Spring 1997 (5.1)
The historic Old Mill, one of Baku's pre-revolutionary industrial landmarks, is currently undergoing extensive renovations that will transform it into one of the most spacious and luxurious office buildings in Baku.
Built between 1903 and 1909 by the Russian Skobelev brothers, it used to be the largest flour mill in the city with an annual production during the 1910s valued at 3 million rubles.
Eran Muduroglu, the co-developer of the project, was impressed the first time he saw it, realizing that it had to be one of the finest empty buildings available in Baku. It didn't matter that the facade was seriously damaged and obscured by lean-tos and a 4-story addition. "When you looked closely," Muduroglu observes, "you could see that the exterior was palatial and its proportions essentially perfect. Its architect had created an industrial building of uncommon beauty without compromising functionality."
Determined to revitalize this magnificent building, Muduroglu entered into a partnership with both the Artists' Union of Azerbaijan, which had been given the Old Mill after it was shut down in 1987, and The Athena Group, a New York-based developer which is supplying the bulk of the project's capital and ensuring that the building meets Western standards.
The Old Mill was constructed at the height of Baku's oil boom, and little expense was spared in this handsome, classically inspired building. The meter-thick walls are made of solid limestone which is the traditional building material of Baku because of its ready availability on the Absheron peninsula. Its exterior is elegantly articulated by arched windows, pilasters and decorative cornices. And its L-shaped plan echoes the traditional design of Baku houses which include an interior courtyard to protect against the winds coming off the Caspian.
The renovation will result in the top five floors being converted into offices, while retail spaces and an art gallery for the Artists' Union will be on the ground level. The courtyard will be landscaped with an attractive garden for the public to enjoy.
A labor force of 200 workers began renovations of the Old Mill last year. Their initial task was to clear out the rusted mill machinery, which had to be cut up and removed through the windows. Next, the huge, 5-story grain silos were demolished, as were the ancillary buildings that obscured the facade.
Twenty local stonemasons, whose skills have always been a source of national pride, then began restoration of the limestone exterior-replacing sills, repairing damaged pilasters and cutting and shaping stones. The original hand-beaten copper rain pipes were carefully removed and are being reproduced by local metalworkers. Only the windows could not be saved and are being replaced by modern thermo-efficient models.
The new office building has been named "The Landmark." It will be fitted with modern elevators, an HVAC air-conditioning system, backup generators and a satellite telecommunications system. All floors average 2,000 square meters making them easily the largest available in Baku. "This is very much a state-of-the-art office development within the skin of an old building," said Metin Negrin, Chief Operating Officer of The Athena Group.
"The beauty of this project is that we've been able to save an architecturally significant building right in the heart of the city, while providing the facilities that businesses need, stimulating retail development and maintaining the integrity of the neighborhood."
Renovations are scheduled for final completion by the Fall of 1997, though one section of the building should be ready for occupancy by mid-year. The Landmark is located between Nizami and Khagani Streets in the center of town. For more information, contact (994-12) 98-51-28 in Baku or (212) 459-0200 in New York City.
From Azerbaijan International (5.1) Spring 1997.
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All rights reserved.