Where the East border of the former Soviet Union meets the ancient Silk Road is a modern trading post of ideas.
The American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan reopened its doors in 2016 at a ground up new campus. The architectural design speaks to the region’s dramatic landscape and hospitality culture for an American style liberal arts college. Students entered the new welcoming quad and academic building like nomads with iPads, freely diving and settling into the many grand and intimate spaces.
The architecture inspired by local nomadic traditions of mobility and hospitality provides for an American style liberal arts education to boost the democratic transformation of an entire region. AUCA lives at various important crossroads (physically and culturally) where: East meets West, tribal communities meet global communities, history and tradition meet today and tomorrow, high tech meets high touch, density meets privacy, transience meets permanence, diversity meets unity… in dynamic interplay.
The building’s gabled roofs echo the surrounding alpine mountains. The rhythm of façade tones and patterns of landscape paths reflect locally crafted rugs, called shyrdaks. A peak of venting skylights provides air and light like the crown of the indigenous yurt. Rocks from the excavated site clad the exterior columns to spell, “AUCA.” Interior acoustic panels resemble native felt textures. Cantilevered red box balconies at three cafes look like open mouths for chai.
As such the design’s trio of highly visible, flexible and dense spaces serve to promote participation, collaboration and interaction, key ingredients for learning.
Like good students, each area is flexible and hardworking. Classrooms double as workshops. Wide hallways are study lounges, flowing into cafes and art galleries. The gym is also a rehearsal studio with a passageway-viewing balcony. At the building’s heart is a 5,000 square foot atrium for everyday get-togethers, academic sessions, and theatrical events. Spaces are shared, not owned. Faculty and administrators work in open office suites next to communal banks of meeting rooms. The furniture is nomadic too. Tables and seats on wheels beckon anyone to freely stage spaces as desired.