The National Pantheon of Kazakhstan 
Space Popular’s proposal for a National Pantheon in Kazakhstan is suspended from a green cloud

 LocationAstana, Kazakhstan
 TypeCompetition entry 
 StatusCompleted. Shortlisted
 SPOPeopleLara Lesmes, Fredrik Hellberg, Tachapol Tanaboonchai, Suthata Jiranuntarat and Wachira Leangtanom

In the open steppe south of Astana four domes are floating over the landscape, suspended from an external superstructure that creates a green cloud around them. This proposal by Space Popular for a National Pantheon of Kazakhstan is a monument to a more accepting and respectful future where all faiths can congregate under the same roof.

Architectural Typology

Throughout history, religious practices have been defined by its beliefs, incarnated by its gods and represented in its architecture. Religious spaces are the projections of imagined supra-natural environments that belong not to humans, but to gods. Churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, etc. try to bring us into worlds that are beyond our reach and tell us stories about them. Specifically large scale domes have become the pure image of other-worldliness. We marvel at their scale, their purity and simplicity, their magnificence and perfection over and over again. We propose a series of four domes, floating over the landscape, suspended in a green cloud. Different cultures derived from different religions have developed an architectural language of the divine that today we read and understand as such. Under the uniformly cladded domes, one encounters different and unique volumes derived from the study of religious spatial typologies: the church, the synagogue, the mosque and the temple. If the National Pantheon of Kazakhstan shall be a place of remembrance of the great achievements of its people, it shall also be an architecture that celebrates the coming together of multiple religions as its name indicates. The different religions are brought together by the use of one single ornamental system throughout all spaces: the motifs of Kazakhstan.
Four domes are floating over the landscape, suspended from an external superstructure that creates a green cloud around them. As we approach them, we get an uninterrupted panoramic view of the surroundings in which Kazakh horses and other national animals wander freely in reserved areas of the vast landscape. Going up one of the hills, we can access the main avenue that will lead us into the building. We are now inside the superstructure. The superstructure consists of a space frame based on a regular pyramidal module. It has 9 supports of which only 3 are fully exposed, the remaining ones are concealed in small hills artificially created on the landscape or partially embedded in the temple dome. We walk through the elevated park finding trees of different species planted on pyramidal planters suspended from the structure. These are the local species of Kazakhstan, which are planted creating two different types of forest: an evergreen forest around the edges of the truss, which blurs the edges of the truss and maintain the image of a green cloud); and a deciduous forest in the inner areas, which naturally regulates the amount of sunlight, letting more light through during the winter as the trees have lost their leaves. We find different types of pavement arrangements in the truss: meandering narrow paths (minimum 3 meters width) that follow the layout of classical gardens in which one can wander around, cycle or relax in different spots with benches contemplating the horizon; larger paved areas where larger gatherings can form as well as the terrace for the coffee shop; and a larger grass surfaces with a grid of trees forming an elevated forest in the superstructure. We also find a technological forest in the truss, consisting of solar panels shaped to fit into the pyramidal structural module and oriented according to the two axes of the structure, southeast and southwest, to maximise the solar incidence on them.
Burial Practices 


Access 1: general public
The superstructure (or truss) will lead us into the building at truss level through the synagogue dome in the northeast end of the truss. We will access the poché, the thickness of the wall. The poché is an architectural mechanism to disjoint interior and exterior form, therefore the four domes appear homogeneous from the exterior (only varying in size) but each of them contains a different space. Within the poché, the inner structure of the dome that is connected to the trusses of the superstructure is revealed to us. We can see the structural cones that support the dome and from which the inner space (in this case equivalent to the volumetric typology of a synagogue) hangs. At this point we can choose to stay within the poché, which connects to other recreational areas in the truss, or go into the religious spaces through the grand staircase in the synagogue-dome, with an exterior radius of 36 meters. The light that comes in from the oculus, at a height of 45 meters, impregnates the whole space, revealing the Kazakh patterns in the walls, which are composed of very light colours and revealed by the different textures, glossy and matte, therefore dynamically changing as the light does. Going down the grand staircase one can access different burial spaces, in which niches for different religions are places (see plan). Going down to the ground level one can get a view of the landscape, something unusual in religious spaces as it would seem structurally impossible but achieved in the proposal as the domes are suspended from the truss and need no structural members to support them. From this space one can access the passage that connects with the mosque-dome, the main Pantheon space as Islam is the dominating religion in Kazakhstan. This passage has a much lower ceiling (12 meters) and dimmed light, following the classical strategy of preparing for entering a sacred space. The mosque-dome has an exterior radius of 48 meters and its oculus is at a height of 54 meters from ground level. The ornamental system is continued from the synagogue and it flows into all spaces and is applied as a projection that does not follow the surfaces that compose that volume, but, as fabrics in yurts, it wraps all spaces homogeneously. Standing in the centre of the space, one has a panoramic view of the surroundings that extends far into the horizon, and one can perceive the floor plan of the mosque, as it is floating 4 meters above us with no contact to the ground. The ground has different levels, creating vertical niches as well as accesses to underground carved niches. There are also tombs on the ground, clearly marked by the pavement patterns, as it is the case in most churches and cathedrals. In the centre of the space there is a hydraulic elevator, not perceivable unless it is in operation, which allows for ceremonial transportation of corpses from the ground below, where such facilities are located. There are also balconies from the poché into the space that offer overviews of the magnificent space. From the mosque-dome one finds access to the temple-dome, a 30 meter tall space with a squared base, a squared oculus and burial niches on all sides. This is the only space in which we can perceive part of the supports of the superstructure, which are embedded in the square base of the temple-dome. All niches throughout the whole building are suitable and can be adapted to all religions, as specific requirements are mainly the orientation of the corpse and its position in relation to the ground.

Access 2: ceremonial arrival
The last dome is the church-dome, which can be accessed from the mosque-dome but it also performs as ceremonial access for distinguished guests. A driveway cuts through the space through its southwest axis, allowing guests to be dropped off at the point which corresponds to the crossing of a church layout. This spaces is not enclosed by a glass wall, it is open. In the apse there are five radial tombs seating on plinths on the ground, and a main one in the spot that would correspond to the altar, which has a higher plinth. Along the sides of the naves, there are spaces for more tombs flushed with the ground and marked by an engraved metal plaque. The church dome has 4 balconies that offer views from above. These balconies serve as spaces for a restaurant and connect with the main plaza and park in the superstructure.

The domes are cladded with ceramic tiles, in a gradient from dark desaturated green to greyish purple. Different Kazakh patterns are applied as an edging or skirting at the level in which the domes meet the truss. The superstructure extends through the domes into the poché, where it meets the skeletal structure that supports the dome, from which the internal volumes hang. Outside the building, the landscape seems to expand infinitely. The Mausoleum of Kabanbai Batyr is lowered twelve meters into the terrain, and is now accessed through a grandiose spiral, which has a projected hole in the superstructure, providing uninterrupted views towards the sky as a dignified way to fit in with the rest of the building even if formally and aesthetically it is very different. On the south side, between the mosque-dome and the spiral, there is a lake which in
the winter can be transformed to an ice-skating rink. Around the building, the floor organisational pattern, consisting of intersecting arches, expands forming arches of trees, dividing the land into different patches of lawn or crops, creating areas for the different flora and fauna of Kazakhstan. The Pantheon appears as an illusory image in the horizon: domes on a floating green cloud, yet another attempt to represent the supra-natural environments defined by religion.​​

Lara Lesmes
C. Fredrik V. Hellberg
Tachapol Tanaboonchai
Suthata Jiranuntarat
Wachira Leangtanom
Sectional isometric view showing all four domes and the interior of the Pantheon.
Plan. Park Level
Plan. Ground Level
Plan. Roof
Site Plan
Site Plan
Section showing the void between the ceramic exterior of the dome and the semiotic skin of their interior. The void functions as a transition space between the forest and the ceremonial spaces inside the domes.

Physical Model
Physical model
Physical model
View from the top of a tree overlooking the ceramic cladded domes of the Pantheon.
View of the Pantheon Hall during a smaller memorial service.
The elevated park in suspended in the super structure that also supports the domes visible in the background
The Gothic arches of the arrival dome elevated above the ground.
Lower levels of the Pantheon Hall where the disconnection with the ground is visible.
Burial ceremony in one of the domes of the Pantheon.