Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Building boom



One of the best places to grasp the scale of the current construction projects in Baku from the top of the Radisson Hotel. From the roof of the 17-story building, you can see for miles around the city. In every direction, you will construction projects.

I was up there last night with some American friends. We were talking about the pace of the construction - and the motivation. Much of the construction is of luxury apartment buildings. At best, it's crazy speculation - thinking that there will be a market for these expensive apartments before they depreciate. At worst, it's shameless money laundering. While Azerbaijan has signed agreements to control money-laundering, theses are widely perceived in the country to be as effective as the legislation signed to combat corruption.

The revulsion against the building boom is pretty wide - outside the small sphere of connected individuals who are profiting from it. Thomas Goltz, an American journalist who is now working with the government of Azerbaijan, several years ago penned a diatribe against the building boom, decrying the shoddy construction and the aesthetic harm that the boom was inflicting on a once-charming city.

On the other hand, there are cheerleaders for the many new projects. A forum on the "skyscraper city" website extols the modern vision being imposed on the city. I'll include a couple of architectural renderings from that site. I know some of the projects discussed there are actually being constructed - but others seem like they are just fantasy.