«We need to look into the past in order to understand the present and foresee the future»

We need to develop our own unique style, as the city of the XXI century

We need to develop our own unique style, as the city of the XXI century
“The trend of Kazakhstan – successful people”. An exclusive interview with Serik Rustambekov

Rustambekov Serik Isayevich — an honored architect of RK, Chairman of the Union of Architects in Astana, Vice-President of the National Association of designers of Kazakhstan.

 -Serik Isayevich, tell us please about your childhood? 

-I was born in 1947, in a small village Shalkar, which is located in 60km from Astana. Later my parents moved to Kurgaljino, it was in the 50s. All my childhood and youth was spent in Kurgaljino. My father, Isa Rustembekov was an orphan. He lost his mother when he was three, he lost his father at the age of seven. He had two brothers. He lived with relatives until he did not find refuge in an orphanage. Our grandfather Rustembekkajy was quite famous person in our area, because he performed Hajj three times. As far as I know, he was not a wealthy man, but enterprising one. He  was young when he performed Hajj, accompanied local parish ruler from our tribe Akhmetzhan. He almost was a guard for him. My grandfather told me that in one of his Hajjes, he lost his way from believers and he spent three years in Pakistan, after that he found his relatives and came back home. Later my grandfather became very famous pious man and head of his tribe. But he died early and my father grew up in an orphanage. Those days people with education or who was able to read and write, could reckon on some kind of career. My father learned reading and writing, due to this he had success in career, but he was repressed. He was convicted for minor offense denouncement, after Stalin’s death he was released according to amnesty. Those times formed repressed were given so called «wolf tickets» — the certificate that he was released from prison. It was called «wolf ticket», because they were not hired, they were neglected, even they were hired, and they did the nastiest job. My father got a job as a carpenter after his return from prison. We lived in a small settlement, later there was state farmed named after Manshuk Mametova, which was formed during the wildland. I remember, that trailers hitched to the tractors were brought there, there were people in it, mostly Slavic nationalities — Russian, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and some of them were families with children. A raise of the virgin land happened before our sight. I learned Russian there, when I was playing with their children, later I went to school with them to the first grade, and then we moved to Kurgaljino. As my father knew record management skills, he got a job as a recorder, he tracked the amount of plowed and sowed land. My father rode a horse and measured with two-meter fathom, measured and recorded, did the bookkeeping. Local people did not like lifestyle and behavior of newcomers. The fowl, cattle began to disappear in Kazakh village, where the houses were not locked, because newcomers were not provided with meal in a proper way. I remember, they were brought salary on the plane, because they refused to work. That was the first time when I saw a plane.

 -Serik Isayevich, what tribe do you belong to? 

-We are from Argyn tribe and belong to Tynali. Our ancestral land located a little further of Kurgaldzhin wintering, in the river basins of the Zhaksykon and the Zhamankon. There are villages Babarshyn and Taldysay now. My father died early, at the age of 56. He was ill. He was buried in Kurgadzhino, then my mother died when she was 87. She came from Kipchak tribe, she was one of 14 children. He was father Zaityn was wealthy pious man, but he suffered from dekulakization during the collectivization and lost everything. My mother attended Muslim school, finished courses in «Krasnaya yurta» («Red yurt»), knew Arab literacy well, was an activist, headed a kindergarten, which was one of the first ones, but when he father was repressed, she was disqualified and was forced to do random work. After father’s return to Kurgaldzhino, life came right. We built a house ourselves of raw bricks in 61. 

-How and where did you spend your school years? 

— The regional center is in 130 km from here. It is a famous place in this area. The main difference of this area is that it was inhabited mostly with Kazakh people, which comprised 85% of population at that time. That is why I learned in so-called Kazakh village environment, but I have to say that I was lucky to have my school teachers. A group of young teachers, who graduated from universities in Almaty, Karaganda, Semipalatinsk, young ambitious teachers with new knowledge, new approaches to study came to our school and I owe to Kurgaldzhin high school, which formed such talented staff of teachers. I still remember Sabyr Abygaliyevich. My from teacher, he taught Astronomy, Physics, Drawing and Geometry. I liked a Geography teacher Sofiya Utarbekovna very much. I will remember lesson conducted by Bagira Shamshidenovna forever, she treated us like own children, as other teachers too.

 -When did you begin to draw?

 -Probably I got a desire to draw since childhood, later it developed into ability to draw. The key role in my striving for drawing played my talented neighbor Akimzhan Kaukeyev. He was self-taught artist in the village. He graduated from Art-drawing department and was the main artist in the village. I always helped him. I was wondering, how it was possible to draw complicated things by ordinary means. We know from history, that children from wealthy and aristocratic families were taught drawing from an early age. Drawing gives opportunity to understand world better, its shapes, images and colors. People began to distinguish the beauty of lines, beauty of the nature, learn to recognize colors, to appreciate combination of these colors, that is, considering the object, to study the play of light and shadows, what way the color and shape of the object can be presented — buildings, plants and et cetera. How everything changes with the movement of the sun, how one building can be seen in a different way during the day and depending on the light. It gives opportunity to feel the world differently. I think it is very important. 

-Tell us, please, how has your exposure to the art begun?

 -Those years I found one remarkable book of world history of arts. It was one edition of the volumes devoted to the art of the Renaissance. There I saw the paintings of the majestic cathedrals in the world — St.Peter’s cathedral, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rafael’s paintings in non-qualitative reproductions of that time impressed me so much. I also remember my first excursion to Moscow at high school. I have never been to big cities before. I came there, when New Arbat formed, Kalinin Avenue was put in commission. Fresh houses of the modern architecture of 60s were based on ordinary geometric shapes in combination of smooth surfaces of glass and concrete. A new aesthetics of that time was forming. I was amazed by the view of those huge 27-storey structures, I assured that architecture is that kind of art, which stays for centuries and forms unforgettable spatial environment of the city. After that I took an interest in architecture. 

-When have you decided to become an architect?

 -When I came back to Almaty, I saw architectural masterpieces of well-known masters, I had a strong belief that I will do everything to become an architect. My father always told me: «Kazakh people have always lived by means of cattle, you must enter veterinary faculty — you will never regret it, you will never be hungry and can support your family». I consider, he took offense because I ignored his recommendations.

 -We know that there were not any specialized architectural educational institutions in Kazakhstan that time, where have you studied?

 -Indeed, there were not any architectural insti tutes in Kazakhstan in the middle of 60s. I knew that architectural department was opened for the first time at Construction faculty in Kazakh Polytechnic Institute in Almaty. I needed a serious preparation to enter there. We were last who graduated from the 11th grade in 66s within the frame of educational experiment lasting for 2-3 years. The essence of the experiment was to hold specialized training of the pupils in the 11th grade. It was necessary to give labor skills on some specialties to pupils, as we lived in the village, we learned how to manage agricultural machines, after the course we had practice in sowing and received certificates of the tractor drivers of the third class. There was an announcement at our school that architectural faculty was opening at Kazakh Polytechnic Institute in Almaty and those who wish to study there could pass documents. I was extremely happy that I would have an opportunity to get a specialty of an architect in my republic and began to prepare for admission. The faculty did not open that year, only department did. I passed all examinations successfully to enter this institute, I had no satisfactory marks, however, I did not pass the competition. I have decided to wait for the next enrollment. Next year, the faculty was formed and they opened two groups, I passed all examination and started my study in Almaty. Later this faculty separated into Architectural-construction institute, which is called Kazakh Architectural Construction Academy now.

 -Serik Isayevich, what has been the most memorable for you during the years of study, it was the period of formatting the architectural image of modern Almaty?

 -When I studied it was a high time for architecture of Almaty. There were such famous buildings as «Alma-ata» hotel, «Alma-ata» restaurant, Sport palace in the 67th. Lenin avenue was reconstructed, «Arman» cinema, Republic Palace were built to the 100th anniversary of Lenin. There was lack qualified architects and engineers, local staff, that is why Head of the Republic invited other famous architects from other republics. Good conditions were created for them; they were given apartments and all necessary things for their efficient work. Some design institutes opened that time and it undoubtedly made Almaty one of the centers of architecture development. There were about 60 institutes in the city, most of them were regional. A significant part of the invited specialists carried lessons on  our architectural faculty. I remember on the meeting, Alexander Ivanovich, ne architect Kozhempo Alexander Ivanovich said: «If three-four architects of these 60 students will be  graduated , it would a good result». The life showed that he was completely right. Except Alexander Ivanovich, such famous architects as Churlyayev, Rustam Abbasovich Seydalin and others held lessons. I have a book by  Toleu Koichumanovich Basenov , the first Kazakh architect. He left rich legacy. He studied old buildings, mostly religious, learned ornament, later he became a Head and organizer of large architectural projects. The forerunners who made a great contribution to the development of  national architecture of Kazakhstan were such architects as  Malgabar Mendikulovich Mendikulov, Adambek Kadyrbekovich Kapanov . Many new coming architects, who left a lot of works after themselves, were involved into development of architectural education, specialists training — they were among the founders of  architectural field in Kazakhstan. I remember the day when I went to work in construction team after the institute. There was a village Chingeldy on Taldykorgan road, on the distance of 120 km from Alma- aty , we have built sheep barns, dormitory for boarding school, six cottages and garage for six boxes. After construction team I married.

 -What have you done after graduation from institute?

 -I graduated from the institute in 72nd and began to work. I was the eldest from third brothers in our family. The middle brother has not studied, that is why stayed with mother, because he has been ill since childhood, my little brother Akmyrza entered architectural institute too. He successfully graduated from the institute and married. He is the President of the Union of Architects of Kazakhstan for the fourth time. His largest work is a symbol of our capital — Baiterek and some projects of underground stations. I was lucky to work in the project institute, where such large projects as «Alma-ata», «Aul» restaurants, Kazakh Civil Aviation authority, airways terminal were realized. I was in a group on design and construction of the Central collective farm market , green market in Almaty now. I am officially the author of this object. I had some objects in the cities of Central Asia, because we had some branches in Ashkhabad, Dushanbe, Frunze and Karaganda. Our institute «Kazgiprotorg» complied with the Ministry of Trade of the USSR and was one of the five national institutes. Our regional institute was in the field of the Ministry of Trade, it means department stores, supermarkets, different shops, caterings, restaurants, cafes, taverns were our main objects. I learned quickly, made career faster than my  groupmates and became ChPrArch (Chief Project Architect) during three years. I designed some of them those years. Central department stores were built in Chimkent, Pavlodar, Tselinograd, Krasnovodsk, central markets in Almaty, Semipalatinsk and et cetera on my projects. Before I had to prepare illustration-demonstration materials to my projects with the help of  water colors and gouache. All things that are given in computer graphics, we made in a manual way. Presentation is one of the most important skills of each architect. Everything depends on your graphics, you must have a brilliant idea, but you should have an ability to present it in a proper way, because you can be misunderstood. It is important to be able to defend own ideas, that you made up, it is necessary to pass all procedures for coordination with authorities of architecture, direction. That is why, an architect always must be able to defend his ideas.

 -Which period in your career as an architect would you mention?

 -I devoted whole my life to architecture since 72nd. I have not interrupted my activity, but there was a period in my  life, when I was elected as a deputy of the 12nd convocation of the Supreme Soviet of the Kazakh SSR in the 90s. The membership of the 12  convocation adopted the Declaration of the Independence, the first text of the Constitution, the first laws of Independent Kazakhstan. I was lucky to be the part of this convocation. I remember, I was a deputy of the chairman of Committee for Architecture and Construction, I participated in the development of the first laws, connected with architecture and I am a member of the architects’ union of Kazakhstan since 1976. In 1978 I was elected as a delegate for All-union congress of architects from Kazakhstan and I was the youngest delegate, it has been published in print media. 

It was decided to construct a  museum of  Shokhan Ualikhanov in Altyn Emel due to the 100th anniversary of  Shokhan Ualikhanov and Dinmukhamed Kunayev in 1985 and there was an announcement of the contest to design this museum. There were many projects, but they distinguished my project and my colleague’s one. Then Rutem Abbasovich Seidallin — deputy chairman of state construction, chairman of architects’ union in Kazakhstan, our Head offered to join forces and do a general project. So we have done a joint project, which distinguished by a unique architecture, reflecting the distinctive traditions of the religious structures.


 This project won a silver medal of World biennale of architecture (INTERARKH-87) in Sofia. It was one of the most significant moments in my creative life. Except recognition of our work, we were relied a monetary award. At that time «INTERARKH» contest was held once in two years, where thousands of projects participated from around the world. It was necessary to send request form with photo and description, unexpectedly for us, our project was selected and a telegram came from Sofia to Moscow. They asked us to come to the ceremony of  union of architects to Yugoslavia and Hungary in 1986 and group of architects was sent there. Then I was struck by architecture and also the quality of construction. In  1989  I and my two colleagues went to form an exhibition of Kazakhstan in Cannes, France, where the annual fair of goods was held. Almost countries took participation in it, they sold everything, starting from matches ending with the new equipment, animals, food, electronics and et cetera. We developed the design of our pavilion, which was very popular.


 A transfer of the capital to Astana played a special role in my life. Then I had an idea in 1995, we presented the first conceptual master plan of Astana to the President. At that time nobody believed in  idea of transfer of the capital in conditions of  economic collapse of the republic. Many people thought, that even it would happen, not in our lifetime. Our President is a goal-oriented person and he began to implement it. There was a contest and as a result our work was chosen. As soon as we have won in this contest, we formed a legal entity, an authoring team was formed by the special decree of the Government, designer’s functions of Astana master plan were assigned by the company «Ak Orda» by another decree of the Government, we created that company on the base of authoring team. This company became a general designer of Astana master plan and implemented an important task, by developing the first stage of the master plan of city development. Later an international contest was held. Kisho Kurokawa was first who responded to the contest and won the first place. The Japan fund for international cooperation set aside the funds for realization of master plan development. According to the rules of the Fund, a local company should participated in the project and Kisho Kurokawa offered me to cooperate. We have compiled a consortium «Orta» of 3 companies. This consortium has won in the contest and our project was the basis for city development. Today I lead the work connected with the reconstruction of the Yesil river for 16 years. During this period 15 km of the river has been reconstructed and a program of navigation started to be implemented. 

-Serik Isayevich, how many children do you have and who is your wife? 

-My wife’s name is Rysmagambetova Roza Zharylkasynovna, she has worked in the court for many years and as a result she became a judge. My first son Samat is an architect too, he is my tower of strength, my deputy and the second son Kanat followed in mother’s wake. He graduated from Law faculty of KazSU with high honors and works by occupation.

 -What are your favorite objects of architecture and would you like to add anything in  conclusion of your interview? 

-My favorite projects are from classics, St. Peter’s cathedral, the Roman Pantheon, works by Norman Foster and Burj-al-Arab and Petronas impressed me a lot from modern architecture. I always paid attention to the yurt, it is  very unique construction and it did not lose its relevance. It is a perfect swelling, appropriate to the lifestyle of nomads and climate of our region, it is an ideal structure, where nothing is superfluous. The shanyrak is one of the  symbols of our state. In conclusion of the interview, I would like to say that not everyone can create a masterpiece, we need not only a talented architect, but also a talented customer, who is open for something new and unusual, and undoubtedly a talented constructor, who can completely realize your project. When there is such rare combination, masterpieces come around. Concerning Astana, we must develop our own unique style, as the city of XXI century, located on the crossroads of Asia and Europe. 

-Thank you for your devoted time, wish you success and to be healthy!