Almaty’s Arman Cinema is an ode to modernist architecture in turbulent times | Concrete Ideas

Almaty’s Arman Cinema is an ode to modernist architecture in turbulent times | Concrete Ideas
Image: Philipp Dipl

9 August 2021

The story of Almaty’s Arman Cinema is one of risk-taking and reward. The structure was built in 1968 by Alexander Korzhempo — the architect lauded as “the first Almaty modernist” — in what was then the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan. While concrete and symbolism-heavy modernist architecture was already common in other Soviet cities, the style hadn’t yet arrived in Almaty, and Korzhempo’s ideas were revolutionary for the time. Rumour says that bulldozers lurked just around the corner throughout the building’s public inauguration, in case city officials were unhappy with its design. Luckily, both for Korzhempo and Almaty’s architectural legacy, the authorities approved the building. The Arman Cinema stands to this day.

While Arman’s rectangular shape and concrete-heavy entrance may appear starkly minimalist at first glance, the sides of the structure are decorated with unique monumental bas-reliefs. The eastern wall celebrates Soviet scientific advancement, with detailed space-themed motifs. The October Revolution and the USSR are glorified on the western facade, where fleets of tractors descending on rippling fields of wheat are shown next to steely-eyed Soviet soldiers.

Inside, Arman Cinema boasted an indoor patio surrounded by lush greenery and a fountain — which were sadly lost during one of the building’s reconstructions — as well as multiple cinema halls. Despite being temporarily repurposed as a nightclub after the fall of the USSR, and, in 2015, getting an extension with a fast-food restaurant, this masterpiece of Almaty modernism has now been returned to its original purpose — an enduring constant amid decades of architectural and political upheaval.

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