Thursday, July 26, 2012

Land aus Feuer und Hochhäuser

CNN International has a particular roster of advertisements. Most likely due to its widespread, worldly audience as one of the planet's principal satellite news networks, for years CNN has featured commercials not for cars or canned goods but for countries. A random collection from recent broadcasting includes tourism and promotional ads featuring Taiwan, Singapore, Qatar, and Montenegro.

This leads to some unusual advertising arrangements. "Arrangements" seems the correct terms as the network not only airs commercials during programming breaks, but also has embarked on favorable, sponsored coverage on the economic and investment climate of sovereign states, a somewhat behind-the-curtains practice which was revealed by Max Fisher in the Atlantic in the last week.

The Atlantic article specifically called out some unusual editorial arrangements in which former or even current regime officials in Kazakhstan were interviewed as experts and commentators on Kazakhstan's attractiveness to foreign investors.

Even before this controversy surfaced, I had wanted to post two ads in particular here: one for Azerbaijan and one for Astana, capital of Kazakhstan. Both feature recently-completed contemporary architecture quite prominently.

The Azerbaijani advert is a more straightforward pitch to the business traveler: zip to Azerbaijan for the day on your Citation, seal an investment opportunity by sunset. While there is some of footage of the sandstone buildings of the old city of Baku, that capital's newest addition, the Flame Towers, are unmissable: the towers shown no less than 5 times, and form the backdrop of the conclusion of the ad. As the names make obvious, the towers are supposed to resemble flickering fire, a reference to the country's Zoroastrian fire-worshipping heritage.

However, with their blue-green glass slimming upwards, the resemblance to the Financial Harbor Towers in Bahrain, (previously blogged about here) although likely unintentional, is unmistakable, and the effect of booming Baku having a Bahrain- or Dubai-style skyscraper set was surely part of the allure of their addition to the skyline.

The second advert shows the instant-city-on-the-steppes, Astana, the circa 1997 capital of Kazakhstan, an immense country which boasts even more extraction-action than Azerbaijan. The ad is similarly storyboarded if slightly less overtly financial. It is mainly some cloudless vistas of the capital's glistening new towers, aligned on what is surely, during the long sub-Siberian winter, a frigidly-windswept central promenade: apparently called the Green Water Boulevard or Shining Path, which is the central part of the city's master plan, designed by Kisho Kurokawa.

The camera rests as 0:25 on Norman Foster's Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, an indoor beach resort and shopping center (again, that winter), but the footage doesn't show Foster's other Astana edifice, the pyramidal Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, perhaps because that slightly older structure has less permanent use (This 2010 Blueprint Magazine article thoroughly covers the story of Foster in Kazakhstan.

I've posted previously about Astana, and the Kazakhstani government's use of architecture to visually promote trade. The prominence of contemporary architecture, putting its "iconic" these emerging economies as worthy business destinations, is neither a particularly new or unique use of architecture. In fact, as much as it boasts of where the global growth seems to be these days, it also evinces the come-from-behind status of these investment frontiers, in comparison to more established markets. Its hard imagine that places such as Milan or Los Angeles would either need television commercials or have them feature recently-constructed buildings to reassure potential investors; but then American and European cities hardly have the budgets to buy spots on CNN, and the government would have to answer to its own constituents if its spent taxpayer money on a TV spot. The leaders of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan don't have to worry about that.

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