Kazakhstan’s New National Library in Astana

Kazakhstan National Library

The Kazakh National Library will be the place of storing, organizing, distributing and creating new knowledge of the Kazakh culture. Both archive and museum, the National Library will be a place for work and study, as well as education and tourism. A place for progress and a place for pleasure.

BIG design for Kazakhstan's new national library was recently awarded the first prize in an open international design competition. The winning proposal was chosen by the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Mr. K. Masimov together with Astana's akim I.Tasmagambetov and a council of architects. The design was hailed as being both modern and rational. Encompassing an estimated 33.000m2 of area the new building designed as a continuous circulation on a Möbius Strip, as the result of 2 interlocking structures: the perfect circle and the public spiral.

The new National Library named after the first President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, will be one of the cornerstones of Kazakh nation building, and a leading institution representing the Kazakh national identity. It will not only accumulate history but also project new features for the nation and its new capital. The new library will be an intellectual, multifunctional and cultural center with a primary goal of reflecting processes of establishment and development of sovereign Kazakhstan, its political history, popularization of life, and the Head of the State's activities and role in the development of the country.


The design of the National Library combines four universal archetypes across space and time into a new national symbol: the circle, the rotunda, the arch and the yurt are merged into the form of a Mobius strip. The clarity of the circle, the courtyard of the rotunda, the gateway of the arch and the soft silhouette of the yurt are combined to create a new national monument appearing local and universal, contemporary and timeless, unique and archetypal at the same time.

National Library

The National Library will be the place where the citizens of Astana, the people of Kazakhstan as well as international visitors can come to explore the country's history and its diverse cultures. The Library will accommodate and communicate with all segments of the population: civil servants, politicians, researchers, students, museum historians and staff from other culture institutions, etc.

National Library Astana
The Library is conceived as a symbiosis of urbanity and nature. Like Astana, which is located in the heart of Kazakh mainland, it will be integrated into the heart of a re-created Kazakh landscape. The park around the library is designed like a living library of trees, plants, minerals and rocks allowing visitors to experience a cross section of Kazakhstan's natural landscape and personally experience the capital's transition across the country from Almaty to Astana.

In the library, the archive is organized as a circular loop of knowledge, surrounded by light and air on both sides. On the periphery a 360 degree panorama of Astana - at the heart of the building a contemplative courtyard domed by the heavenly light blue of the celestial vault. The simplicity and perfection of the infinite circle allows for a crystal clear and intuitive orientation in the vast and growing collection that will populate the shelves of the National Library. The ideal addition to the perfect circle will be a series of public programs that simultaneously wraps the library on the outside as well as inside, above as well as below. Twisting the public program into a continuous spiraling path tracing the library on all sides, creates an architectural organization that combines the virtues of all 4 complimenting models. Like a Möbius strip, the public programs move seamlessly from the inside to the outside and from ground to the sky providing spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and growing city skyline.

Möbius Strip

The two interlocking structures: the perfect circle and the public spiral, create a building that transforms from a horizontal organization where library, museum and support functions are placed next to each other, to a vertical organization where they are stacked on top of each other through a diagonal organization combining vertical hierarchy, horizontal connectivity and diagonal view lines. By wrapping the transforming composition of spaces with a continuous skin a Möbius strip volume is created where the facades move from inside to outside and back again. Evoking associations to classic geometry as well as modern mathematics, classical forms such as the rotunda and the arch as well as the traditional yurt, the Möbius shape merges the local and the universal, the tradition and the future.

Presidential Library Collections

The program of the National Library of Kazakhstan is resolved through four intertwining systems:

1) An inner circular core containing the Presidential Library's collections of books, magazines and media
The inner circular core containing the Presidential Library's collections are divided into 42 parts corresponding to the number of letters in the Kazakh Cyrillic alphabet. The cylinder's three main decks are, in principle, one integrated space with internal circulation allowing for continuous and intuitive access to all the stored media. Open for any organisation: alphabetical, chronological or decimal the circular library combines maximum flexibility with maximum accessibility.

On all sides, inside and outside, the circular archive intersects with the public programs, reading rooms, study rooms, auditoriums, museum and administration making the library the programmatic as well as spatial heart of the institution.

2) A continuous spiral loop of supporting and additional functions orbiting the circular core
The looping spiral is divided in two separate systems. A continuous trajectory of supporting and additional functions such as auditoriums, reading rooms, research facilities, administrative offices, meeting and small conference rooms, a VIP section and the presidential venue. The intertwining spiral allows double high ceiling auditoriums and conference facilities. The stepping structure of the looping spiral provides optimal conditions for sloping auditoriums and combines continuous clarity with spatial variation.

Project at Glance
Project : Astana National Library
Architect : Big
Type : Educational
Client : Kazakhstan Presidential Office
Size : 37.000 M2
Collaborators : ARUP AGU, Ramboll, PKK
Location : Astana, Kazakhstan
Status : Underconstruction
Completion Date : 2012
Partner-in-Charge : Bjarke Ingels
Project Leader : Thomas Christoffersen
Contributors : Mitesh Dixit, Amy Campbell, Jakob Henke, Johan Cool, Jonas Barre, Daniel Sundlin, Armen Menendian, Pavel Lysikhin, Roza Matveeva, Stanley Lung,
A public path is running off the looping spiral all the way from the bottom to the top of the building circumscribing the cylindrical core inside-out - transforming the void of the double façade system into a continuous atrium visually and spatially connecting all levels. The orbiting structure provides a public pathway with a prominent view of the city and the surrounding park. Visitors can take a tour of the orbiting pathway without physically entering the President's collection or using the additional facilities. A free entrance to the pathway could turn the library atrium and foyer into an outstanding public interior space directly connected to the park area and embankment outside.

3) A protective skin wrapping the whole structure, creating a mediating space between inside and outside
The facade wrapping the entire structure is conceived as a double Möbius strip going from vertical to horizontal and back again. The complex skin is, in fact, a ruled surface structured in a very simple and repetitive way using straight sections and triangulated lattices. Photovoltaic tiles on the façade absorb energy from the sun while also providing passive shading. Additionally, air will naturally ventilate between the inner structure's interior space and the atrium's naturally regulated climatic comfort zone.

4) A concentric park of ecological systems representing the diversity of the Kazakh landscape and the capital's transition from Almaty to Astana
The National Library of cultural artifacts is situated in a geographical and living biological library of Kazakhstan's landscapes. A cross-section of the Kazakh terrain from south to north, connecting Almaty and Astana, forms the setting up of the building. Different vegetation and topographical elements ranging from the Altai Mountain region, Betpak-Dala Desert, and Balkhash Lake in the south, to the Sary-Arka steppes and coniferous forests in the north are distributed around the Library in a radial pattern. Circulation paths are strategically woven throughout to allow for pedestrian access from all edges of the site while also providing every visitor, whether arriving on foot or by car with complete exposure to the landscape's diversity. The downscaled mountainous terrain is integrated into the base of the building creating a natural canyon allowing access underneath the cantilevering façade. A visitor taking a tour of the National Library will not only experience the Presidential collection and get a prominent panorama of the new Capital but will also acquire a sense of the range of the Kazakh landscape, flora and fauna.

Facade Shading Design

Pattern as climate screen

By using state-of-the-art technology and simulation capacity, the thermal exposure on the building envelope is calculated. Due to the warping and twisting geometry, the thermal imprint on the façade is continually varying in intensity. The thermal map ranging from blue to red reveals which zones do and do not need shading. By translating the climatic information into a façade pattern of varying openness a form of ecological ornament created that regulates the solar impact according to thermal requirements. The result is a contemporary interpretation of the traditional patterns and fabrics from the yurt. Both sustainable and beautiful.


The spiral portion of the library is rectangular in section, made from transverse steel frames 15.5m in height and 14.5m in length. The frames are arranged radially around the spiral, and are linked by longitudinal beams at every corner. Where the cantilevered sections of spiral move past each other, they are linked by another braced frame to provide shear strength, creating a stiff radial slice.

Astana National Library

Longitudinal beams span between the radial frames. The steel decking and concrete then form the composite floor slabs. Five concrete cores, spaced evenly around the spiral, provide lateral stability and reduce the length of the cantilevers. The three frames are tied together by a parallelogram-shaped frame. These radial frames are then linked together by diagonal beams to form the diagrid façade.


The façade shading design can be used to be a part of the artistic expression of the building envelope. Using knowledge of the annual sunpath the façade can be optimised to provide the maximum ambient light while protecting from direct solar radiation. The benefit of this means that the Library is kept in natural light, lighting energy is reduced, glare for occupants is minimised and solar loads are reduced.