High rise Bishkek

April 2nd, 2017 Sections: Bishkek
Dom Druzhba

Dom Druzhba

In his Bishkek Handbook, Daniel Prior tells a story about how a nomad shepherd came down from the jailoo to visit Frunze – as Bishkek was known then –  and was so taken with the magnificent sights in the Big City that when he returned home and described all that he had seen, heard and done he mentioned the tall buildings … and in particular which was so tall that, if you bent backwards and looked up, you could not see the top of the building.

We are told that the building which so struck him with awe was the (then) newly constructed Government House – which is now known as Dom Druzhba (Friendship House) – on Prospect Chui to the East of the main Ala Too Square.

This two storey building with its central cupola is distinctive of its period and stylish, but hardly merits such a description unless one was standing immediately next to the wall of the building itself. Although the building might well have been impressive in its day … the city being basically low rise, predominantly single storey dwellings.

However, this was not necessarily the tallest building in the city – by no means was it the only two storey building in the city – Terentiev, the first Mayor of Bishkek, for example, had built a couple of such properties during the Tsarist period … well before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Perhaps the story tells us more about the person telling it, (be they Soviet propagandist, American guidebook author, or British blogger), than it does about the apparently gullible and naive nomadic shepherd who appears in it. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, what our shepherd might have made of the city today.

Two storey buildings were soon to be surpassed by some with three storeys … the first to grace the city was the building of the National University on Prospekt Manas, at the intersection with Frunze Street.

Taller buildings were to follow, at first with just with four storeys and five storeys, (which is a sort of standard … the basic license for construction companies allow them to erect up to five-storied buildings … and these buildings do not require a lift … whilst anything taller requires a different license permitting the holders to work on buildings with up to nine floors … and a more stringent license being required for taller buildings), and later with much taller buildings … especially high rise apartment blocks … some in the city center … others out in the microrayons (the microdistricts – the mainly residential suburbs on the outskirts of the city).

Shortly after I first arrived here, I was invited to a party in the outskirts of town.  I was given an address in Asanbai and when I asked how do I get there, I was told, “Just tell the taxi driver the vosiemnaditiy-etazhniye …” (the eighteen storeys), “… all the taxi drivers will know them … there are only two of them and they are next door to each other.”

Sure enough … it worked … and I ascended up to the fifteenth or sixteenth  floor (I don’t remember exactly … it was a long time ago, now), and stood by the window in the apartment taking in the magnificent views of the mountains to the South of the city.

They might have been Bishkek’s Twin Towers … but they weren’t the only High Rise buildings in the city … there were also a couple of sixteen storey buildings – Mir 8 ands the Uchkun Building …  and another vosiemnaditiy-etazhniye apartment building along what is now Baitik Baatyr Street, but these towers were the exception … everything else was nine floors, or less.

An artist's impression Bishkek Park

An artist’s impression of Bishkek Park

In recent years, however, there has been a construction boom, with some fourteen buildings with 14 or more floors being erected since 2010;

  • five more vosiemnaditiy-etazhniye … (the Rossiya Business Center and four in the Jal microdistrict) … and
  • Bishkek’s new Twin Towers that comprise the Bishkek Park Complex on Kievskaya Street (each with 21 storeys).

Bishkek’s City Planning Department (Glavarchtectura) have impressive plans for even higher buildings – 25 and more storeys.

Although these would have qualified as Skyscrapers when the word was first coined to describe the High Rise buildings being erected in nineteenth century Chicago, these days the term is usually reserved for buildings of 40 of more floors.

These plans have not been without their critics … who point out that

  • this is a seismically active zone, (meaning that there are greater risk of earthquakes);
  • the Fire Department is ill equipped (or not equipped) to deal with emergency situations in such tall buildings …
  • … and not just the Fire Department, some people question if the city’s infrastructure (electricity, water, sewerage, streets and parking, etc.) has the capacity to cater for such developments;
  • whilst some comments have featured aesthetic questions … and, perhaps more importantly,
  • there’s the question of who is going to finance such developments.

All the same, the city is changing, with its rapidly developing modern and impressive skyline … but fortunately. hopefully, retaining much of its more traditional human scale with abundant low rise (single and two storey) buildings.



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