July 31, 2017 3:42 pm | Thought provoking blogs |

Before I visited Azerbaijan recently I didn’t know what to expect.  To be honest, I had to look at a map when we booked the flights!

Two new Baku towers currently under construction

I went with every expectation of finding austere Soviet architecture and perhaps the odd glimpse of pre-soviet cultural influences but I came away inspired by the sheer scale of architectural ambition and construction activity.

I should stress that my trip was largely confined to Baku, Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea coastal capital and the centre of one of the richest oil industries in the world. The abundance of oil is evident everywhere you look, from the ‘nodding donkeys’ in the oil fields on the outskirts of the city to the 30p price tag on a litre of diesel. The impact of that oil wealth may not be the same outside the capital, but in Baku it couldn’t be clearer: here there is investment in infrastructure, public realm, striking architectural masterpieces and huge corporate building projects.

A towering business centre in a developing area of the city

From the landscaped boulevard that spans the city’s coastline to the iconic ‘Flame Towers’ that dominate its skyline, juxtaposed against the medieval citadel, this is a phenomenal city of architectural wonders, old and new. Soviet architecture (for which I have enormous respect and nostalgia) was quite hard to spot amongst the distinctly European-looking 18th century façades and the forward-focused contemporary architecture springing up in every vacant corner of the city.

As a self-confessed construction anorak (it’s become an occupational hazard after over a decade working at Clare PR!) the nerd in me was fascinated by the creativity, investment and scale of construction in Baku. Everything is high spec.  Everything is designed to make a statement.

It put me in mind of the projects I’ve written about for our client, CCL, in the Gulf and the Middle East and got me thinking about the huge range of global potential for UK construction expertise and materials in markets we’ve never even considered.

In these volatile times, as we wait to see where Brexit leaves us in the context of European trade, skills and investment, it’s good sometimes to remember that we are a small island of considerable talent and resources in a big world. We went into the EU pre-globalisation, pre-internet, pre fall of the Soviet empire and commercialisation of the tiger economies in China and India.

The Flame towers contrasting with the medieval architecture of the ‘old town’s’ citadel walls

In Baku they are building big and investing in putting their economy on the map.  Perhaps Azerbaijan has more in common with home than I first thought after all.

By Colette Curry, Account Director, Clare PR

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