Astana: Materiality and the city

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
Perhaps the best quote to summarize the essay:
“The materiality of the built forms of the new capital is where all these issues can be seen to be played out and made visible, and hence, rather than being merely superfluous, they are constitutive of the immanent terms of moral order and social legitimacy and how people see and then interpellate themselves and others.” (Buchli 47)
Finally, as an aside (or maybe not), I continue to uncover  references, mainly explicit, between the topics of my current courses. At the  moment, I am reading The Urban Revolution by Henri Lefebvre as a directed reading and studying the politics of recognition (at the moment, multiculturalism in liberal, constitutional states) in my political science course. I have been surprised by the amount of overlap between the three–but glad to know that my first quarter is moving in a very particular direction!

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