The urban transformation of Baku White City
By Natasha Tourish
The “Baku-White city” project in Azerbaijan aims to improve the environmental situation in the Azerbaijan Republic. Baku-White City is the largest ongoing project in the Caucasus, covering 221 ha including 39 ha of landscape.
The Baku White City master plan envisages the creation of 10 universal urban districts with each of them to offer its residents the best living, working, recreation and entertainment conditions. Baku City will rearrange and expand the Boulevard, the gem of Baku that is situated right in the centre of the Baku Bay. The Oilers’ Avenue, one of the most favourite streets of the people of Baku that runs along the Boulevard, will also be made longer.
The modern centre of Baku will include a whole new city transportation system. For instance, it is planned to build a new Underground station that will give access right to the central square of Baku White City; it is also in the plan to expand the bus route grid and to run a tram line along the whole coast. Moreover, an all-new water transport line will run along the boulevard.
The creation of a new and modern city centre in the capital will provide added opportunities to attract local and overseas investments. The future investors have special privileges kept in stock for them as an incentive. Another impressive feature is the “Ecol Engineering Services Co” (SOCAR); the special polluted land purging activity has been started in the city in accordance with the master planner’s sustainable approach.
The Baku White City Projects involves not only the British company "Atkins" that specialize in engineering designs and the Azeri specialists, but also such luminary architect firms as Foster + Partners and F+A Architects.
The key aspirations of the project are to develop one of the greatest urban districts in the region and to make the most efficient use of land through optimizing development densities, whilst integrating the urban environment with convenient and innovative transport options.
Landscape talks to lead architect Tim Askew about the Baku White City project.
What is the concept of the Baku White City project? What makes it unique?
A: Before I explain the concept of the project, I would like to touch upon the issue of urban environment in general and in particular, since the formation of the latter is directly connected with the components of the concept. The point is that the urban environment is a synthesis of urban spaces used and perceived, from primary, private (yard, housing estate) to the generally valid city spaces (streets, squares and boulevards, public gardens, historic and cultural monuments, etc.). Much of our urban environment depends on, seemingly, little things: functional zoning of small urban spaces (courtyards, public garden, mini-markets, pedestrian zones, etc.), placement of public transportation stations, parking, street furniture, small architectural forms and etc. Proper placement of individual elements and complexes, a carefully planned road and transport infrastructure, availability of social and community facilities, competent choice of varieties of greenery according to their aesthetic properties - this and other factors can affect the subconscious of citizens, raising their taste and culture. The urban environment has a very significant impact not only on the daily behavior and attitude of citizens, but also on long-term and fundamental processes of civil society: values, trust in public institutions, relations between social groups, norms and patterns of behavior, attitude to the historical heritage and the conditions for the formation of the youth.
Given that one of the tasks set before us - Azerbaijani developers, was to give the project the investment attractiveness, the image of the Baku White City, or its concept, was developed specifically with regard to all the above mentioned elements. Namely, it focuses primarily on the creation of urban areas that would combine the original architecture with the technological ease of construction, economic viability with the ergonomics of use, universal infrastructure using the principles of environmental architecture, in short, all that is necessary for enabling favourable conditions for human life in an urban environment.
Prior to developing the concept for the Baku White City, we studied in detail the layout and development of such prominent cities as Barcelona, London and Paris, dwelling at length on the details, optimally corresponding to our ideas about the future center of Baku and most reflective of its features. As a result, the future image of the Baku White City has absorbed all the best in the world that can be integrated into already existing urban environment.
In addition, an underground station, overlooking the central square of the Baku White City will be built there, as well as the development of a bus transport network will be carried out. It is planned to drive a tram line along the coast. It is provided to lay along the boulevard line a sea route to enable use of water transport. Thus, there is an active urban complex, in which the location of various objects in close proximity to each other will greatly reduce the need for further movement across the city.
One of the main conditions of functioning and sustainable economic development of the city is a well-developed infrastructure. What will the infrastructure of the Baku White City look like? A: You are absolutely right. Just the availability of a developed infrastructure increases the investment attractiveness of the city to potential investors, stimulates business development and, therefore, encourages the development of the urban economy. This, in its turn, leads to an increase of revenues to the city budget. Ten or fifteen years ago no one was astonished at the sight of a micro-district standing alone in the neighborhood. Its inhabitants used to do shopping and searched for entertainment "downtown". Times are changing and the modern new settlers - residents of micro districts, where the creation of infrastructure - shops, entertainment centers, and consumer services - were provided at the initial stage of the project, were much lucky. Moving into the new house, they immediately begin to live a full life. "This is provided on the territory of the Baku White City as well, where the creation of engineering and public utilities, transportation and road and social infrastructure is planned.
Creation of engineering and utilities infrastructure, consisting of water, energy and telecommunications networks provides for a universal complex of utilities throughout the Baku White City. Each of these services was conceptually designed based on a combination of national and international standards and design criteria, particularly, taking account of the British Standards (BS) and GOST / SNIP (Construction Norms and Rules). The network of utility services will cover each building located in the Baku White City. Also, appropriate measures to prevent possible failures in supply, were provided for.
Sewerage and drainage system of the Baku White City will be organized taking account of the relief of the project area and precise calculations of the depth of communication and flow rates that will allow the new streets of Baku to stay dry even in the rainy day. The design criteria for developing the concept of the power and gas supply network were based on achieving of the following main objectives: the specific requirements of the power consumption of electrical and gas systems and equipment, ensuring safe and controlled network of electric and gas utilities in the development area, implementation of measures to ensure safety for the protection of both people and equipment. According to the concept of the project the residential neighborhood of the Baku White City will host sites for retailing - shops, pharmacies and other facilities that will be located on the first floor of buildings in the so-called "flexible commercial space." It is assumed that the distance from each residential building to the shopping facility will not exceed 500m or 5 minutes walk, which is recommended by the existing norms for urban planning.
What are the plans for the park of Nobel? How it will look like after reconstruction?
The origin of the park goes back to ancient times. It is known that it was founded by Nobel brothers in 1883 during the first oil boom. Until now the park keeps the memory of its founders - the building, in which the Nobel brothers’ office was situated.
The reconstructed old Nobel’s Park will become a public place of recreation and entertainment. There will be a lot of greenery, artificial ruins added to the historical elements, sculptures, children's play structures, as well as the opportunity for representations out-of-doors. Being the biggest park in Baku, and occupying the territory of 9.5 hectares, the new park promises to play an important role in the life of the Baku White City. For the convenience of visiting the park, the well-organized and organized area will be equipped with parking, and it will make the park a favorite place for recreation of the townspeople and an appropriate venue for city events.
How the face of our boulevard will be changed? What changes are waiting this visiting card of our capital?
Undoubtedly, the most wonderful changes. The Baku boulevard - one of the attractions of Baku, a favorite place of recreation of the Baku residents and visitors. The restoration of the coastal zone of the Black city would make the area more attractive and comfortable for leisure and entertainment.
Due to its location in the heart of Baku Bay, the Baku White City significantly increases the length of the existing urban coastal boulevard. The territory of 17,5 m, with a length of 1300 m and a width of 150 m along the entire length - this will be the length of a Baku boulevard, which is already unique in its size and is considered to be the biggest in the world.
The new boulevard will be connected in the west with the old boulevard, while facilitating the continuation to the east. A tram line will be built along the coast of the Caspian Sea. Thus, another form of ecological public transport connecting the whole territory of the coast will be provided. According to the plan, a sea route for future water taxi or small ferries, that will link the multiple points of the Baku Bay to the city center, will be introduced.
According to the concept, the coastal line will accommodate a lot of cultural and entertainment facilities, the most original of which will be the Pavilion of Contemporary Art. Another attraction of the new boulevard, which makes the coast recognizable at a first glance, promises to be a hotel building of unusual shape, located on a pier projecting into the sea.
Considered landscape with alternating water elements, a Ferris wheel, elevating visitors to an altitude of 65 meters, an ice rink in the shopping center will complement the already lively festive atmosphere prevailing in the coastal boulevard of the city .One of the favorite street of city dwellers – Neftcilar avenue, will be extended along the new boulevard, providing an opportunity to admire a view of the Boulevard and the Baku Bay.
Is it provided to establish recreational landscapes in the Baku White City?
Absolutely. The emergence of new trends and styles in architecture can not but affect the formation of a new culture in urban landscape design. The areas occupied by the recreational landscape in the Baku White City would amount to 39 hectares. Streets with pedestrian paths, green lawns and trees, planted randomly, will form a natural landscape, as if created by nature. Parks and squares will be laid out; squares and sidewalks will be planted with tress and shrubs. This natural landscape zoning will emphasize an individual character of each of the quarters and create a landscape disposing to walks. As a result, the look of the district will be improved; the level of the comfort of living will be raised, not to mention the environmental benefits of gardening.
•221 ha development
•10 districts with different characters
•4.5 mln sqm gross built area
•20000 residential and commercial units
•48000 workplaces (upon completion)
•40000 parking places
•39 ha landscape
•One of the largest modern projects in the world built entirely on ecologically reclaimed industrial zone
•Project area 10 times the size of Icheri Shahar(Inner City) in Baku
•Adding 1.3 km to existing Boulevard Line of Baku, making it largest in the world
•Will accommodate the Largest Mall of the region
•Proximity to City Center -4 km away from Qiz Qalasi(historical Centre)
—Masterplanning, transportation, environmental and architectural expertise
—Detailed masterplans for six of the ten individual districts
•Foster & Partners (UK)
—Consultant (Masterplan reviewer at key stages)
—Detailed masterplan for the Waterfront district (East & West)
•F+A Architects (USA)
—Provided detail design for “spine” bridge
—Detailed masterplan for Fountain Square
—Detailed masterplan for Baku City Mall