The world may still be in crisis, but not Kazakhstan—a big exporter of oil and uranium. "President" since 1990 Nursultan Nazarbayev keeps wasting the country's money in ridiculous megalomaniac projects like their 2017 Expo. Naturally, there's plenty of shameless Western architects eager to sell out their principles to become his very own Albert Speer+Partners. Look at the ludicrous projects by some of the world's top studios.
The question of ethics in architecture has taken on a new resonance in recent years, as the autocratic governments of China and the Middle East have begun importing foreign designers en masse to create contrived civic monuments. A certain Mr. Daniel Libeskind once spoke forcefully on the issue in Belfast, stating definitively: “I won’t work for totalitarian regimes.” However, in the face of monetary gains and the prospect of multiple landmark commissions, he performed a fairly fundamental U-turn, accepting the offer to design the Zhang ZhiDong and Modern Industrial Museum in Wuhan, China.
This is symptomatic of a pattern emerging across Asia: Big-name architects are choosing to turn a blind eye to the archaic human rights records and lack of political freedom in certain countries, the prospect of extravagant public projects too tempting to refuse.
This has never been more evident than in the recently released list of competition entries for the 2017 Expo in Kazakhstan, which reads like a team sheet of the Harlem Globetrotters of Architecture: Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, UNStudio, and Snøhetta have all waded in with brash, exorbitant schemes on a huge scale.
Himmelblau's proposal. Images via expo2017astana.
UNstudio's proposal. Image via expo2017astana.