January 30th, 2009


Danish architects Bjarke Ingels Group have designed the masterplan for a carbon-neutral resort and residential development on Zira Island in the Caspian Sea. 


Located within the bay of Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku, the 1,000,000 square metre masterplan will include seven residential developments, which the architect claim are based on the shapes of famous mountains in Azerbaijan.


The island will make use of solar heat panels, photovoltaic cells, waste water and rainwater collection, and an offshore wind farm.


According to BIG, the development  aims to be “entirely independent of external resources”.


The project will be part of an exhibition called Yes is More, which opens on 20 February at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen.


See a movie about the master plan on the architects’ website.

Here’s some more information from BIG:

Zira Island Master Plan

Azerbaijan seeks Danish expertise in proposing Central Asia’s first Carbon Neutral Master Plan.

Zira Zero Island is a 1.000.000 m2 master plan for a carbon neutral resort and residential development on Zira Island located along the Caspian Sea. As a young post-soviet democracy, Azerbaijan is rediscovering its national identity by imagining Zira Island as an architectural landscape based upon the country’s dramatic natural setting.


Located within the crescent-shaped bay of the capital city Baku, Zira Island includes the Seven Peaks of Azerbaijan which is envisioned by its designers BIG Architects and the engineers Ramboll to be a sustainable model for urban development, and an iconographic skyline recognizable from the city’s coastline.


Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner of BIG: “What we propose for Zira Zero Island is an architectural landscape based on the natural landscape of Azerbaijan. This new architecture not only recreates the iconic silhouettes of the seven peaks, but more importantly creates an autonomous ecosystem where the flow of air, water, heat and energy are channeled in almost natural ways. A mountain creates biotopes and eco-niches, it channels water and stores heat, it provides viewpoints and valleys, access and shelter. The Seven Peaks of Azerbaijan are not only metaphors, but actual living models of the mountainous ecosystems of Azerbaijan.”


Each of the Seven Peaks house a residential development derived from the geometry of a famous mountain in Azerbaijan. Individually each mountain becomes a principle for mixing private and public functions.


Together the mountains form an organic skyline merging with the natural topography of the island. A dense vibrant urban community connected to a series of private resort villages by a central public valley and surrounding beaches. A continuous public trekking path connects the mountains and invites visitors to scale the top of all seven peaks. In addition to the Seven Peaks the Master Plan also includes 300 private villas that take advantage of their setting with panoramic views out over the Caspian Sea.


Lars Ostenfeld Riemann, Ramboll’s Group Director, Buildings & Design: “Zira Island will be an important step into the future of urban development in Caucasus and Central Asia. By help of the wind, the sun and the waste the Island will produce the same amount of energy as it consumes. In a society literately built on oil this will serve as a showcase for a new way of thinking sustainable planning.


Following other ambitious eco-city projects like Dongtan in China and Masdar in Abu Dhabi this project will cause the carbon emissions of people living there to decline over the next decade. From an engineering point of view we are just as thrilled by the challenge of letting the design of the buildings reflect the shape of the mountains of Azerbaijan.”



The vision of Zira Island is to create a new development that is entirely independent of external resources – in other words a self contained island. By combining the best of the traditional Azerbaijani building tradition with the newest technology, Zira Island will provide excellent living spaces for people, with a minimum usage of resources. It will be a showcase to the world combining high-end living with low end resource usage.


The buildings of the island are heated and cooled by heat pumps connecting to the surrounding Caspian Sea. Solar heat panels integrated in the architecture create a steady supply of hot water, while photovoltaics on strategically located facades and roof tops power daytime functions as swimming pools and aqua parks.


Waste water and storm water is collected and led to a waste water treatment plant, where it is then cleaned, processed and recycled for irrigation. The solid parts of the waste water are processed and composted and finally turned into top soil, fertilizing the island. The constant irrigation and fertilizing of the island supports the lush green condition of a tropical island, with a minimal ecological footprint.


Zira Zero Island benefits from the fact that Baku is “the city of wind”. By harvesting the wind energy through an offshore wind farm, the island will have its own CO2-neutral power supply. Further by locating the wind turbines on sea, it transforms the existing offshore oil industry’s platforms & foundations in Baku into a more sustainable future of wind turbine platforms.


The landscaping of the island is derived from wind simulations of the microclimates created by the mountains. Swirly patterns created by the wind moving its way through the Seven Peaks inform the planting of trees and the design of public spaces. Where the winds and turbulence are strongest the trees becomes denser, creating lower wind speeds and thus a comfortable outdoor leisure climate.


The Zira Island Master Plan will be a part of the upcoming public exhibition entitled “Yes is More” at the Danish Architecture Center opening on February 20th at 6:00pm.







Posted by Rose Etherington

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26 Responses to “Zira Island masterplan by BIG”

  1. zetre Says:

    Classic resort architecture.

    I’m sure Bjarke spent his childhood summers here:

  2. stef Says:

    i can dig the idea of having a 3dimensional city and spaces and atmospheres and meeting points and views from flat to flat… but… why make this effort and miss the possibility to walk on the building and walk around in 3d space? all this ground floor walkways are kinda boring while imaging how i could be to roam over the housing mountains? ;-)

  3. c Says:

    ah! BIG! why are your diagrams so good!?

  4. WM Says:

    A question: Do all architectural schemes/renderings published on Dezeen have planning approval?

  5. critic Says:

    more than twin peaks ;-)

  6. sc hu yl er Says:

    ^ Don’t believe so.

  7. allsgood Says:

    According to BIG, the development aims to be “entirely independent of external resources”.

    They are going to grow their own food? Only use sailboats?

  8. pipe Says:

    no mention of the 9 hole golf course? yes that big green band in the middle…0dd.

  9. felipe Says:

    ones again no sensitive BIG’s architecture

  10. Stomatoloq Says:

    This island is visible from my window. :-)

    When planning to build?

  11. jpb Says:

    Every BIG projects brings me to the same thought : are beautiful graphics and diagrams enough to make (yes,to make ) architecture ? And what about the real user experience ?
    love those ever smilling people walking in front of spaces that only exists on screens and papersheets…
    I’ m not sure they would have all those “savetheplanet/thisisthesolutiondiagrams” in mind in front of a stainless steel (or whatever) mountain.

  12. metacitizen Says:

    fancy diagrams but shitty architecture

  13. omg Says:


  14. hacedeca Says:

    Looks like the nuked pyramids of Gizeh…

  15. Orkhan Says:

    yeah, that master plan is simply great! but there are some issues whether, it will be reality or not..hopefully yes…time will show it.. :)

  16. esklabuak Says:

    bildur aput bat ematen dit…

    it scares me…

  17. Adam Says:

    “What we propose for Zira Zero Island is an architectural landscape based on the natural landscape of Azerbaijan.” …oooooh yes, hehe - so why is it then, that the design is so similar to the projects from the Danish contribution to the Venice biennale two years ago: http://www.dac.dk/visEmneside.asp?artikelID=1897, see fx. what COBE made at that occasion: http://www.newitalianblood.com/show.pl?id=4320... and not to speak of BIG’s own designs for faste batteri in Copenhagen: http://www.freja.biz/faste_batteri.asp .

    This is not to say BIG aren’t talented and that their buildings won’t be functional or beautiful - the build projects almost all are - but BIG is so full of fast diagrams and fast arguments that it is unbelievable. And a lot of potential qualities in their projects suffer from that IMHO.

  18. Helen-LG Says:

    The designs look impressive but I share some of the concerns mentioned above. I like the idea of the structure immitating the landscape but as someone else mentioned it depends how you can interact with that structure and what it’s made of.

  19. Gus Says:

    Perfect Manual about “how-to-destroy-one-island with the Azerbaijan mountains shapes” , new demagogic architecture?

    “minimun usage of resources” and maximun transformation of the coast

    can’t stand this full glass buildings that pretend to be sustainable

    a simply “petrorublo” inmobiliary intervention dressed as ECO

  20. deuxneuve Says:

    excellent !

  21. Richie Says:

    The scale is somewhat frightening - it seems like they’re covering the entire island in steel and glass in one fell swoop - how many countries are there in which you’d get away with a scheme like this? The eco angle is admirable but it’s always difficult to tell how successful this will be in the realised scheme and how much is lip service at the planning stage.

  22. zetre Says:

    I thought those mega-scale hotel resorts were a thing of the past in the tourist industry?

  23. Boris Abdul Says:

    Generally speaking,exelent and talented design ! It seems to be incongruous,but not for azeri ’s living in Baku . We are see unsightly buildings in Baku every day.This project by BIG has hope,courage and endless.Magnificent !

  24. jc Says:

    amen boris. Yahoo Baku!!!!

    Definitely has potential to work. This island and piece of coast is nothing but old soviet oil derricks and pollution. Anything is better than that, but let’s hope that the vision gets played out as designed. All or nothing, otherwise it will just be another pile of concrete.

    Fast arguments and breezy diagrams aside, it has the potential to propel one of the last countries to flout their wealth of oil reserves into the realm of intelligent energy production. Use the oil to build a zero energy model city that can be an inspiration not only for the rest of the countries on the caspian sea, but the rest of the oil consuming world who has already spent their surpluses on antiquated infrastructures. Azerbaijan has the potential to turn their oil into wind power that will slingshot their country past any western nation that is so rocked by the current crisis that they are unable to keep their banks lending, much less divest from deleterious dependencies.

    Again, yahoo Baku.

  25. yongyong Says:

    Puiton!!! C’est bien!

  26. gc Says:

    I agree with what jc said above. You can say what you will about the architectural elements of this project, but I think that the underlying social and ecological implications are much more important.

    I applaud BIG for proposing something both beautiful and green for this island. Another designer would have proposed concrete cubes, coast line capital objects, zip line courses. I think that it’s, well, big of Bjarke to start to morph his practice in order to confront the new currents in our changing world.

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