Baku Days: Demolishing a Unique Built Environment

A splendid house on Mustafa Subhi Street under threat

I’ve recently spent quite a lot of time walking around the back streets of Baku with a camera, recording the built environment for posterity. A bit of an obscure pastime, I hear you say. Something for someone with too much time on their hands. Perhaps, but Baku is changing so rapidly, that if it isn’t comprehensively recorded now, generations to come will have no idea what their city [away from the bright lights] used to look like.

Today, my self-imposed task might seem an unnecessary waste of time but in ten, or twenty or fifty years, the historians of the future will be able to dip into a unique archive of material that seems commonplace now but in the future will represent a treasure trove of images. As far as I [or Betty Blair of Azerbaijan International Magazine] am aware, no survey of this kind has ever been undertaken in Baku.

This small house is beautifully finished, if a bit tatty

According to Dovletkhan Dovletkhanov, Deputy Chairman of the State Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture, the residential houses in Sovetski and Kubinka areas of Baku have become worthless. “We don’t mean that these buildings will be demolished in a short time. This process needs time for development, and involving of investors” he said recently. Yes, for good and bad, whole areas are being demolished and it’s a shame, because some of them are beautiful examples of the local vernacular style quite apart from being peoples homes!.

The first time I became aware that if you don’t record your environment and the bulldozers remove it, it’s gone forever was when I was about fifteen. My mother took me for a walk around Notting Hill, where she grew up in the 1920’s and early 30’s. A swathe of back streets were being demolished nearby. They were nothing special really, just rows of mid-Victorian terraced houses that these days would be gentrified and sold for hundreds of thousands of Pounds each but back then, just old houses that needed replacing. Yes, and they were replaced by Council blocks, that looked like slums just a few years after construction…

Uxbridge town center 1960

I’ve seen the process repeated again and again during my life. Nice old market towns like Aylesbury and Uxbridge torn to pieces by well-meaning developers and city Councillors in the name of  “progress”, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.  Large chunks of the City of London, where I worked between 1973 and 1974 were demolished before my eyes. Angel Court, Telegraph Street and the area behind Leadenhall market come to mind. Now the old stone buildings have gone, replaced by anonymous constructions of concrete and glass.

Uxbridge town center, 2011

So, I may not be able to stand in the way of “progress” but at least there will be many files, somewhere on the web marked “Old Baku” where the children and grandchildren of present day Bakuians may look back at what used to be and ask the question “why did we do that?”


About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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One Response to Baku Days: Demolishing a Unique Built Environment

  1. hugh says:

    A waste! Record and record Hollier! When I was in Turkey I saw piles of history knocked dead and shoved by bulldozers to the side of the road. Nobody cared.

    The children of the world will care more for their future , and their present, if they see some of the past.

    That quote’s Hugh paxton but no copyright applies.

    Keep it up, Steve!

    I think we are winning here on the tiger conservation front!

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