Not without reason Baku is called a city where East meets West. There is a special aura here, a special mentality based on the centuries-old fusion of different cultures, traditions and religions. This was also reflected in architecture: beautiful models of various architectural styles of several historical ages form a special visual series, creating a unique image of our city. Doctor of Art criticism, author of a number of books Elchin Aliyev, who contributed to the construction of modern Baku, will tell us about those Azerbaijani specialists who care what their native city will look like in a hundred years.
Baku is truly a unique city in terms of architecture...
I love walking around town with my daughter Zivar, we have our favourite routes... But I often catch myself looking to go around some buildings: I feel embarrassed for them – for what they did to them, and for not doing anything to help, I couldn't... I honestly admit – there are whole urban areas which I try not to walk through. Yes, our Baku is a unique city, there is no city with such a rich history anywhere else in the world! It presents both the Middle Ages and the "modern" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the period of constructivism of the 1920 – 1930s, which I personally consider the trademark of Baku. This period in the architecture of our city was threatened by complete extinction, but fortunately, the "Old Intourist" hotel, built by the project of Alexey Shchusev, was restored, the building of the "Dynamo" society of the architect Moisey Gusman was reconstructed... The architecture of Baku is richly represented by the "Stalin" period of the 1940-1950s – architecture full of comfort and love. I now enjoy living in "Stalinka" flat.
Unfortunately, today the threat of extinction lies over the monuments of architecture of the 1970-1980s, when, within numerous severe restrictions, Azerbaijani architects created magnificent examples of Soviet modernism. And, of course, we are proud of the most of what has been built since the restoration of our country's independence. I cannot but mention such masterpieces of outstanding masters of world architecture as Heydar Aliyev Center built by project of Zaha Hadid or work of my colleagues from architectural bureau HOK International – the Flame Towers complex, or SOCAR towers and AzərSu on the Heerim Architects project, or Chapman Taylor's work – the Port Baku complex, the new building of the international airport...
Which new trends have appeared in architecture world in recent years?
Buildings and other objects become more concise and pragmatic in their shape, with more precision in detail and high quality... Big attention is given to the durability of buildings. Priority is given to the shapes that increase the energy efficiency of the object, but do not require high costs for its construction.
And what awaits the projects of recognized coryphées of architecture, whose style and forms are so ambitious and recognizable?
Architects of this level have a wide circle of clients ordering works from them, which possess a highly individual character, – take, for example, the projects of the now late Zaha Hadid or Daniel Libeskind. However, there are fewer new architectural offices with such expressive language. Both in the West and in the world in general, there is a clear tendency to simplification of forms.
Whom among the modern Azerbaijani architects would you like to mention?
Have you seen the futuristic building of AzərKosmos? It is the work of talented Azerbaijani architect Nariman Imamaliyev. His other works are the Chiraq Plaza, City Point business centers, the building of UniBank. There is also the closest to me personally, reminiscent of my favorite period – the 1920 – 30s architecture of Ilgar Beglyarov: have you seen the Baku Health Center or building of Central Library of Science? Another talented Azerbaijani architect – Nazim Veliyev, author of the Jumeirah Bilgah hotel and the new office building of Ministry of National Security... Yes, in Azerbaijan we have architects with our unique handwriting, and quite a lot. I am impressed by the symmetry and rhythm of the stone in the works of Ilgar Isbatov, the synthesis of classics and modernism of Musaddin Namazov, constructivist forms of tandem by Kamal Musakhanov – Jahangir Akhundov... It is also worth noting the works of Alexander Garber, Nazim Farajzade, Abdul Huseynov, Famil Agayev, Nizami Gasimzade, Ruslan Togruloglu and mine, after all.
Do you have your favorite works?
No, for me, urban development is first of all a process, and I treat my old works simply as something I've once created. However, there are also works that I am proud of... So it turned out that in my record there is a whole series of projects on a sacred theme, all belonging to different religious denominations. Not sure if there is a second architect in the world who has succeeded in this. My first work in this field was the reconstruction of the Orthodox Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral, and I am grateful to fate that it brought me together with Aydin Kurbanov, whose house I often visited. Then, as an official representative of the Vatican in Azerbaijan, I worked for several years on the project of the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception – it was built on Nobel Avenue. I also participated in the reconstruction of Albanian church Jotari the in village of Nij of the Gabala region. And finally, my main project is the Juma Mosque in Zira village, built in 2016 with the support of the Aydin Kurbanov Foundation. How not to be proud of such achievements!
Well, and how you spend your free time?
I like to travel, see the world. My strongest architectural experiences are affected by these trips. We with my younger son Naib based on our travel around the country published the book Azərbaycanın sehirli abidələri (Magical monuments of Azerbaijan) where in an entertaining form the story of monuments of architecture is told for children, with interesting facts, legends and other useful and important information. I wrote the texts myself – it took seven years, and artist Nusret Hajiyev decorated the book with illustrations. We wanted to involve little curious readers in the study of the history of their native city and the whole country. But I think the book will be interesting to adults too!
You also write books about architecture...
Yes, with the support of Heydar Aliyev Fund, my books "Facade Sculpture of Baku" and "Doors and fronts of Baku" were published. Also by the decree of the President, my favorite book "Architecture of Baku of 1920 – 1930s of the period of constructivism" was published. I am happy that I managed to preserve the photographs of buildings for photo archive before they were destroyed with "restoration projects" from unknown to me colleagues, who showed complete lack of respect for copyright and memory of outstanding architects on whose projects these buildings were built.
Would you like to share your future plans with us?
During last years I have been working on two large publications dedicated to the architecture of Baku of the modernist period and the so-called Stalin period of the 1940-1960s. I write, gather materials, take photos, dig in the archives... I would also like to publish ''Magical monuments of Azerbaijan'' children's book in Russian, it is ready for printing. And, of course, the main thing for me stays her majesty architecture.
What is your biggest dream?
My dream is for a professional architect to be the leader of our city. And also: that the city finally opens its own museum.
Interview by Leyla Sultanzadeh
Photo by Sergey Khrustalyov