BUILDING IN BAKU: or, Architecture in Azerbaijan

This week I was lucky enough to take a vacation within my vacation (ahem, research project), and fly from the Netherlands to Baku, Azerbaijan to visit my sister and her husband. I wasn’t really sure what to expect: on the one hand, prolific amounts of oil mean Baku has incredibly wealthy residents and is stocked up with Western expats. On the other hand, when my sister visits the outer regions of the country for work and describes residents as living much the way they have for thousands of years. So, like my experience in China a few summers ago, Azerbaijani architecture was a study in contrasts. I thought I’d take you all on a little tour of Buildings in Baku (and the surrounding region) with my own special rating system!

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Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center [Zaha Hadid]  |  Architecture: ****  |  Urbanism: **  |  Building Cost: $$$$$

First of all, I arrived at the back plaza where the facade meets the ground, and all I could think was..  Are we in Superstudio land now? I have mixed feelings about Zaha, but I was pretty impressed by the building. What was more of a buzzkill was the context- while the field the building sat in was landscaped to look cool in photos, but there was just too much- you can see in the photos how separated the building is from its context.

 

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Taza Bazaar|  Architecture: *  |  Urbanism: *****  |  Building Cost: $

Located in a maze of warehouses, tents, half-finished buildings and car trunks, the Bazaar evoked many markets I’ve visited; colorful, boisterous, and exciting. While it is a regular daily market, it has an especially impromptu and appropriated air. My sister will try to return to vendors and find them inhabiting entirely different parts of the market.

 

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Taza Bazaar|  Architecture: *  |  Urbanism: *****  |  Building Cost: $

A friend of my sister’s worked at the Fairmont Hotel in the Flame Towers- the tallest building in Baku and one of its most recent additions- so we got a private tour of the super-high end hotel oriented towards visiting business people (hello oil money!) In typical slightly gaudy Azerbaijani style, the tower lights up with different light shows, including its namesake moving flames.

 

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Lahij Traditional Village Architecture|  Architecture: *****  |  Urbanism: *****  |  Building Cost: $$

Deep in the mountains, Lahij is a small, semi-touristy (by Azeri standards, which is not very touristy). Windy streets are chiseled down the center (see above) as a primitive- but highly effective- stormwater drainage system.  Another innovation are the wooden members striating through the stone architecture- as an earthquake prone region, this helps isolate layers so the building doesn’t crumble when the earth shakes (as us architects know, stone buildings on unstable ground is usually a big no-no!).

I hope you’ve enjoyed my mini-architectural tour of Azerbaijan- if you ever have a chance, I highly recommend a visit to this post-Soviet, lightly Islamic country, known for hosting 9 of the 11 global climactic zones!

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