11.06.2013

Laterna Magica

  • contemporary architecture

In the capital of Kazakhstan, yet another high-profile project will be built by "Studio 44" - the Saint Petersburg bureau has won the international tender for designing the Youth Palace in Astana.

Information:

The subject of the contest that was participated in by ten architectural companies from different countries was the reconstruction of "Zhastar Palace" located in the very heart of Astana, at the Republic Avenue. Built back in 1973, when this city was not yet a capital and had the Soviet name of Tselinograd, the palace is righteously considered to be one of its most important cultural centers - it includes a movie theater, exhibition halls, a few clubs, and a fitness center. However, it has long since ceased to correspond either to its status or to the scale of the capital's architecture - the four-floor building looks lost against the background of the contemporary large business and residential complexes, it is incapable of accommodating all of its visitors, and is generally out-of-date. Specifically because of that, the contestants had the task of designing a high-profile volume that the city would "grow into".

 

"The functional program of the Youth Palace being renovated is stunning in its diversity - shares Nikita Yavein - It is based on the curious combination of what I would call "socialist idealism" and the state-of-the-art configuration of the premises. Debate clubs, hybrid libraries, gyms, transformable showcases... Nowhere else in the world will you find so many different things under one roof. And here you've got facilities for those who dance, play, read, think - all rolled into one! I could hardly even think of somebody who would ultimately be able to manage this whole thing efficiently. But it was all the more exciting to work on this project because of that".

Such multi-functionality of the renovated palace is stressed by "Studio 44" not only with the help of the dramatic volume but by the town-planning means as well. Treating the palace itself as a complex that is literally stuffed with premises meant to perform most different functions, the architects, on the level of the city center, support it with a whole system of landscaped public territories strung on a single axis and forming a pedestrian-only boulevard 2.7 kilometers long. The promenade that the architects are planning to run from the city park on the bank of the Esil River up to the yet-under-construction park on the Asan Kaigy Street will unite into a single meta-structure a number of administrative buildings and hotels, the Congress Center, the Schoolchildren Palace, and the renovated "Zhastar". "What is important is the fact that the promenade is being laid in the city texture that we have today without making any radical changes to it and with rigorous preservation of the existing trees. Our method is not a "town-planning surgery" but rather a "town-planning needle therapy" - Nikita Yavein stresses. - We only highlight those fragments of the environment where the transformation by means of the landscape architecture can produce the most meaningful effect, and we believe that such "patchwork" method of forming the city territory will allow us to create a whole kaleidoscope of places that are different in character but still look like they melt into one another".

 

An integral part of the new promenade will be the open-air sports grounds that are part of "Zhastar" Palace, as well as the green terrace roof of its sports complex. It is generally worth mentioning that, while formerly the sports and cultural functions would share the space under the same roof, now the architects have decided to separate them. The sports complex consists in fact of a whole group of buildings that adjoin the palace from the north: here the architects were able to find the room for swimming pools for children as well as adults, room for gyms, and even for a mini aqua park.

The renovated building of "Zhastar" Palace itself, "Studio 44" raises 5 meters over the ground level. Beneath it, at the "-5" mark, the architect set up the so called "Youth Forum" - a sunken-in subsurface square hidden from the wind and the rain and meant for organizing mass celebrations and events in it. It is expected that the square will be paved and decorated with the lights coupled with decorative sculpture, while a little more to the south the architects place an open-air amphitheater turned into the direction of the Palace of Peace and Harmony. In front of the western facade of Zhastar on the Republic Avenue, the architects make an access drive-up with public transport and taxi stops, while in order to ensure a safe pedestrian crossing of the freeway, building an overpass is planned that will become in fact a part of the pedestrian gallery doubling the new promenade at the level of the first floor of the building.

 

According to Nikita Yavein, the architects did not for a minute hesitate as to what shape should be given to the building with so many diverse functions. Only a cube is capable of housing and bringing to a common denominator all these numerous clubs and creative studios. Or, as Nikita Yavein himself puts it, the "supertemporal" shape of the cube combines the clarity and the rational austerity of the planning with the vivid semantics of the image".

The facades of the building are executed from diamond-shaped cells filled with glass, and capable, depending on the lighting conditions, of disappearing almost completely, laying bare the inside structure of the building and turning it into a fully-fledged player in the creation of the architectural image. The "contents" of the cube present quite some vision - from volumes of different shapes and sizes, the architects put together an intricate composition. There are parallelepipeds here, as well as cubes, cones, and even a sphere - it is planned that the spherical volume of the children's center will be hung by steel-wire ropes to the top intermediate floor. Each block is prominent with a bright color of its own, and with the texture of its finishing materials, too, while in the spaces between them and the outer shell of the building there appears a whole system of atrium areas - halls, foyers, and terraces. Interesting is the fact that "Studio 44" partially altered the functional program of the palace, basing it on the principle of interchangeability of the premises. The blocks are grouped by the thematic principle, so the auditoriums of the hybrid library neighbor on the transformer hall of the debate club and can be engaged in organizing its largest-scale events. The possibility of transforming is also provided for the Movie and Concert Hall: the backdrop of the stage goes down like a drawbridge providing extra open-air seats and thus uniting the hall and the open-air amphitheater.

 

According to the authors, thanks to the glass walls and the loose layout of the interior volumes, the ambient light will penetrate every remote nook and cranny of the renovated palace. More importantly, however, the transparent shell will help people "read" the structure of the complex better - not only from the inside but also from the outside. This "Laterna Magica" effect will not only make it easier navigating around the complex but also will create a memorable architectural image that will look quite impressive in the nighttime as well.


Text by: Nikita Yavein, Anna Martovitskaya
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