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Kazakhstan's national library: the yurt factor

Kazakhstan’s new national library is a simply astounding structure and British expertise is critical to the project now under construction in Astana. NCE reports.

UK engineers have been working around the clock to nail down the highly complex technical specifications necessary to deliver the competition winning Presidential Library in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.

The new library will house a collection of three million books - including Kazakhstan’s national archive - a museum, exhibition space, visitor amenities and an office for the country’s president.

Danish architects BIG won the competition with its bold interpretation of spatial symbols, some rooted deep in Kazakh culture, in a striking curved and angled building form.

Key to its visual impact is the building’s spiralling, tilted form that appears to lift weightlessly skyward at is eastern edge.

Structural solutions

Translating this feat of architectural imagination into a set of structural solutions that can actually work - and function in Astana’s extremely variable climate - has called on all of project engineer Ramboll UK’s expertise in dealing with visionary landmark structures. It is providing structural, building services, geotechnical and fire engineering for the building. He is also providing on site supervision.

“There are only a few parts of the building that actually touch the ground. A lot of it is effectively suspended in mid-air,” explains project engineer Duncan Horswill.

Four super-cores support a massive steel frame torsion ring that itself incorporates three storeys of library provision.

“There are only a few parts of the building that actually touch the ground. A lot of it is effectively suspended in mid-air”

Duncan Horswill, Ramboll UK


The 81m diameter torsion ring will be built on the ground, then strand-jacked 10m into the air and positioned on 85t cores.

Ramboll placed two of its project engineers in BIG’s Copenhagen office to aid communication across disciplines.

“Stripping out all the usual layers of bureaucracy between members of the design team
was necessary on this job since at a certain point the architecture was evolving on a day-by-day basis,” says Horswill.

Parametric software

It helped, too, that both architects and engineers used the same parametric modelling software, a cutting edge platform so far little exploited in the engineering industry but that is ideally suited to the design of geometrically challenging forms.

Work is now well underway with the single storey reinforced concrete basement structure complete. The cellular raft structure will spread the immense load of the steelwork above and, once construction is complete, will house the national archive.

“They do construct at a frightening pace,” says Horswill. “They strike [formwork] early and work through the night, because they have to get as much work done in the summer months as possible.”

Horswill explains that from November onwards temperatures drop below zero until April, peaking at -45oC.
Construction has now moved on to the structural steelwork. The fast-track project is due for completion in 2012.

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