Zero-carbon living on Zira Island

-A +A

Depending on who you ask, sustainable development may or may not be cool. While some will have no qualms about giving up long hot showers, a relaxing bubble soak or anything remotely trendy for fear of incurring the wrath of Mother Nature, there are those who remain oblivious to or uncaring about what could be in store for mankind.

Still, the latter are not half as bad as those who get involved in the eco movement for one reason and one reason only — to make some quick bucks out of it.

As the Green Debate continues, it is refreshing to meet someone like Bjarke Ingels. The exuberant young man, dressed in jeans, T-shirt and black jacket, is passionate about architecture and does so in his own inimitable way. The founder of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the Danish architect — who was in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year — thinks big and does not stop there; he executes his plans in a creative manner.

He is the person behind Zira Zero Island, a one million sq m carbon neutral resort and residential development project on Zira Island located in the Caspian Sea. The architectural landscape of the US$3 billion project is based on the natural landscape of Azerbaijan, a young post-Soviet democracy.

The opportunity to develop an entire island where humans co-exist with their environment without contributing to pollution does not come by every day. 

BIG was signed on for the task by the Azerbaijan government following a contingent’s visit to the BIG office in Copenhagen. During the visit, members of the contingent were shown one of BIG’s works — The Mountain, a residential complex in Copenhagen that comprises living quarters atop a parking space. What is unique about The Mountain is that every unit affords penthouse views. Not only that, the perimeter of the building is enclosed with a special perforated metal mural that, at a distance, offers the image of Mount Everest. Bringing the mountain to man, so to speak.The Azerbaijan contingent was so impressed by The Mountain that it paved the way for BIG’s project on Zira Island.

Fertile landZira is a longish island perched at the mouth of the crescent bay of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. “Zira used to be a navy base during World War II; it is now an empty piece of desert in the middle of the Caspian Sea,” Ingels tells City & Country.

According to him, the president of Azerbaijan had banned any development on the island for fear that a bad job would ruin the view from Baku, until BIG was given the job, that is.

“BIG was asked if it could build a new city for 10,000 inhabitants, where the main urban development would concentrate on a specific aspect of Azerbaijan,” adds Ingel. 

As it turns out, the most unique element of the entire development is that the main buildings will resemble seven popular mountain peaks in the country, which are considered the Alps of Central Asia.

“Not only will the structures look like mountains, they will also operate like mountains, with ecosystems that create shelter, collect rainwater into creeks and lakes and accumulate heat,” says Ingels.

Construction of Zira Zero Island will start next year. It will be built in stages, with completion due in 8 to 12 years.

The designIngels will utilise the latest technology to harness the power of the sun and wind to provide energy for the island. Solar and photovoltaic panels will be integrated into the architecture to heat water and provide power for some of the facilities in the development.

Abandoned drilling platforms that are a reminder of Azerbaijan’s petroleum past will be transformed into wind farms, as Baku is considered the “city of wind”, to supply CO2-neutral power.

Waste and stormwater will be treated for irrigation. Solid waste matter will be processed and composted into top soil to fertilise the island to make it a lush and green tropical paradise.

Careful consideration was given to striking a balance between structures and open spaces and to the fact that in the long term, the island will be able to produce enough energy to sustain itself. “We have available all the technology necessary to create cities with an ecosystem, cities that automatically create as much energy as they consume,” says Ingels.

Part of the plan is a dense and vibrant urban community connected to a series of private resort villages by a central public valley and surrounding beaches. A continuous public trekking path is set to connect the mountains and invite visitors to scale the top of all seven peaks. These aside, the master plan includes the building of 300 private villas that take advantage of their setting, with panoramic views of the Caspian Sea.

Indeed, there are organisations such as BIG that not only think green, but also showcase ambitious ideas that could just change the way we live.

This article appeared in City & Country Special Focus, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 760, June 22 - 28, 2009.