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Competition: General plan for Baku

The government of Azerbaijan has launched an international search for a team to remasterplan its historic capital city (Deadline: 7 February)

The winning urban development team will create a masterplan for the major oil-producing city overlooking the Caspian Sea.

The project – backed by the State Committee on Urban Planning and Architecture of the Republic of Azerbaijan – aims to identify new centres and sub-centres, boost living standards, recognise cultural heritage, upgrade transport infrastructure and public spaces, enhance environmental protections, and provide new employment opportunities.

The HOK-designed Flame Towers in Baku, Azerbaijan

The HOK-designed Flame Towers in Baku, Azerbaijan

Source: Image by Nical Camilzade

The HOK-designed Flame Towers in Baku, Azerbaijan

According to the brief: ‘The General Plan is a key strategic document that sets out the above-mentioned conceptual priorities from the point of view of urbanization, which introduces territorial planning solutions, and defines requirements for construction and urban infrastructure development.

‘At the same time, the most important role of the General Plan in modern conditions is the establishment of a dialogue with the state in business and investors in the field of urban governance.’

Baku is located on the Absheron Peninsula overlooking the Bay of Baku in the Caspian Sea, and is Azerbaijan’s only city. It has been a major hub of oil production for more than a thousand years.

The Zaha Hadid Architects-designed Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku

The Zaha Hadid Architects-designed Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku

Source: Image by Interfase

The Zaha Hadid Architects-designed Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Baku has witnessed massive investment in new landmark architectural projects including the HOK-designed Flame Towers, the Crystal Hall by GMP, and Zaha Hadid Architects’ 57,500m2 Heydar Aliyev Centre.

The latest project aims to remasterplan the historic 2,140km2 city which is home to more than 2 million inhabitants.

Key aims include delivering a balanced zoning of the city, stimulating urban regeneration, preserving the city’s architectural heritage and adapting the city’s economy to the ‘post-industrial era’. Additional aims include upgrading transport infrastructure, public spaces, sustainability, and employment opportunities.

Interested teams must submit a written expression of interest and pay a $500 USD fee to receive the tender documents. Bids will be evaluated 75 per cent on technical score.

The deadline for applications is 3pm local time on 7 February.

How to apply

View the competition announcement and procurement portal for more information

Contact details

Gunel Malikova
State Committee on Urban Planning and Architecture of the Republic of Azerbaijan
AZ 1014
Baku
Fuzuli St. 65

Tel: + 994 12 493 3467 (int.129)
Email: masterplan@arxkom.gov.az
Fax: + 994 12 498 1414 

Holy City Masterplan case study: Q&A with Peter Besley

The director of Assemblage discusses lessons learned re-masterplanning Al-Kadhimiya in Iraq

Peter Besley

Peter Besley

Peter Besley

What advice would you have to contest participants on re-masterplanning Baku?

A first and obvious point is to go there, if at all possible. In our design for Kadhimiya in Iraq, site visits were transformational. It allowed us to imbibe both the intimacy and deeper structures of the place, and to watch how people and systems were behaving. Kadhimiya is an Iraqi medina town with a large Shia shrine at the centre. The urban fabric is characterised by tentacular pedestrian routes with impossibly tight sections, teetering balconies of wide-eyed children, hidden courtyards and leafy roof terraces. Going there was both essential for information but also enormously enjoyable.

Holy City Masterplan by Assemblage

Holy City Masterplan by Assemblage

Holy City Masterplan by Assemblage

A second point is to avoid mistaking urban design as ‘big architecture’. You are designing a platform on which others will flourish – not you. The urban design should resonate through the scales and also across time, and have the generosity to create extraordinary opportunities for those who come after you. You are a supporter, not a competitor, of the architects who come later.

How did your masterplan set about enhancing the unique and historic city of Al-Kadhimiya?

Our development of the urban design at Kadhimiya was often a case of growing the poetic from the grittily practical. We knew for example new potable water and other utilities would be impossible to route to every household immediately, so made nodal points along a new outer ring-main from which services ‘legs’ radiated. The ring-main allowed us to form a new civic circulation route at surface level, relieving congestion in the central shrine area and opening the opportunity to create a necklace of public spaces along the route. We used these minor public spaces to group new and refurbished buildings, both to provide services and to shape the spaces: local health and education centres, minor government offices, utilities service points, local retail and employment, and so on. In turn the individual sites of these buildings and a certain enjoyable jockeying for position among them led to their individual briefs and suggested architectural qualities they might carry.

Holy City Masterplan by Assemblage

Holy City Masterplan by Assemblage

Holy City Masterplan by Assemblage

Other parts of the design had the reverse genesis, starting with points of intuition and a spirit of vaulting ambition. We were happy for example to invent new building types to meet the spatial ambitions of the wider urban design. The new large courtyard created around the shrine is formed by a new ‘wall-building’ – a large structure which, at various points along its length, is a wall and at other times thickens to become buildings, some of which enclose significant quantum and program. A dining area for 10,000 guests is created, complete with raking arms of light cast across the space from a grid shaped rooflights. An all-new theological college is created of smaller program heaped up into a Cappadocian mound. A new library for 50,000 texts is created with a central clerestory-lit Euclidean volume, echoing the library of Asplund, and others.

Finally, we were careful to retain as much of the significant fabric as possible, and to use it. New insertions were painstakingly scribed and stepped around important – or perhaps just intriguing – existing buildings and pieces of urban fragment. We deliberately allocated all the major new program in the Brief to sites that were already cleared or destroyed.

Holy City Masterplan by Assemblage

Holy City Masterplan by Assemblage

Holy City Masterplan by Assemblage

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