Aidana’s Homeland of Kazakhstan: Land of Blue and Gold

September 11, 2023 • Aidana Newen

Aidana Newen, the latest addition to WDM Architects, recently enchanted us with a captivating presentation about her beautiful homeland, Kazakhstan. Through the eyes of Aidana, let’s learn about its breathtaking landscapes, diverse culture, and unique traditions.

 

Aidana Newen brings homemade traditional Kazakh treats to share during her presentation

 

The Blue and Gold of Kazakhstan: Aidana began her presentation by describing Kazakhstan’s national flag, which features the colors blue and gold. The deep blue represents the clear skies that stretch endlessly across the country, while the vibrant gold reflects the eagle, a powerful symbol of freedom that has long been associated with the people of Kazakhstan.

 

Geography and Landscape: Situated south of Russia and west of China, Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world. Its vast expanse comprises 26% steppes and 44% desert, with mountains dominating the south and east. In fact, Kazakhstan’s size is comparable to the entirety of Europe. The country enjoys a wide range of climates, from the frigid cold and constant wind in north Kazakhstan to the warm south.

Kazakhstan is blessed with abundant mineral resources, including oil and gas, which play a significant role in the country’s economy. These resources have drawn attention from around the world and have shaped Kazakhstan’s modern history.

 

Traditional Kazakh hunting with eagles

 

A Glimpse into History: Aidana delved into Kazakhstan’s rich history, mentioning the fierce battles among the tribes of Attila’s times and the rule of the Khazak Khanate. Genghis Khan’s unification of the tribes remains a source of pride for the Kazakh people. Nomadic life, centered around horses and the availability of grazing land for animals, was a way of life for centuries. The Great Silk Road also passed through Kazakh territory, which contributed to the creation of ancient cities in the south of modern Kazakhstan.

Aidana also shared insights into traditional Kazakh life. The yurt, a portable circular dwelling covered with sheep skin, is an iconic symbol of nomadic culture. Kazakh yurts are known for their warmth and unique design, with an open circle in the center for light and smoke ventilation.

 

 

Kazakhstan’s Natural Wonders: Aidana highlighted many of Kazakhstan’s natural wonders, including Lake Kaindy, Big Almaty Lake, Charyn Canyon, Shymbulak Ski Resort, and the Singing Dune in Altyn-Emel National Park.

 

Cultural and Architectural Marvels: Aidana shared some historical context for modern Kazakhstan, which was once a part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. This pivotal moment triggered an economic crisis in her homeland as the Soviet ruble, previously widely used, suddenly became obsolete. Determined to assert their newfound independence, the nation embarked on a bold journey of architectural innovation. They extended a global invitation to architects, seeking designs that would not only turn their capital city Astana into a showcase but also draw tourists from across the globe. While the architects displayed immense talent, they grappled with the unfamiliar climate.

 

 

Aidana shared her pride in Kazakhstan’s modern architectural marvels, such as the Atyrau Bridge, Khan Shatyr, Palace of Peace and Reconciliation Pyramid, Kazakhstan Central Concert Hall and Medeu Ice Rink. The Nazarbayev Center, Astana Opera House, and Talan Towers were some of her personal favorites.

 

 

Kazakh Cuisine and Culture: No journey through Kazakhstan is complete without experiencing its cuisine and culture. Aidana described traditional dishes like Bishparmak, aptly named “5 fingers.” This traditional dish combines succulent horse meat, egg noodles and onion sauce, served on a generously sized communal platter, encouraging the entire family to scoot in close and share the meal with their hands. Manty, another favorite of Aidana’s, consists of dumplings filled with savory beef and pumpkin.

 

 

We were charmed with her description of unique customs like the Qyrqynnan Shygaru cradle ceremony, a heartwarming tradition that takes place after 40 days from a baby’s birth.

In the lavish Tusau Kesu ceremony, when a toddler is taking his first steps, blessings are bestowed over the child while ceremonial ribbon fetters tied around his ankles are cut off, symbolizing an easy and prosperous life ahead. Then the child is led down a pristine white path, where they are presented with several objects to choose from. The item the toddler instinctively chooses is believed to hold the key to his or her future, providing an intriguing glimpse into the path their life may take.

 

 

Furthermore, Aidana described the grandeur of Kazakh weddings, complete with veiled brides and tall pointed hats. This momentous occasion is marked by the arrival of the groom at the bride’s home accompanied by friends and family. This emotional gathering is a poignant reminder of the bride’s departure to her new home, and tears flow freely. As tradition dictates, a fee must be paid to catch a glimpse of the new daughter-in-law among the veil and attire, and the wedding itself can involve up to 300 guests, making it a grand and unforgettable celebration of love and unity.

 

Another influence on Kazak culture is that the overwhelming majority of the population are Sunni Muslim, followed by Russian Orthodox, a small minority who are Catholic and people preaching other religions.

 

A Land of Music and Sports: Kazakhstan’s culture is also deeply rooted in music and sports. The dombyra is a traditional stringed instrument. Abia is a famous composer and poet who accurately described the nature of the Kazakh people. Aidana showed us intriguing video clips of the Kazakh sport of Kokpar, a rough game similar to rugby played on horseback with a decapitated goat body instead of a ball.

As Aidana brought her presentation to an end, she encouraged us all to try the homemade traditional food she brought to share. She said one aspect of Kazakh hospitality was the guests had to take all the food home with them and share it with their families, (Sarqyt traditon). Hosts traditionally give gifts to their guests, so she brought authentic Kazakh hats for the team.

 

 

In conclusion, Aidana’s deep connection to her Kazakh homeland will undoubtedly shape her architectural designs at WDM Architects. Her intimate familiarity with Kazakhstan’s diverse landscapes and challenging climate will inform her approach to creating environmentally sustainable and aesthetically pleasing structures. Additionally, her appreciation for Kazakh culture, rooted in unique customs and rituals, will enable her to infuse meaning and cultural significance into her architectural projects, fostering a sense of hope and renewal. Aidana’s exposure to Kazakh cuisine and the culture of hospitality will inspire her to design spaces that promote connection and communal experiences. Her Kazakh heritage, a source of creativity, will bridge the gap between tradition and modernity, nature and architecture, and culture and design, enriching WDM Architects’ portfolio with innovative and culturally resonant creations.