Azerbaijan I – A Lovely Architectural Surprise

by | May 16, 2016 |

Title Photo credit: Stefano Bolognini via Visualhunt / CC BY-NCAzerbaijan I

I left Malaysia, and after an 11-hour flight and a 4-hour layover in Istanbul followed by another 3-hour flight, I arrived in Azerbaijan. Although I was very tired and jet-lagged, I immediately perked up at sight of Baku, the capital.

Baku is a beautiful blend of old and new. It’s elegant, interesting, layered, and clean as can be. I love when a city embraces its past and allows for the present to continue and be felt.

In the image above, you see the symbol of New Baku in the three glass buildings – The Flame Towers – flickering over the entire city. The architect was HOK, an American worldwide design, architecture, engineering and urban planning firm.

The towers are perfectly positioned to be seen from almost any vantage point in the city. Here’s how the towers look from the old city:

Azerbaijan I old city

Maiden Tower, below, is at the center of the old town. The climb isn’t much of a challenge, but the views are good up top:

azerbaijan I maiden tower

Baku is a harbor town on the western edge of Caspian Sea, and thus has been a center of trade for thousands of azerbaijan old city 15th centry wallsyears.

The old town still has its 15th -century walls.

azerbaijan I shopping centerRight outside these walls is a large pedestrian shopping zone, filled with exactly the shops (Zara) and eateries you would expect (yup, KFC and McDonald’s), perfect for strolling in the evening.

The not-so-secret secret to Baku’s success: Azerbaijan has oil. And – I would add – a decent city planning board, one who both respects the city’s past and is willing to hire adventurous modern architects.

Baku had its first oil boom in the late 19th century. Downtown has wide boulevards and beautiful 19th-century Parisian-style buildings, thereby giving the city (part of) its elegance.

azerbaijan I parisian style buildings

Traditional buildings have fantastic balconies:

azerbaijan I balconies

The balconies of Baku remind me strongly of those in Tbilisi, Georgia:

azerbaijian I Tibilisi

To remind you of the geography of the region, here’s a map:

azerbaijan I map

Tbilisi is only about 280 miles from Baku, so I figure traditional architecture with balconies is a feature of the azerbaijan I carpet musuemCaucasus region.

Now, back to Baku.

The carpet museum is in the form of a rolled carpet and was designed by Austrian architect Franz Janz. The carpet displays on the interior are gorgeous.

azerbaijan I Heydar AliyevThe building I was most eager to visit was Heydar Aliyev Centre designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.

Hadid was the first woman and the first Muslim to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, winning it in 2004. She received the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011.

She got on my radar when she died of a heart attack on March 31st of this year in a Miami hospital where she was being treated for bronchitis. She was 65. An adequate comment is not possible. She was beautiful and talented and had more to give the world.

Another view of her sensuous building:

azerbaijan I Heydar Aliyev Center 2

Photo credit: United Nations Information Centres via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

It is a cultural center. Here’s me inside it:

azerbaijan I Heydar Aliyev building

Baku is further enhanced by its plentiful and beautiful parks. Here again, you see the old city walls in the background.

azerbaijan I Baku

Maybe it’s because I’m from Chicago, which pioneered the modern skyscraper, that I’m so interested in architecture and urban planning. For whatever reason I’m fascinated by these subjects.

Weird twist: There’s a Trump Tower here. That’s right. It was completed in 2014, but to this day it is not open, and mention of it has disappeared from Trump’s website. Here’s a link to a story attempting to unravel the mystery.

Baku is making its bid for global relevance. Here’s the Crystal Hall built out into the bay where the Eurovision 2012 song contest was held:

azerbaijan I baku crystal hall

Baku also held the 2015 European Olympics:

azerbaijan I baku olympics

In June of this year Formula 1 will hold its event in Baku. This city is only the second one, after Monaco, to have its track actually in the city. Here is the course:

azerbaijan I formula one

The red ring to the left is around the historical old city.

Then there’s the 2018 Islamic Olympics as well as the 2220 European Football Championship, both to be held in Baku.

First and last, coming and going, visitors to Azerbaijan are treated to the spectacular Baku airport, designed by the Turkish studio Autoban.

azerbaijan I airport


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This post was written by Julie Andresen

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