British architect creates centre for international religious understanding.

Construction work on Norman Foster’s most ambitious project to date will begin next month, in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. Dubbed by observers as ‘the Pyramid of Peace’, the building was commissioned by the President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, as a place for religious reconciliation in a country whose population is split 50:50 between Russian Orthodox and Muslim.

It will include a 1,500-seat opera house, hanging gardens, a national museum of culture and chambers based on the UN security council rooms in New York. It will host a peace conference, with 200 delegates from 18 religions, every three years.

The pyramid will be made of steel and stone, its apex abstract stained glass, designed by British artist Brian Clarke, who regularly collaborates with Lord Foster. The glass will be predominately gold and blue, the colours of the Kazakh flag. It will stand 203 ft high, with a square base 203 ft wide. It is due to be completed in June 2006.

As well as a stunning aesthetic, Lord Foster’s design is physically resilient: temperatures in Astana range from –40 degrees to more than 40 degrees through the seasons. The architect said: “[the building] is dedicated to the renunciation of violence and the promotion of faith and human equality.”