Have you ever been to Baku? The capital of Azerbaijan? Nope? Me neither. For those of you who have had the chance to see it, good for you my friends. I envy you, in a good way certainly. The old city of Baku, at least If I am to be asked, it looks like a sand architecture. Such a divine, almost breath-taking thing to see, thanks to Google of course. It is known as the City of Winds, which brings us to the point.

The Baku Tower of Winds by SOMA- Symphony of Elements - Sheet1
The Baku Tower of Winds – Helix by SOMA ©soma.us

Helix was initiated by Michel Abboud, the founding principal of SOMA Architects, in 2009. The project itself is somewhat unknown, due to its nature as a proposal. The ambiguities behind its planning, determinant of material and construction are fairly obvious since it never really took its time to shine in the sun or by the bay in this case. However, some monumentally paramount aspects can be discussed. The philosophy behind the design and the concept, the potential social benefit it may have had if to be realized, and its style. 

A helicoidal windmill that harvests the wind from the bay of Baku thus transforms the power of the wind into a light that enables this state of the art lighthouse and the rotation of the wind meter. Vertical axis wind turbine with certain helicity to its design, such as in this case, has better aerodynamic performance and less noise emission, and that is just one part of the concept. The other part of the concept of the design comes from the DNA structure diagram, a double helix, hence the name of the project. In SOMA’s Helix, the two lighting dominants, intertwined such as “ribbon dancing motion” are the major and the minor groove of the DNA structure, or the sugar-phosphate backbone which constructs the spiral arrangement of the two complementary strands of DNA. Pretty cool, huh? 

As far as the general concept goes, SOMA hit the jackpot. A long dock illuminated via “sticks” emerging out of steel structures, by the sole power the wind in Baku provides. The dock would serve as a “sacred path”, as in the case of Stonehenge. The incognito purpose of it, apart from the fairly obvious one – path to get you to the windmill; is to bestow a special meaning to the dominant of the story, the Helix, to increase the anticipation of getting to the point of focus. 

The Baku Tower of Winds by SOMA- Symphony of Elements - Sheet2
The Baku Tower of Winds ©soma.us
The Baku Tower of Winds by SOMA- Symphony of Elements - Sheet3
The Baku Tower of Winds ©soma.us

If we are about to disclose the hidden jams of Helix’s style, we have to direct the light to the material. Now, there is no mentioning of the certainty of the nature of its materiality, however, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the technical report “2015 Cost of Wind Energy Review” //https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy17osti/66861.pdf//, provided for the general public, wind turbines are predominantly made of steel (71-79% of total turbine mass), fiberglass, resin, or plastic (11-16%), iron or cast iron (5-17%), copper (1%), and aluminum (0-2%).

In SOMA’s Helix, the steel under-structure serves as a wind turbine that generates the energy from the wind, thus turning it into an energy source for light. The two spiral components, presumably to be made out of the rest of the aforementioned materials, would serve as an anemometer, or wind meter. If this piece of art, and yes I considered it as a monument with an incredibly artistic, technological and architectural sophistication, was to be realised, its spiral components would turn effortlessly around the “steel wand” constantly since Baku is the “subject” of the Cold Winds from the Caspian Sea that blow year-round.

“The whole structure continually emits a colour coded light following the international maritime standards of safety.” //https://architizer.com/projects/helix-by-michel-abboud-soma-architects//

Symphony of wind, water, light, and “elegant dancing”. What more could we ask for? 

The social benefit of a structure such as Helix is pretty straightforward at first glance; a windmill to serve the city, a lighthouse as a navigational aid for the maritime traffic, and an exceptional monument to lay your eyes on. Except, as an additional advantage, this structure provides ambient and atmosphere that is “a must” to be experienced, serves as a dominant of the city, enjoyable gathering place, an atypical art-piece, and technological advancement, and did I mention that is great to look at?

Well done SOMA. 

I believe an architectural piece should make you think about it, touch your soul a bit, leave a mark. And to be completely honest, SOMA’s architecture is not really my cup of tea, not to be taken the wrong way, but this is just one woman’s prerogative. Subjectivity, right? However, Helix is something else. And this is objectivity speaking. Not trying to oversell it, or sell it in any way, since it is not mine, but in my book, it is worth seeing. Since architectural paragons are rare these days, and this one is simply still a blueprint, why not at least parade it more?


Viktorija Vitanova is a fifth-year student at the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Architecture, Slovenia. She received a bachelor’s degree of Arts in Architecture from American College Skopje, North Macedonia. Her interests lie in the theory of architecture, an abstract undertake of architectural projects, and the socio-psychological aspect of architecture.