From black to white in Baku

By bne IntelliNews September 28, 2012

Jahan Hoggarth in Baku -

For regular observers of Azerbaijan's economic development, the sight of computer-generated images of soaring skyscrapers and buildings in the shape of flying saucers has become an all-too familiar one. Chances are that if you Google any construction project in Baku, the search result will be turn up lots of YouTube videos of futuristic architectural designs that are intended to reshape the face of Baku.

At first glance, the Baku White City project - the latest state-sponsored project designed to modernise Azerbaijan's capital - looks more of the same. But beyond the glitzy images is a government-driven initiative to improve Baku's notoriously polluted environment with sustainability as its core value and land reclamation as the main goal. Phenomenal architecture is a bonus.

There's irony in the project's name. When the first oil boom swamped the city with heavy oil production, an industrial oil-belt, known as Black City, appeared on the eastern side of Baku at the turn of the 20th century. Shifted from the centre of Baku, the oil refineries spread out across the Black City, polluting the environment and blackening the buildings with soot and smoke.

Years later, after the oil production has moved to the other parts of the country and most of the old refineries shut down, the Black City has been left looking derelict and in desperate need of modernisation and regeneration. And that's where the story of Baku White City begins. A Monaco-sized complex that will contain an array of residential and office buildings, the region's largest shopping mall, hotels, entertainment and sports centre, Baku White City will create a new and modern centre for the capital city.

Architects arrive

Propelled by the government's action plan to improve Azerbaijan's ecological condition, the 221-hectare site has become one of the most attractive investment opportunities in Azerbaijan.

As expected, the world's best architectural and engineering experts were invited to design what is Azerbaijan's most ambitious urban development to date. The masterplan was created by the global engineering and architectural design firm Atkins (UK), which is famous for its Burj-Al-Arab project, the tallest hotel in the world built on water. The internationaly renowned Foster+Partners and F+A Architects, US experts in the planning and design of retail stores and shopping malls, have also been invited to join the Baku White City project.

Driven by the idea of building something progressive on the reclaimed land, the project team took sustainability beyond the idea of solar panels.

Social and economic sustainability are among the core values of this ambitious project. By providing mixed-scale residential buildings, designed for different incomes, the project hopes to achieve social diversity in a vibrant community. Planned housing of a large number of offices and even separate banking district will bring a range of economic opportunities, supporting the project's idea of economic sustainability.

The government is overseeing the supply and implementation of new uitilities and transport infrastructure, subsidising new road and pipeline works, and the development of a range of public transport options, including new subway stations and a waterfront tram link. But project developers are determined to utilize the existing infrastructure to reduce the need for development on environmentally sensitive land outside of the city. Baku White City will benefit from the close proximity of shops, offices and residential buildings to encourage walking and reduce the use of cars. The development will also contain at least six parks, as well as tree-lined streets and avenues throughout the complex.

Environmental sustainability is paramount to Baku White City. The buildings, such as the Baku White City Office, are made using environmentally friendly materials, along with the use of alternative energy solutions, such as Solar Energy Harvesting Photo-voltaic cells. All new infrastructure, transport and utility units will comply with the European and International standards.

By creating new investment opportunities, bringing in new infrastructure, and housing many retail, financial, commercial and and leisure companies, the developers are also hoping to rejuvenate the local community through creating new employment opportunities, estimated at up to 48,000.

The project is keen to attract both local and foreign investment, offering investors a variety of residential and commercial buildings, from small villas to large-scale urban projects. Other investment opportunities include hotels, private schools, clinics, sports and spa centres. Independent of the size of the investment, the project will also provide legal and organizational support to all investors.

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