In September 2003, Kazakhstan − the largest of the former Soviet Republics − hosted the inaugural Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in the capital, Astana. Spurred by the Congress' success, the President of Kazakhstan decided to make it a triennial event and commissioned a new venue. The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation was conceived as a permanent venue for the Congress and a global centre for religious understanding, the renunciation of violence and the promotion of faith and human equality.
In addition to representing the world's religious faiths, the Palace houses a 1,500-seat opera house, a range of educational facilities, and a national centre for Kazakhstan's various ethnic and geographical groups. This programmatic diversity is unified within the pure form of a pyramid, 62 metres high with a 62 x 62-metre base
Clad in stone, with glazed inserts that allude to the building's various internal functions, the pyramid has an apex of stained glass, created by the artist Brian Clarke. Spatially, the pyramid is organised around a soaring central atrium, which is animated by shifting patterns of coloured light. A glazed oculus in the floor of the atrium casts daylight down into the auditorium and creates a sense of vertical continuity from the lowest level of the building to the very peak. The assembly chamber itself - symbolically the most important space - is raised at the top of the pyramid, supported on four inclined pillars, characterised as 'the hands of peace'. Lifts take delegates to a garden-like reception space from where they ascend to the chamber via a winding ramp.
The Astanian climate posed a significant logistical challenge, with an extreme temperature range from +35°C in summer to -35°C in winter. The construction schedule also had to be extraordinarily rapid, the Palace having to be complete in time for the second Congress in 2006. Together, these demands led the design team to develop a structural solution that utilised prefabricated components, which could be manufactured off site during the winter months and erected quickly during the summer. Remarkably, the entire process, from briefing to opening was completed in just twenty-one months.
Area: 35 000m²
Height: 62 m
Client: Sembol Construction
Collaborating Architect: Tabanlioglu Architecture & Consulting (Istanbul)
Structural Engineer: Buro Happold (London), Arce (Istanbul)
M+E Engineer: GN Engineering & HB Technik (Istanbul)
Landscape Architect: DS Mimarlik
Lighting Engineer: Studio Dinnebier (Berlin)
Additional Consultants: Sound Space Design, Karina Fire Consultants (Ankara), Brian Clarke
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