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The magazine is registered by the Federal Service for Supervision of Compliance with Legislation Governing Mass Communications and Protection of Cultural Heritage, certificate of registration Ō» Ļ ‘—77-21265 of 08.06.2005
2017 †N11-12(152-153)
TRADITION
WHY YURT?
For the entire past century, architects from different countries were preoccupied with the idea of preserving the continuity of humanistic ideals of the humankind in the environment of the total modernization and combining the modern construction technologies with the artistic images of the past. They were driven not only by the desire to provide a professional response to the needs of society and certain customers but also by the individual positions of those masters of architecture who contrasted their search for regional originality and deep roots of folk culture with the so-called international style, facelessness of industrial architecture that spread to the large and small cities on all continents. All of them addressed this task in their own way. However, it was clear that they all wanted to organically blend with the centuries-old local construction practices and revisit the architectural heritage using new means.
The search for solutions was also conducted in Ashgabat that had a strong school of modern architects in the sixties of the twentieth century, whose buildings at that time appeared in the world leading architectural magazines, striking their contemporaries with a delicate combination of traditions and innovation. However, those long-standing achievements had an obvious imperfection, i.e. the lack of symbolic meaning, which in the distant past was put in the forms, special architecture and individual parts of structures - from simple dwellings to complex monumental structures. In other words, the semiotic system of ancient and traditional buildings was discarded in the last century, making it impossible to understand and embody the characteristic features of national culture and mentality in new images.
In the era of archaism, every nation perceived a dwelling as a symbolic model of the world. In the Turkmen society, as in all other nomadic Turkic societies, such dwelling was associated with a yurt. The yurt's wall, forming a cylinder, symbolized eternity and deities and, as ethnographers testify, embodied an anthropomorphic model of Cosmos. It was not by accident that the body of the Turkmen yurt was called "oyudy soygi" (backbone of the house), the back side - "arka" (back), the side grating - "yanbash" (hip bone), the bending of the dome poles - "egin" (shoulder), their base - "garyn" (belly), the slot of the dome circle to which the dome poles are connected - "gez" (eye) and so on. Other than its purely practical role as a ceiling, the dome that crowned the yurt had another symbolic function. Every dome was believed to be a man-made sky. Such views were widespread in the ancient world.
Back in the twenties of the 2nd century AD, great architect and engineer Apollodorus from Damascus embodied an ancient worldview and cosmogony in the circular building of the Pantheon in Rome. A 43.5-meter diameter cylinder - a symbol of the terrestrial space - was crowned with a huge dome as a symbol of the heavenly sphere. The dome and cylinder of the Pantheon are equal in height, signifying the balance, harmony and coherence of the earthly and heavenly worlds.
At the beginning of the third century, ancient Greek writer Flavius Philostratus wrote that in the Parthian Empire there was a "chamber vaulted like a haven and adorned with lazurite, as the blue color of this precious stone would represent the sky to make the golden images of gods towering above, so revered by the Parthians, shine in the ether. In this chamber, the king passed judgment." Philostratus did not specify where exactly this chamber was, but, in his lifetime, such a construction stood in Old Nisa - the sacred center of the Parthian dynasty of Arshakids, whose ruins, well-studied by archaeologists, lie in the territory of modern Ashgabat.
One should know it to understand the symbols with the specific meaning of this or that architectural monument and even a simple yurt. These symbols inform us of a system of ideas, an artistic concept of the world of our distant ancestors. The present representative architecture of Turkmenistan focuses precisely on the symbolic meaning of the buildings, which is a clear evidence of the sharp change in the general trend from abstract modernism to regional and national originality.
The concert halls shaped like huge yurts being built in all five regions of the country present a shining example of the new style. They are designed for mass events of national importance and, above all, for celebration of Nowruz - the day of spring equinox celebrated as a New Year's holiday by the solar chronology in the territory of Turkmenistan and neighboring countries from time immemorial.
The Turkmens regard "Ak i", the white yurt, as a kind of model of the universe that is based on the circle - a symbol of Sun, which is also an allegory of eternity of being, intelligent and spiritual sources. This is especially in tune with Nowruz that has turned not just into a holiday of spring but also a symbol of friendship and brotherhood between neighboring peoples. As is known, Nowruz was included in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO in 2009, and a year later the UN General Assembly proclaimed International Day of Nowruz by its Resolution of March 21.
The first "White Yurt" was inaugurated near the city of Mary in the autumn of 2015. The second one was put into operation in the Nowruz meadow, 20 kilometers east of the capital city, in the foothill valley of Akhal province in the autumn of 2017. It is now here, in the foothills of Kopetdag, that Nowruz is celebrated on a large scale annually on November 21. Another three huge yurts were built in Balkan, Dashoguz and Lebap provinces respectively. These architectural symbols with their monumentality achieved by multiple scaling up compared to the prototype, their emblems in the decoration of exterior indicate that they are the state buildings and their appearances remind us of the national heritage. So, why did they choose a yurt as a form of modern structure that is functional in its own way?
The Turkmens consider installing a new yurt for the young family, building a house, and, speaking figuratively, creating their own family hearth a symbol of prosperity and well-being. That is why it was emphasized at the stage of designing that it had to be a majestic construction, a symbol of well-being and prosperity of the state, hospitality of the Turkmen people, a symbol of preservation of original roots and traditions. The white yurt personifies loyalty to the origins, spiritual values of the people. Naturally, it has long stopped playing the role of home, but if we abstract from this framework, it has become an embodiment of respect for traditions, family foundations, sanctity of the family hearth and unity.
The most part of the space in the Ahal "White Yurt", which is almost twice as large as the Roman Pantheon, is occupied by the multipurpose auditorium for 3 thousand guests and the arena. It is designed for mass celebrations of national and international importance, festive performances and concerts. There are all conditions for holding not only cultural events, but also official events and business meetings. There are office premises, an artistic zone and a restaurant. The technological equipment of the building is as much impressive. It boasts modern equipment, acoustic systems and other necessary means for large-scale forums and colorful presentations.
The monolithic structure of the building is crowned with a roof of sandwich panels, and the circular wall is lined with aluminum stained-glass window that imitates a latticework inherent in real yurts. A wide ribbon of the cornice is decorated with stylized images of five patterns - the basic elements of Turkmen carpets that are part of the coat of arms and the flag of the country and modern attributes of the design of almost all monuments, civil buildings, fountains and landscapes. A portal that makes up the entrance to the White Yurt also refers us to tradition: there is a carpet decoration called "ensi" placed above a massive door, visually enlarged to the full height of the wall. It is a symbol of masculinity, for the man is the protector of the family and family hearth. There is an amulet shaped like a bow with arrows in the center of "ensi".
There is a separate building next to the "yurt". It was built for mass meals in honor of Nowruz and other events. It should be noted that the complex of new facilities for celebration of Nowruz in Akhal province was erected by private company "Tze ja", member of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan.
The metaphorical nature of the "White Yurt" is all but evidence of the national character of the modern Turkmen architecture. It aims to create very specific psychological associations and refers us to historical memory that is so important for preserving the identity of every nation in the era of globalization.

Ruslan MURADOV


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005