I just finished reading Victor Buchli’s essay “Astana: Materiality and the city”, and it was a treasure-trove of information. I will likely not find another source quite so pertinent to my research, as it related the building process of Astana to the historical context of Kazakhstan. Specifically, Buchli discusses how preoccuptions with materiality in the built environment and notions of “nothingness” related to place have persisted for hundreds of years, through colonization, the Soviet era, and now nation-building. Thus, it was particularly helpful in shaping my own understanding of Astana as more than just a contemporary phenomenon.
Here are a few of the highlights from Buchli’s essay:
- Relationship between anxiety over materiality and claims to legitimacy (“Everything is on the verge of falling apart”)
- How ‘right’ Astana looks has enormous implications for Kazakhstan’s project of independence and modernization
- Kurokawa’s architectural/cultural philosophy of ‘symbiosis’ similar to President Nazarbaev’s political philosophy
- Failing infrastructure (“crumbling walls”), as ‘public secret’, invites criticism of state’s failings
- Certain symbols of vernacular built environment chosen over others to represent nation state, modernity