The ninth largest country in the world, Kazakhstan, is all set to showcase its potential to the world. Ruled under the Soviet Union for 71 years, its independence marked the rise of a new era within the ice desert, a period of rapid development. With the discovery of oil, came the wealth, which the president of the state wanted to use for creating a new image of his nation by having a new capital in the middle of the country, Astana. As stated in the documentary, soviet monoliths were overruled by the extraordinary architectural fantasies, a series of monumental architecture to showcase the novel power. It was the vision of the president, to have an iconic leisure structure for the second coldest capital city of the world, which gave rise to the world’s biggest tent.

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Khan Shatyr ©

With a design concept outlining the ideology of people experiencing summer comfort in the harsh winters, the structure is designed for people to rest and play. The tent with a capacity of 10,000 was one of the most challenging constructions that the world has ever witnessed. British architect Norman Foster was appointed to complete this project, who looked upon the design concepts of Buckminster Fuller to create self-contained environments. Buro Happold was the civil engineering company approached by Foster for the highly ambitious project of Astana. With senior engineer, Dr Mike Cook, not much keen on working with the domes, opened doors for multiple opportunities to deal with this exquisite structure than going in with a conventional one. Understanding the nature of the projects and its scale, the dome structure would have asked for much more trouble in engineering terms, than in any other alternative. The base sides of the dome required a pure compression structure, with heavy and huge structural members, which would turn out to be not only costly but also a transportation nightmare. A solution to this gave rise to the tent structure, where all the members are in tension, being pulled rather than being pushed. The idea of suspension bridges clubbed together around a point, gave rise to the huge tent structure which was never seen before. The design for the angled tent was soon frozen by the architects and gained approval from the president in 2006, unveiling to the world. The sharp angle not just made the structure to look out as an unconventional one, but at the same time completed the iconic skyline of Astana. With a couple of iconic structures already placed on a strong axis establishing a unique taste for the capital city, the Khan Shatyr marked an end point for it. The placement of the tent respected the existing marvels, by aligning the focal points and narrating a story for the city to experience.

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Astan City ©cnn.com20120713worldasiaeye-on-kazakhstan-astanaindex.html
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The tent officially named as Han Shatir, 100,000sq.m complex was a year around entertainment zone divided into six levels. With a crisp design brief, the ground level concrete ring was used as parking levels, with western shops, cinemas, monorail, restaurants, arcades above. The topmost level was exclusively designed for a themed water park with a wave pool and beaches. The film majorly talks about the construction stages which the design followed, and which were hugely mismanaged, delaying the project completion. The stag one, focused upon the concrete base creation to support the tent above. With a commitment to delivering the project within a years’ time, till this stage, neither the architects nor the engineers were aware of what are they really walking into. With the winters in, the work was disturbed at an unbelievably huge scale, scrapping out the time management plans made for the fast construction. Already with a two-year delay, it was with the innovative mechanism of the Turkish construction company, Sembol, that the main structure for the titled tent was in its place, fulfilling the architects’ design vision for the complex.

This was the time when the tension cables for the roof were taking the position, with 300 extra workers onto it, speeding up the work, completing the cable net around 20 days. Moving towards the final stages of construction, the etfe sheets are ready to be placed. With no choice, the installation was started in the cold winters, something which was not recommended but was needed for the project to meet its deadline. With a successful first attempt in installing the roof, it’s just a close deadline of 6 weeks before the grand opening that the interior work was completely finished. A fully operational and amusing complex was ready to be revealed to the city of Astana.

The film not only documents the design and construction process, but also the emotions and efforts put into getting this structure on its feet. The world’s biggest tent, completing the axis for the city of Astana, is a modern marvel and statement for the rise of a new era.


Sanjana is a young architect with keen interest in place making and urban theories. It's the stories of the spaces and it's expressions, which got her exploring the field of journalism.