Summer pavilion for the Arman Cinema in Almaty
Before Kazakhstan became an independent country, its former capital city Almaty went by another name Alma-Ata, meaning ‘Father of the Apple’. Celebrated as the birthplace of the apple, the notion of Alma-Ata evokes nostalgic images within the minds of Almatians of a green, sun-drenched city, nestling in the foothills of the Zailiyskay Alatau Mountains, with beautiful orchards, and mountain-water rills (aryks).
Late twentieth century Kazakh architecture, like much of the USSR, can be fairly unified in terms of construction and design. Nevertheless, there were many beautiful buildings built during this period of Soviet Modernism that also reflected the aesthetics and culture of this region, which can be seen in both the grand public buildings and in its everyday architecture. The unique and diverse cultural imagery of the Kazakhstan was expressed by the local architects through geometry, rhythm, detail, patterning and materials. The lack of funding for conservation has meant many of these buildings are now rapidly aging and decaying. New development has seen the demise of both the orchards and Almaty’s Soviet era architecture. However, both can be considered essential to the survival of the city’s cultural heritage, identity and future prosperity.
During 2014 Atomik Architecture lead a programme called Arman Alma-Ata (Dream of Old Almaty) which aimed to initiate a debate about Almaty’s built heritage, particularly the Soviet architecture of the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Over a two week programme, design workshops and public debates were hosted by the British Council, the Goethe Institute and in public places to generate ideas to address a range of issues surrounding Almaty’s built heritage. The project continues and will culminate in the design and construction of a pavilion in Almaty in the summer of 2015, which will draw on the research gathered to imagine a new vernacular architecture for Almaty in the 21st century.