Famous Kazakhstan architect Serik Rustambekov told to e-history.kz about the difficulties of the first stage of the general plan of Astana, the tasks of reconstruction of the quay and construction of the left bank.
Serik, so you are still doing the reconstruction of the Astana’s quay?
— Of course, almost 40 km of the river, nearly 20 of them have already passed reconstruction, about 6 km are under construction now, the rest of the has not appeared on the project yet. It is the work for many years.
Before meeting with you we spoke with Nicolay Tikhonyuk, Farid Galimov and Amanzhol Chikanayev about the stages of formation and transformation of new capital. In this case, I want you to remember 1997.
— We can also recall an earlier time. The news that the state’s capital will be moved to the then Akmola, for the first time, I heard on the radio, sitting away from a friend. It was July 6, 1994. The radio in kitchen was very loud. We could hear Nazarbayev’s voice.
It was a historical moment, when at a meeting of the Supreme Council Nursultan said about the idea of moving the capital for the first time. I would say that, certainly, it was perceived negatively, including MPs.
We all know that at this time the economy was not in the best condition, there were problems with the payment of pensions and salaries to state employees, many kinds of production stayed in the country there are many unemployed. In such a difficult moment for the country this thought has been sounded absurd. Many perceived it skeptically, but not in our lifetime, perhaps, capital will be transferred.
Now we can see that the Astana is realized as capital. And at the time of transfer of the capital Almaty has established itself as a respectable city: beautiful mountains, many administrative buildings, there were new buildings, which housed the central bodies of state administration, Life officials adjusted, they were provided with apartments. And suddenly announced new capital, you need to go somewhere, almost in the wild steppe.
And at the time of transfer of the capital Almaty has established itself as a respectable city: beautiful mountains, many administrative buildings, there were new buildings, where the central bodies of state administration were located, officials’ were provided with apartments, their livelihood was arranged. And suddenly announced new capital, you need to go somewhere, almost in the wild steppe.
There were contradictions, but still the decision was made after it had taken concrete steps to real capital transfer. Nobody expected that preparations for the transfer of the capital will begin so quickly. State commission for the relocation of higher state organs to Akmola was established.
The first chairman of the commission was appointed N. Issingarin, at that time he was the deputy prime minister. Then he was replaced by N. Makievsky, on the final stage commission was headed by F. Galimov.
Commission dealt with the relocation of the capital, the placement of state bodies and officials to Akmola, and accommodation issues. Certainly, then the permanent housing is especially no one wanted. Then Foundation «new capital», which began to appear some money, was established. Foreign and Kazakh investors were involved.
I am a native of this area, although by that time more than 30 years I was working in Almaty. The news about the transformation of the capital, certainly, inspired me. I immediately set about trying to move here, to participate in the transference. At the same year, in 1995, with a group of my classmates, well-known architects in Kazakhstan, we specially arrived to Astana to explore the city and gather material.
Soon we proactively made the first sketch of the master plan of the new capital and no one has delegated to us. There we have simulated, where the new center will be located where there should be government buildings.
It was the sub-frame with one and a half meters size, where the main transport scheme was shown in color and location of the main areas of the city. And then we have assumed that the new center should be located on the left bank.
This sketch of the general plan was shown to the President, he thanked us. Unfortunately, I was not at the presentation. However, according to stories of the colleagues, the President was very pleased that in the conditions of general skepticism someone takes such initiative. Nursultan Nazarbayev gave an instruction to the Ministry of Construction and the Union of Architects of Kazakhstan to organize a competition.
Soon, the competition for the development of the master plan was announced and its results were declared in 1996. 17 teams attended the competition, but first place was gave our creative team.
I must say that to stimulate construction in Astana Nursultan Nazarbayev issued a special decree, which provided great benefits for those who are engaged in construction and design. Benefits were significant: the companies for five years were exempt from taxes on income, property and land. It was a good impetus: many famous Kazakh construction companies opened their branches in Akmola. Our team of authors in 1996 also registered here the design-construction company with a great name, «Akorda».
The first stage of the development the new capital’s master plan
Then the following decree, where our team of authors, who became a legal entity, enshrine the right of the designer of the city’s master plan, was released. From this period we began our work on the master plan of the capital.
At the first stage work was funded poorly, however, we did research and conducted a topographic survey, geological exploration, full-scale survey of the entire city, studied
climatic conditions and much more. Draft of master plan began with the establishment of a support program. Then in 1997 we created the first electronic card Astana — basic plan, where the existing condition of the city was recorded, supported by the evidence on engineering infrastructure, social and cultural status, etc.
The work on the first sketch of the capital master plan has begun. To move the city to the left bank, the construction of bridges planned, new roads that would connect the old city with the new. Although, at this time, the work on the transfer of capital was very intense, mainly in the old town. Left Coast was a bare steppe intermittent with suburban areas. Shores of Ishim were almost completely clogged villas, at that time the city had about 25,000 cottages.
It was necessary to solve the problem of accommodation of the town on the left bank of the river. River is one of the defining environmental factors, on which had, certainly, to be beaten. In the sketches of the master plan were sketches that embody the idea of turning solid banks of the Ishim into park area, that is to make a linear park for recreational and leisure activities. It should be turned into the water green eco-corridors.
Moreover, the initial master plan took into account the harsh climatic conditions of the city, therefore it was proposed to create a green belt of the capital, to protect citizens from dust storms and blizzards on the outskirts of town and generally improve the environmental situation. In the sketch the entire district of Astana master plan has been painted green. The President immediately liked the idea, he called scientists and put before them the ambitious goal to create forests around Astana, thus if not dramatically change the climate, or at least mitigate its negative factors.
State-owned enterprise «Zhasyl aymak» («Green area») was created. Today, about 70 thousand hectares of forests were planted. The President continues to develop this idea. He set the task to bring the green belt Astana to 150,000 hectares and connect it to the Borovoe area.
On the first stage of financing of the master plan was weak, so we took extra work on the reconstruction of buildings for government. So, for the first presentation of the capital, we reconstructed central square of the old town, there first appeared cobbles, granite curbs.
We also did the reconstruction of the building of the regional committee, «Moscow» hotel, we turned it into a building of the Foreign Ministry, and then we had the project of reconstruction of the Palace of Virgin Lands.
Let’s return to the conversation about the master plan. In 1998, an official relocation of the capital and a great feast on this occasion was held. Before the international presentation of the capital, we carry out a reconstruction of the first portion of quay from the bridge near the «Ramstor» to Saryrka Street (pedestrian bridge a little further). Quay has become one of the main places on the occasion of the celebration of the international presentation of the city.
«During the walk along the Yesil River, June 7, 1998» Photo: news.nur.kz
Where do you get the ideas for reconstruction?
— Palace of Virgin Lands (now Congress Hall), for example, was a project of the widescreen cinema of Lithuanian architect. In those days, when the city was the center of the virgin land, Khrushchev made a sweeping gesture in the form of cinema. It was the largest room of the republic, when there was the Palace of Culture named after Lenin in Alma-Ata, designed for 2, 5 thousand places. It was the largest hall in the city, though not entirely designed for concerts.
It was the largest hall in the city, despite that it was not entirely designed for concerts. There were no dressing room and the depth of the scene also was not suitable for concerts and performances.
We did a project of reconstruction. Czech company «TechnoArt» and «Mobiteks» participated in realization of it. We have reduced the number of seats in the hall, thus we could increase depth of the scene. Artistic rooms have been attached in the back. Building’s facade, a combination of plaster with colored ceramic inserts, we are fully dressed in granite, which then for the first time appeared in Astana.
International competition to develop a master plan of the capital
The first stage of the master plan, which involved collecting data and sketch the city until 2005, was almost completed. After the festival on the occasion of moving the capital was held, we had a major exhibition of our work: master plan, layouts made by his scheme, models of individual buildings, which by this time we have designed, the project of reconstruction of the central railway station, etc. This exhibition in the Palace «Zhastar» was visited by the President. He has welcomed all our proposals, and instead of the planned 20 minutes he spent with us a half hour. We were glad to celebrate this event.
However, less than a week, the President holds a meeting where it was decided to organize an international competition. On the one hand, I understand that the President’s cronies insisted on declaring the international competition to attract leading foreign architects who maybe would offer even more creative ideas, and not to rely solely on its internal strength. On the other hand, Astana had necessity for investment.
According to the rules of the international financial institutions projects of the cities will not receive investment if there is no approved master plan. By this time there was no Astana’s plan because we did only the first stage.
Generally, in order to develop a master plan also needed decent money. Certainly, these funds were not in the budget, and in the new capital of the Fund had no money. Obviously, this was one of the reasons to attract foreign investors.
The international competition for Astana’s master plan was announced. I participated in the preparation of documents related to the organization of this competition, in particular, developed the program and the conditions of competition. A special state commission was created for the contest, led by its A. Dzhaksybekov, the mayor of the city at that time, created the unit committee, who was involved in organizational matters. Money for this occasion was found and they were allocated to the prize fund.
Kisho Kurokawa was the first who responded
He is the famous architect, who was one of our idols since our student life. He decided to come here. We are prepared to meet with him in Central Park especially for his arrival put the tent, decorated it, invited musicians and cooked treats.
Kurokawa did not come empty-handed. He brought a proposal from the Prime Minister of Japan, where the Japanese side expressed its willingness to provide a grant to design a master plan. Grant was ready to provide the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). This agency has a very large budget, whose main task is to assist developing countries in developing their infrastructure.
A few months later at the Congress Hall an exhibition was hosted. An international expert group was organized. It included foreign experts as well as experts from Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, who conducted a preliminary examination of projects and prepare a report for jury members. The jury, along with famous Kazakhstani city planners and architects included famous foreign architects, for example, from Russia was Academician A. Rozanov, Turkish Advisor to the Prime Minister for Urban Planning and Architecture and Hess Hall from came the United States.
As a result, the jury selected three projects: Kisho Kurokawa, the Russian project of Neustroev’s group and Kazakh project of authors team, who worked as a part of our company. In this competition, I was not involved, as acted as an organizer. Out of the three projects, the President had to choose one. As a result, he stopped on the Kurokawa’s project. Thus began work on a master plan.
The Japanese International Cooperation Agency have mandatory rules: the implementation of grants in foreign countries must necessarily be involved in local firms. And Kisho Kurokawa proposed cooperation to my firm. By this time, we have changed the name Akorda because it increasingly became known as the Presidential residence. We stopped at a modest name of our company «Orta» and left independent work on the master plan.
We have signed an agreement to establish a consortium of two Japanese firms and one Kazakh, I headed. The Japanese side has rented office, and started practical work to develop a master plan. The Japanese group was in full force in Astana, so we worked closely: the Kazakh side as if I was an official consultant, the third man in the team Kisho Kurokawa. Several sections of the master plan under the guidance of Kurokawa we did, but most of the work, of course, did the Japanese.
According to the materials that we prepared for the first phase of the master plan, we have developed a section on the environment, is also a section related to the historical and architectural heritage. The plan includes places and buildings that need to be preserved in the old town.
Then the prepared plan passed a public discussion and examination. I was there when Kurokawa represented layout of the new center to Nursultan Nazarbayev. First Japanese architect showed volume and structure of the center on the left bank. Kurokawa allocated a place on the plan and told the President that it is necessary here to put 97-meter high monument, which will symbolize the transfer of the capital.
To develop the idea of the monument a competition was conducted. Finally, we stayed on one sketch, which was made on the small sketch of the President, created my younger brother Akmurza.
We were very cautious in the forecast of the capital’s population growth
Returning to the creation of a master plan, I want to say that at that time, forecasts for the development of the city were expressed very cautiously. As a rule, the basic document for the master plan is a forecast population growth. Master Plan has being developed for the future 20–30 years.
This is a global document, which after approval is the basis for development of the city. Long-term forecasts have been made in order to know how and by what means will increase the city’s population. At that time an optimistic forecast, assuming rapid growth, pessimistic and average was conducted.
Functions of the city were represented in such way: 5000 officials will be moved here, for example, with their families, it will be 20,000. Also, 20,000 people will be moved here to ensure the service sector. All believed that in Astana would not be rapid population growth, therefore stayed on the forecast of 800,000 people by 2020.
At the time of settlement what was the city’s population?
— 274,000 people lived in the city. Kazakhstan’s economy is only rising, as the President suggested that he does not want a big metropolis, he sees a small compact capital city with low buildings, comfortable accommodations. Hence, in Kurokawa’s general plan was such low population density.
Please tell us about you work on the reconstruction of the Astana’s quay.
— Why the left bank did not develop? As historically the city was located on the right the higher bank. Do you know from the geography — the left bank is always lower than the right, this is due to the Earth’s rotation, the influence of the moon and so on. Left banks of the rivers are always subject to flooding. We also noticed that the area of the left bank of Astana is subject to flooding.
Near the town there is Nura River, which drains the volume twice drains Ishim. There are cases when there was a simultaneous flood and water of both rivers has been merged in one. The distance between the rivers is 30 km and this area can be filled with water. Since the center of the new capital was transferred to the left bank, the master plan was immediately tasked to include activities associated with the left side of engineering protection from flooding floodwater. Therefore, even during the reconstruction of the first section of the quay we had to ensure the safety of the city during even the most catastrophic floods.
We have attracted scientists, experts, and then adopted a state program for engineering protection of the city from flooding: we have deepened and widened the river in the city. Even if make Ishim’s width of 200 meters and a depth of 5 meters, the river is still not able to take all the drains, which may occur. Therefore, the developed scheme of engineering protection plays an important role a dam, whose length is almost 38 km. This dam encloses the city from the south-east side.
During the flood most water accumulates and goes down the reconstructed channel. That is a dam passes only the amount that is able to skip the riverbed. Dam’s height reaches 11 meters in some places.
Serik, why there is a feeling that Ishim’s water flowing in the city, not so much?
— Water in the river is really small. Potable water is supplied to the city from Vyacheslav reservoir, which is located on the Ishim River in 55 km from Astana. Surplus from the reservoir is lowered into the river. Thus, the water in the riverbed in line Astana regulated by Vyacheslav reservoir and protective dam.
Do you think your idea of reconstruction of Astana’s quay is fully implemented?
— The architectural solution is based on an engineering solution. As I said, in some areas we had to expand, deepen the river and further consolidate the shore. So, we made a dam on both sides of the quay, the slopes leading to the water, also paved walking paths. This all creates the quay.
Back to the level of water in the river, it has been regulated. There is a dam that keeps the volume of water in the river at the same level, the excess of water flows, and necessary reservoir remains. The average width of the Ishim stretches from 80 to 150 meters and depth is 3 meters, so these parameters and adheres.
I want to say that the reconstruction of the embankment solved modest means, because in the first place we faced engineering problems. How could we have decorated promenade. Rotunda was made in the traditional style. By the way, they were the first hallmark of Astana. We also worked on the design of bridges, in particular, have designed a footbridge.
We also implemented navigation project on the river Ishim. The idea of navigation was first announced by President. We have developed a concept and presented to him, also this project was a government program. Today two shipping queues have been realized and we have eight ships. We have also developed a project of river port with all necessary port infrastructures: ship repair workshops, summer and winter parking, administrative offices, and so on. But this project is not yet implemented it is the third stage of development of navigation on the river Ishim. In the future fleet of ships to reach 17 units, and may even be an alternative to other forms of public transport.