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Architectural Design Carved in the Land of Fire

Baku Photography by Gregory Herpe
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High Tech Azerbaijan is Absolutely Stunning

Text & Photos By Gregory Herpe

Here you are, quietly at home, having tea or a cold beer and wondering where to go on holiday this year! Marbella, Ibiza, Gran Canaria, you have done it! The south of France, Greece or Malta? Again? What if you had the courage to venture into a country you don’t think of, authentic and modern at the same time, having successfully combined age-old traditions and high-tech! Azerbaijan, a former secular Soviet republic, which stretches between Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Armenia and Iran, crossing Asia and Europe.


I had the opportunity to visit the country for the first time last June, invited by the French association “Les amis de l’Azerbaïdjan”. Very dynamically chaired by former French senator Jean-François Mancel, whose aim is to promote Azerbaijani culture, to make Azerbaijani people aware of it, and to strengthen exchanges, whether they be tourism, culture or trade. And of course, there is for all tastes; fine sandy beaches on the Caspian Sea or hiking trails in the Caucasus mountains, holiday villages for budget travellers and hotels as luxurious as in Dubai.

There is a Formula 1 Grand Prix, a thalasso petroleum, the Gobustan mud volcanoes, and a ski resort (The Shahdag Mountain Resort Complex). Which is located in the Great Caucasus Range and near Shahdag National Park, known for having an intact ecological system and an untouched flora and fauna. The nature of Azerbaijan is very rich, with eleven of the thirteen types of climate on earth being present in the country. Then there is the capital, Baku, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, a real open-air museum of architecture.


When you walk through this ancient city, you are struck by its many architectural styles inspired by the Russian conquest and Western neo-classicism, art nouveau, as well as the Soviet and Stalinist years in the early 1960s, all of which were uniform and practical, if not aesthetical. In the centre, is the old fortified city with its UNESCO World Heritage sites, and south of the city, Boomtown, built at the beginning of the 20th century and characterized by fine art architecture. Apart from the old town, there are Haussmann-Moorish buildings built by the black gold barons at the end of the 19th century.
But since independence, post-modernist architecture has been expanding with many dazzling projects. Here are the treasures not to be missed….


Baku Photography by Gregory Herpe

Azerbaijan’s history and culture are profoundly intertwined with fire. From Zoroastrian devotion to natural gas reserves that supply the economy. The trio of skyscrapers, with their curved and triangular shapes, made of blue and orange tinted glass, with honeycombed openings to the sky, look like three flickering flames.

The first contains the Fairmont Hotels, 318 rooms on 30 floors, a 17m high hall and a collection of contemporary art; the finest hotel in the city. The tallest skyscraper in the country (182m).

The second, a 33-storey residential tower with 130 luxury apartments, spa, fitness centre, and a breathtaking view of the Caspian Sea and Baku, while the third flame offers 33,000m² of flexible office spaces.

The façades of the towers, designed by the American architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, are entirely covered with LED screens, and the images projected at night are visible throughout the city (giant flames, national flag, dancers…).

A technical and aesthetic masterpiece that has become the symbol of the city.


Baku Photography by Gregory Herpe

In 2012, the final of the Eurovision Song Contest took place in Baku, in the Crystal Hall with its 23,000 seats. This multifunctional arena was designed by GMP Architekten in collaboration with NÜSSLI International. The short time frame for the project was one of the particular challenges: the entire design and construction had to be completed in just eight months. The construction of such a stadium usually takes several years.

It is the modular construction of the Crystal Hall that made it possible to build this sports and concert hall in record time. With its membrane facade, modular arena and center roof, the entire structure is composed entirely of three independent parts. The characteristic elements of the façade are the triangular membrane panels combined with a PVC-coated polyester fabric.

A total of 180 diamond and triangle-shaped panels cover the total area of the 20,000 m² façade. The multitude of LED lights integrated in the façade makes this structure a remarkable landmark both at night and during the day. Built on a small peninsula in the Caspian Sea, where wind speeds can reach 45m/s, the architects of this project had to come up with new innovative solutions. Because the wind, combined with the flat surfaces of the facade and the steep angles of the panel geometry, caused too much pressure on the membrane. However, nothing seems impossible in Baku and the quality of design required by the architects in terms of geometry has transformed the “Baku Crystal” into a veritable gem of light once the sun goes down.


Baku Photography by Gregory Herpe

Finally, it is impossible not to mention the extraordinary Heydar Aliyev Centre! Curves, smooth and elegant, with a minimalist shell design, it is named after a prominent figure of independence, the father of the current president, and contrasts with the former Soviet blocs. Born from the imagination of one of the most talented architects of the past 50 years, Anglo-Iraqi woman Zaha Hadid, awarded worldwide for her innovative designs, the center houses a museum, a 1000-seat auditorium, a library, a conference room and a gallery, over a total area of 101,801m².

A Modern Architecture

Zaha Hadid’s style is well recognizable, characterized by intertwining tense lines and curves, sharp angles and superimposed surfaces, which give all her creations a complex but light aspect. Equipped with openings and a pearlescent protective shell, the Azeri cultural centre has a very refined, almost organic design. The interior of the structure, is very luminous. Special attention has been paid to the construction so that natural light can enter without compromising the conservation of books and documents in the library.

The building is distinguished by its fibreglass façade reinforced with bituminous aluminium-polyester panels. A waterproof protection, completed by a monolayer film of modified thermoplastic polyolefins 2 mm thick, reinforced with a polyester grid. All the exposed roofs and façades (40,000 m²) are therefore protected from ultraviolet rays for great durability and mechanical resistance.

The centre, completed in September 2013, now hosts many cultural events and is a true masterpiece of aesthetics and technology.

In short, if you are a fan of architecture and design, Baku is the place for you, especially when you consider that the most innovative buildings are still being built. Forget Tenerife and Benidorm…Azerbaijan is a surprising country full of surprises that will not disappoint you in any way.

Baku Photography by Gregory Herpe

Thanks to Award Winning Photographer Gregory Herpe for the words and photographs of an amazing city.

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