The planet’s largest climate controlled tent, Khan Shatyr, opened in Kazakhstan in a country where the annual average temperature is just 3 degrees Celius. The huge recreational structure soars up 150m. It is now a major feature of the skyline of Central Asia's latest capital.
Covered with multiple layers of a special plastic, EFTE, it offers an energy-efficient, climate-controlled tension structure, which shelters the residents of Kazakhstan from the extreme weather conditions of the area.
In Astana, northern Kazakhstan, temperatures regularly fall well below -30C in winter, but can reach 30C in summer. The goal of the tent is to create an escape for a people subjected to the harsh climate of Central Asia's vast steppe.
Taking 4 years to complete, the Khan Shatyr is a 100,000 sq metre complex designed by Lord Foster. It possesses a city within a city, with restaurants and shops, water park, cinemas, botanical garden, a monorail and mini-golf course.
The Khan Shatyr is the latest vanity project begun by Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's increasingly autocratic president. The invited guests were Nazarbayev, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, Turkish president Abdullah Gul and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, among others. The Opening ceremony was launched with a performance by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and closed with a burst of fireworks. It was timed to align with Astana day, a new holiday to celebrate the nation's new capital.
In 1998 Nazarbayev moved the capital to the isolated northern city, Almaty and renamed it Astana, which means, literally, “capital". On the tenth anniversary of the move, Nazarbayev signed a decree declaring 6 July – which also happens to be his birthday – Astana Day.
Pouring nearly £8bn into the city to transform it into a capital befitting Central Asia's most booming economy, Nazarbayev brought in world-famous architects like Kisho Kurokawa, who before his death in 2007 designed a new urban plan for the city and Astana's new airport. Italian architect Manfredi Nicoletti designed a petal-shaped concert hall. The observation deck of Bayterek, a 105mtall tower in the city centre, bears a bronze book with an imprint of Nazarbayev’s right hand and asks visitors to place their own hand into it and make a wish.
Authorities made an effort to cover it up when the original bronze book with hand imprint was stolen. A duplicate was quickly made to replace the stolen item.
A London-based freelance photographer who recently photographed the site, Will Webster said “They're essentially creating a new city, so they're playing around with new ideas. The place is odd. "
Since it gained independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan with an iron fist. His current presidential term expires in 2012, but under legal changes granted by parliament in 2007, he is permitted to serve as president indefinitely.