Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Classical architecture in Astana: “out of reach” or “neocolonial”?

Fri31  Mar02:30pm(15 mins)
Melville Room


Federico Marcomini1
1 University of Florence, dpt. of Architecture, Italy


The recent marginalization of the First president of independent Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in national politics and narratives – culminating in the renaming of the capital back to Astana – allows a more lucid analysis of his legacy as the “architect” of the post-Soviet country. According to official sources, Nazarbayev had an active role in several architectural designs of the new capital, conceived as a materialization of nation-building policies. Drawing from the PhD thesis in progress, this contribution deals with the impact of Classicism – as an epitome of the “Western” architectural tradition – in the built environment of Astana. This architectural language has been used mainly in representations of power (Presidential palace Ak Orda, 2004), culture (Opera Astana theatre, 2013), and historical commemoration (the monuments Kazakh Eli, 2009, and Mengilik El, 2011). Surveys and interviews conducted with Astana’s citizens give account of their interpretation and perception of this architectural language, and its reference to a different geographical context: an aspect connotated both positively, with a sense of prestige, and negatively, as the persistence of an implicit cultural neo-colonization. By comparing official narratives and fieldwork data, this contribution analyzes the role of Classical architecture in the built environment of Astana, discussing its architectural, cultural, and social implications.