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Half moon hotel shows Baku's stellar architectural ambitions

November 16, 2011 -- Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
Half moon rising: Hotel Crescent, planned for Baku's shoreline, looks more Dubai than Caspian.
Half moon rising: Hotel Crescent, planned for Baku's shoreline, looks more Dubai than Caspian.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, is undergoing a major face-lift
  • Major project called 'White City' is planned for old oil refinery site
  • New iconic buildings like Hotel Crescent are also being built
  • Infrastructure to make it a regional hub also being improved

Editor's note: All this week CNN International is bringing you in-depth coverage of the country on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Read and watch reports online and watch the half-hour show from Saturday, November 19.

(CNN) -- Azerbaijan's capital Baku might have an ancient heart, but it is getting a remarkable modern face.

Funded largely by money from oil and gas exports, the city has become one of the most vibrant places on the planet for grand designs, with numerous head-turning projects towering above low-rise Soviet-era apartments and medieval walled city.

One ground-breaking work of public planning is known as "White City" -- an optimistic title and flip of Baku's old moniker of the "Black City"; a title gained because of oil-related pollution.

On a 220-hectare site that was formerly a storage hub for the industry, ground is being cleaned up and prepared for offices, hotels, homes and facilities for 50,000 Baku residents and 48,000 workers.

Transforming Azerbaijan's 'Black City'

Across the country improvements are being made in infrastructure. Within five years in Baku more roads, new parks, a new transit system, water supplies and internet connections will all be in place.

Already dominating the skyline are the iconic Flame Towers that are close to completion, plus the Baku TV Tower. Joining these soaring landmarks are some even more eye-popping structures; the towers of Crescent Place and the Hotel Crescent, designed by South Korean architecture firm, Heerim Architects and Planners.

The firm won the rights to build the two projects, as well as the 39-story Crescent City and 38-floor future headquarters for the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), through an international competition.

"(Azerbaijan) is considered to have the will and economic power based on high-growth that can widely accommodate new architecture designs," wrote a spokesperson for Heerim.

"Many clients in Azerbaijan are actively accepting creative designs... that will provide great advantages to their national development."

When completed in 2015, Hotel Crescent will stand on the banks of the Caspian Sea, its 33-stories housed in a vast, down-turned crescent. A sister project was proposed called the Full Moon Hotel that would have brought something resembling the Death Star from "Star Wars" to the Caspian coastline.

The White City project may take decades to complete and be less radical in its design, but it and other projects in the city shows a commitment to give the Azerbaijan capital more than just a clean up.

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