If there were ever a venue built to impress, spared no expense, and tipped the scale for public projects with an infinite budget, Tashkent’s Palace of International Forums is it. Dedicated in 2009 on the occasion of the city’s 2,200th anniversary, right in the center of town on Amir Timur Square, this spectacular example of lavish public architecture looks like it should be in Dubai rather than Central Asia. Immaculately finished, no cracks or unsealed seams, inlayed Italian marble, walls of mother-of-pearl, specially commissioned crystal chandeliers, state of the art lighting and sound, the Palace of International Forums is truly a world class venue like no other.
The official purpose of the 40,000 square meter forum is to host official receptions, summits, special concerts, and international conferences. Events taking place here are strictly invitation only, and the only way to get tickets is to know someone, or be important or rich enough to be handed tickets, be a diplomat, dignitary… or work for the ministry. That’s how we managed to get tickets to a special autumn youth symphony concert in November 2016. We were fortunate enough to be passed tickets by a colleague who has connections!
Upon arrival to the palace we cleared a cursory security checkpoint before being allowed to enter the palatial 2,500 square meter lobby. Directly overhead after entering the building is an incredible nine-meter high and 23-meter long chandelier that seems to hang like an inverted fountain on the ceiling. This custom lighting fixture is made up of 1.1 million Swarovski crystals. If laid flat on the ground, the surface area would exceed 200 square meters (2,150 square feet), at least twice the footprint of our current house.
Two white marble staircases ascend to the gallery level overlooking the lobby. The rails and ceiling are pattered with Uzbek inspired traditional design elements, and mirrors positioned on the ceilings so that floor to ceiling windows appear to continue upwards indefinitely. The side foyers of the lobby on the gallery level are lit by eight more crystal chandeliers with a spherical form made up of 2,880 individual Swarovski crystals each. The ends of foyers are also mirrored giving the illusion of additional space.
The main theater which seats 1,850 guests is directly underneath the main dome of the forum where the ceiling height reaches 43 meters (140 feet). The interior-exterior of the theater is clad in a zinc-brass alloy skin, said to be the world’s largest liquid metal surface. This unique curved polished feature provides a contrast to the white marble foyer, where upon entry, guests transition into a contemporary modern space.
Within the theater, all the seats are covered in plush turquoise blue upholstery ensuring a comfortable experience for everyone. Stadium seating also guarantees all attendees have a great view! The dome extends above the main chamber in a tiered series of lighted rings, while the seats slope downward to the stage as if on the interior of a sphere. Walls are inlayed with computer controlled LED lighting that create unique patters and colors.
The exterior is just as spectacular as the interior. Clad in white marble, and gold leaf mosaic, with a characteristic dome and massive columns, the forum is purpose built to be impressive. In the top left and right corners of the facade are mosaic reproductions of the cat like creatures found on the Sherdor Madrassa in Samarkand, also found on the 200 сўм banknote, and a national symbol of Uzbekistan. The marble columns of the building are reminiscent of traditional wooden columns such as those found in the Juma Mosque in Khiva. Indeed, design elements throughout the structure can be traced to the multiple architectural traditions of Uzbekistan.
Compared to the Soviet-era theaters and concert venues, the Palace of International Forums is in a class of its own. Probably the most impressive building in Tashkent, and rumored to cost nearly $1 billion, obviously no expense was spared. A German architectural firm completed the forum in only six months, with a team of 5,000 people assigned to the project. The former President, during opening remarks in September 2009 formally dedicated the forum as a “gift to the city of Tashkent,” albeit one that is largely off limits to all but the elite, and those lucky enough to know someone who can get them tickets.