, I visited my friends — architects in «KazGiprogor», and noticed that they were drawing something titled «Master Plan o Tselinograd». I asked guys what they were doing. «Don’t you know? The contest of Master Plans was announced, it will be Astana, and we are working on it». «Really? Give me this announcement», — I was interested.

When came back to Akmola I gathered friends and informed them about the competition. We started the work with enthusiasm. I brought my friend Bikesh Shakirbaev from Almaty; he was a town-planner. We worked out a project. It appeared that the deadline almost approached. My guys gave me money for the flight and we prepared our project for the demonstration. They got me to the airport and at 2 p.m. a week before the deadline I was standing at the building of the Union of Architects in Almaty. I delivered our project and ask to give me a receipt for receiving.

The prize was awarded to another creative group which was headed by Kaldybai Montakhaev. The presentation of that project was held in the House of Soviets in Akmola. Vasilii Toskin, the Chairman of the Soviet of Tselinograd Union of Architects, called me; I was the Chairman of the Department of Architecture that time: «Look, Amanzhol, soon we will have review of presentations, you could come. But I know that you are not reserved, start talking where it is not necessary. The decision has been made, just sit and keep silence».

The project of Montakhaev is being demonstrated, jury of the competition, architects from Poland, Finland and Moscow, is speaking. They are praising the project: «Well done!». Andrei Georgievich Braun, Akim of Akmola region not so good knowing the audience in the room asked whether somebody has something to add. I replied that I had and started analyzing. This and that was not taken into account, the project doesn’t fit our natural, climate, engineering and geological zone so it could be resulted in ecological consequences… All were shocked: after the speeches of foreign masters a Chairman a Department criticized the project. Andrei Georgievich could not stand: «Colleagues, who permitted him to come? Turn him out». And I left the room.

Of course, it was public insult and I paid them back: wrote an article and published in Info-Tses newspaper. It contained professional criticism and very likely it was seen by the President. After a while N. A. Nazarbayev make an announcement that the project was good but it was necessary to organize an international contest to get a master plan developed by professional of a global level.

After the announcement I was included into the Organizational Committee as a professional who delivered lectures on the Theory and History of Architecture to provide communication with colleagues-architects, answer their letter and so on. The international competition was announced and once I received a night phone call. It was from Milan. The voice introduced himself: «Federiko Markoni, an architect, on the line, we got acquainted when you spoke at the conference in Moscow; I liked you report. We talked later». I listen to him and half asleep can’t remember who Federiko Markoni is.

Time had passed, but he remembered about me and called. «There is a competition on your city; would you like to take part in it with me? Travel and living expenses — I will pay for everything». I replied: «Of course, I wish». I could not participate in the competition as I was a member of the Organizational Committee.

I said my boss that I need leave for three weeks and went to Milan. We prepared the master plan of the capital in two and half weeks; I advised: «It should be so here, it is flooded here; ground water is close to this place; center should be formed there». Markoni had a group of young computer specialists; it was the first time when I saw a computer. Thanks to them we prepared project very quickly, though it seemed to me that it was impossible to draw city’s master plan in two weeks; we used to draw with a ruler and a pair of compasses.

I brought our plan to Akmola but asked the architect not to add my name. The project was given to Commission as made by Italian enterprise headed by Federiko. When all projects were submitted we organized an exhibition at the foyer of the Tselinnik Palace (now Congress Hall). President’s security service drove us back. The Head of State walked with delegation and looked at the projects and we could hear that our guys from Kazakhstan tried to push ahead and strived to get the President to their stands. However, he concentrated on Kurokawa’s and our Italian projects. I heard he said «I like Italian project».

Finally, he chose the project of Kisho Kurokawa though the jury selected three works of Russian, Kazakhstani and Japanese architects. This is a story how I took part at the competition of master plans of the capital.

Kisho Kurokawa won grand «battle of architects» between 47 creative groups. However, everybody knows that later you had occasion to correct Astana’s master plan made by Japanese architect.

— That time I knew Kurokawa only by his works. I remember that I bring a group of students to the Tsellinnik Palace (to show them projects of masters plans of the capital. — Ed). I didn’t know that Kurokawa was in Akmola. Before entering on the porch I talked to my students: «Today we are looking at the works of the great modern architects». I started telling about all of them and focused on Kurokawa; I told that he is an author of the idea of symbiosis and metabolism in architecture, that he developed such projects. «And now, — I said, — let’s go and look at the works of architects».


1998, foyer of the Congress Hall. First meeting of Kisho Kurokawa and Amanzhol Chikanayev. Japanese architect presents his monograph

We entered foyer, suddenly a woman come to me and said «Professor, Mr. Kurokawa want to talk with you». «Kurokawa? — I was so surprised, — Is he here?». «Yes, he came for the presentation of his project», — the woman who was his interpreter replied. I found out that he had listened to me carefully while I was talking with my students. He liked that I was complementary about his works. This was our first meeting.

He started to come to Kazakhstan with reports. The first report meeting was held in Intercontinental. Our architects didn’t understand much in the master plan especially in Western and Easter theory. Of course, I had questions: «Mr. Kurokawa could you explain what method you used to forecast the population? You know that there are other techniques, so why you chose this one?». He could stand it and said: «If you want, we could discuss this later, let’s not to spend time on it».

He made the appointment at the foyer of Intercontinental; he liked my meticulous questions. We started discussion, and at the very beginning he wished to get rid of troublesome professor-amateur. I started not only to ask him but also explain my questions. Again he could hold out no more: «Professor, everything you said I will take into account and correct the project».

How many times Kisho Kurokawa visited Astana?

— He visited Astana till 2005. The architect died in 2007. After his death his son and daughter came to Astana. They were very happy when I showed publications about their father in Kazakhstan’s newspapers.

After the death of Kisho Kurokawa nobody had doubt that the vaster plan of the capital should be corrected; it was necessary in 2002–2003 as well. Before 2004 we worked on the most urgent issue related with the growth of population.

Today the master is dead and it is necessary to tell the truth that is why step by step I tell and write how it was in reality. Of course, no one architect from abroad can project for us like for Sapporo and Japanese people have quite different mentality. At the same time I affirm that Kurokawa was a great architect.

Amanzhol Shaimerdenovich, do you like today’s Astana?

— I should say that Astana has exceeded all my expectations; I couldn’t even dream that the city would look like this. It seemed to me, might God help us make a standard consistent with international norms city, where the capital could be placed; but we have outdone ourselves. The city is a kind of architectural, town-planning and building ground. Masters of a global level embody their skills, fantasy and ideas here; international competition is conducted on every significant building and this worth much.

Despite the participation of world brains in the competition, as it is shown by morning and evening rush hours the streets of the city are not enough spacious.

— This is Kurokawa’s mistake, and I told him about it. We had a dispute concerning this issue at the very beginning. I asked him why we didn’t have two-level road junctions. He replied: «Professor, come out and look how many cars drive through the street. May God make these streets full of cars by 2030. Do you know the situation in your country? It is unknown how much time the economic recovery will take. I am a realist and you are young; just don’t tell me that you will have underground here».

I tried to protect my position: «International experience demonstrates that the cities which become capital are developing in spurts: they have ups, further stabilization, other ups and so on. You should analyze all variants of population growth, define the width of transport flows, and to name but a few. And you have done banal extrapolation».

He was offended and said: «Understand, I was the same insurgent in my youth. I forgive your adolescence».

Our conversations were in such manner and turned into a friendly creative cooperation, sometimes transformed into sharp theoretical discussions.

Could you mark out several young architects in today’s Kazakhstan?

— As people say, when you praise an architect you usually talk about your student. If you compliment your student by indirection you praise yourself. If we talk about those architects who are worth to be marked out it is difficult for me not to praise myself by means of my students. That is why I would say that 80% of all building in the city was constructed by graduates of Architectural Faculty of the Tselinograd Agricultural Institute, and their names are well known. In other words the school founded by Moisei Gendelman played a special role in the formation of the capital. I believe that he deserved the honor that one of Astana’s streets would be named after him. Moisei Aranovich not only prepared staff for agriculture but also founded the school of land surveyors and architects. I was one of his students and respect remembrance of him deeply. Another teacher of mine, Mikhail Davidovich Spektor, district planner, is still alive. Specialists of such level in the Soviet Union could be counted on the fingers on one hand. I was their student and now work on district planning.

Am I right to say that there is no one «your» building in the city?

— Why, no. The building of the Supreme Court is a work of Arapbai and Baigutta Tortaevs and I was with them. The same problem — I could not add my name as I was the Deputy Chief Architect. Together with Tortaevs we developed the project of the building of the government and bridge near the building of the Supreme Court; in addition, new buildings of the Eurasian University are also my projects.

I met the President many times. But I remember one meeting better than other. Being the Deputy Chief Architect I gave Nursultan Abishevich a report on one of the projects and could not restrain a critic. I said him: it must not be done in such way. «Really?» — the President asked looking at me with condemnation or distrust, because all approved that work; I was the only one who was disagree. All my colleagues were scared: «How dare you tell this!». I replied: «I didn’t know that it is not allowed».

The time passed from that period and I worked for «Astanagenplan». At the meeting on Astana’s building up I sat at the rear. When the meeting was finished the President with the Prime-Minister, Head of the President’s Office and other highest people went to the exit. I also came to my feet and found myself near the President in the doorway. He saw me, stopped and said: «You were right. We did this». All were looking at me inquiringly: what the President talked about. I was surprised, how strong his memory was, how many people he met but remembered such small things; it was necessary to have a big computer in the hand.

Crucial choice of the master plan of new capital made by Nursultan Nazarbayev and all related difficulties and troubles remained in 1998. Nowadays beautiful Astana embodies ideas of the most talented architects of modern times. Architects from Kazakhstan and foreign countries got a chance to implement their creative talent in creation of the image of new capital city of new independent state, which could appear only once

Ludmila Vykhodchenko