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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baku Will Splash Out Oil Wealth on a Center

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Azerbaijan's ruling elite has grown rich from oil, and now it is to acquire the ultimate status symbol: a monument to the president's father designed by one of the world's most sought-after architects.

The Azeri government has commissioned Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-born Briton best known for designing a cutting-edge new plant for carmaker BMW in Leipzig, Germany, to build a cultural center in honor of Heidar Aliyev, the man who founded the ruling dynasty.

The undulating glass-and-aluminum structure will rise up alongside oil-blackened Soviet-era factories in the capital of a country that just a few years ago was in economic chaos and reeling from a territorial war with its neighbor Armenia.

It will also deepen the posthumous cult of personality around the former KGB officer who ran Azerbaijan for three decades before his death in 2003. His son, Ilham Aliyev, a reformed playboy, took over the presidency.

"This center will be an example of respect for the legacy of Heidar Aliyev and become a symbol of Azerbaijan's modern capital," Ilham Aliyev said at a groundbreaking ceremony for the cultural center.

Azerbaijan is following the example of other former Soviet states that have brought in big-name architects to translate their oil wealth into steel and concrete.


Reuters
A computer rendition of the Heidar Aliyev project, a cultural center in Baku.


Kazakhstan, home to the world's biggest new oil discovery in more than 30 years, hired Britain's Lord Norman Foster to design a huge glass pyramid in its capital, Astana, a city built almost from scratch in the empty steppes.

Foster is also behind a tapering skyscraper in Moscow that its builders say will be the tallest building in Europe. The tower will be the centerpiece of the Moskva-City development -- a symbol of Russia's oil-driven economic boom.

The Baku cultural center will be the most distinctive building to go up in the Caspian Sea city in a generation.

Slated for completion by the end of 2009, it will house a concert hall seating 1,284 people, a library, a museum and underground parking for 1,350 cars, the developers say.

Although they refuse to reveal how much it will cost, the project, to be paid for by the government, is likely to run into tens of millions of dollars.

It will be a major outlay for a country where, according to the World Bank, the average monthly income is about $250 and 29 percent of the population lives in poverty.

But the state's coffers, now recovered from the chaos of the 1990s, are bulging with revenues from the oil that Azerbaijan, in conjunction with a BP-led consortium, exports along a pipeline to the Mediterranean Sea.

Hadid is hailed as one of the world's most important contemporary architects. In 2004 she was awarded the Pritzker Prize, the architecture world's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the first woman to receive the award.

Among her recent high-profile commissions is a $146 million aquatics center for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.