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12 October 2021

Contemporary Architecture in the Caspian Region: Grozny

It’s a wildcard, but Grozny creeps into our top five cities for contemporary architecture, thanks in part to its extraordinary ambition as expressed in the plans for the phenomenal Akhmat Tower.

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Grozny at night. Image: Oleg Chudnikov/Shutterstock

Grozny? Really!? If you still imagine the capital of Chechnya as the bombed-out wreck from the 1990s, think again. The town hasn’t yet managed to make itself the “Dubai of the North Caucasus,” although that seems to be its ambition. Nonetheless, seen at night from certain angles, the skyline has a highly colourful sense of contemporary modernism, with a handful of sparklingly illuminated new skyscrapers backing the four soaring 62m-tall minarets of the grand, Turkish-style Heart of Chechnya Mosque. That’s alternatively known as the Akhmat Kadyrov Mosque, named, like so much in Grozny, after the 2003-2004 pro-Russian president of Chechnya (whose son Ramzan is, not uncoincidentally, the current president). It stands in the area where, back in January 1995, Chechnya’s 11-storey former communist party headquarters, turned breakaway presidential palace, was bombed by the Russian Air Force.

In 1995 and 1996, the bombed-out former communist party headquarters was a symbol of the chaos and brutality of the Chechen civil war. Today, in enormous contrast, it’s the site of the city’s magnificent mosque. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Close to the mosque, the flashy new Grozny Mall is nearing completion and currently advertising for tenants, but even before opening, it has already been awarded the Arendator 2020 prize for Russia’s best new shopping centre. Featuring a star-burst design concept, the structure covers 132,000 sqm making it the biggest in southern Russia.

 

Architects’ image of the Grozny Mall, which is now nearing completion. Image: Aawards

The centre extends a long, glass finger across the canalized river to a large building site where – if it is ever built – the Akhmat Tower will rise 102 storeys as Europe’s second-tallest building (430m). The gently tapering shape vaguely emulates the medieval stone tower-houses of the Caucasian highlands and was conceived by Chicago-based Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, best known for creating the Burj Khalifa – currently the world’s tallest structure.

Across busy Prospekt Kadyrov highway, Grozny-City Towers is the city’s main group of white and blue-glass skyscrapers. They look a little less impressive by day than by night, but the prominent 40-storey Phoenix Tower is an unmissable sight. That’s thanks mainly to the gigantic timepiece on its crown: at 14m diameter and with a minute hand 7.3m long, it’s one of the world’s top ten biggest clocks.

 

Phoenix Tower is at the centre of seven skyscrapers that form the Grozny-City Towers complex. The two smaller stone towers in front emulate Chechnay’s traditional Vainekhen mountain architecture. Image: Garmasheva Natalia/Shutterstock

The Phoenix Tower is a mainly residential apartment block that took its current name after a spectacular fire suffered when it was nearing completion in April 2013. The exterior plastic cladding was severely damaged, but the main structure itself was not irreparably damaged, and the frontage has since been extensively reworked.