Six Questions with Frank Albo: Author of Astana: A Challenge and Armchair Treasure Hunt
Frank Albo immediately captures your interest through his stunning book Astana: Architecture, Myth, and Destiny. The pages burst with spectacular illustrations and transports the observer into a world of architectural marvels.
With a PhD in History of Architecture and graduate degrees in Ancient Near Eastern languages, Western Esotericism, and Art History, Frank shares his unique perspectives on Astana’s past, present, and future. His expertise is riveting like the images.
For those who know the book’s pages also consist of a treasure hunt, and who are trying to decipher the ‘hidden message’ to claim the $30,000 prize, it might prove difficult to know where to begin. Both, text and images, press upon the mind, overwhelming puzzlers with an abundance of secrets and mysteries. All fascinating!
It was an extreme pleasure to have the opportunity to ask Frank the following Six Questions about Astana; the book, hunt, and more! Enjoy!
- 1Q) The beautiful photographs of Astana within your book are amazing. They establish there isn’t any question the architectural designs and layout of this capital city are intriguing. But what first brought Astana to your attention? What enticed you to personally investigate further; and then inspire you to write about all your remarkable discoveries?
It emerged unexpectedly from a graduate seminar I was preparing on utopian architecture in the spring of 2013. Laying out the groundwork for the course, I found myself plunged down a rabbit hole of Internet conspiracy theories hailing Astana to be the “Illuminati Capital of the World.”
Given my specialization in the architecture of Freemasonry, I must admit to being unapologetically hooked and was compelled to set the record straight. What materialized after four years of feverous research was a comprehensive account of fantasy architecture, Eurasian mythology, and population genetics rolled into a treasure hunt in the spirit of Kit Williams meets Umberto Eco.
- 2Q) Your book takes a reader on a vast journey, not only providing extraordinary historical substance, but also visions of the present and future. The amount of intriguing subject matter makes it perfect for an armchair treasure hunt. However, why did you choose to create a treasure hunt and conceal ‘secrets and mysteries’ within?
It is important to understand that at its core my book is a modern day foundation myth, one that ascribes a library of coded meanings to the built environment of Astana. This is not to suggest that the content is merely some lavish fabrication. On the contrary, it brings together history, folklore, and semiotics to reveal how the symbols and architecture of Astana provide a unique solution to the three greatest threats of our time: religious extremism, nuclear proliferation, and sustainability of the planet. The treasure hunt was employed to lure readers into a deeper reading of the text and to illustrate how the power of myth and the imagination can fundamentally change our world.
- 3Q) The treasure hunt or challenge within Astana ends December 31st, 2018, if no one successfully deciphers the ‘hidden message’ and claims the prize before (or if it is not extended). Will you be offering any clues along the way? Do you feel the puzzle will be solved by the end date? Can you provide any advice on how to begin to solve the codes?
Most certainly! I have provided ample clues already (for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear). Peruse my website. Should the puzzle not be solved by the end date, I might consider increasing the prize as an added incentive. Credit for the puzzle’s design goes to the prodigious game designer, Cliff Johnson, with some thematic input from me. As far as I know, this has never been done before in a scholarly work, so my advice on cracking the code is to persevera, per severa, per se vera.
- 4Q) During your research and incredible exploration into the city of Astana, did you ever feel there was or is any truth to the city being the center for the Illuminati or a new world order? Were you suspicious just maybe the conspirators have it correct? Do you believe in such secret societies?
Secret societies of course exist, but I found no evidence that the Illuminati (which is more of a pop-cultural obsession than a sinister global cabal) had anything to do with the design or symbolism of Astana.
My main source of inspiration came from the Rosicrucians, an altogether different secret society that sought bring about the “Universal Reformation of Mankind” in the form of an alchemical foundation myth wrapped up in arcane symbols and esoteric secrets. Despite being concocted by a cadre of seventeenth-century heterodox intellectuals, the myth of the Rosicrucians ended up being one of the most successful publicity stunts of all time and remains to this day an enduring subject of fascination and intrigue.
- 5Q) In a previous book, The Hermetic Code, you communicate the extraordinary symbolism hidden in Manitoba’s Legislative Building. What was your most astonishing find? And when heading tours for this impressive building, what do you feel is most surprising for guests to learn?
The Hermetic Code is the flipside of my book on Astana. Whereas in Manitoba, I decode a genuine Masonic building laden with esoteric cues; in the Astana, I encode an imaginary Illuminati capital impregnated with esoteric clues. Perhaps the most surprising aha moment for guests is when they discover that a three-year study of biblical Hebrew enabled me to locate a replica Ark of the Covenant on the building’s roof directly above a room that mirrored the exact dimensions of the Holy of Holies of King Solomon’s Temple!
- 6Q) What fascinates you most about architecture? Why do you feel some structures confer a sense of awe, leaving a person changed, and others hardly get noticed? And since it seems discovering encoded secrets within structures and architectural designs is a talent of yours, are you working on solving any other puzzles and finding treasures of your own?
As an architectural historian, I have made it my passion to read our built environment like a book. I believe our cities, our buildings, our public spaces are interactive journeys of discovery that are meant to be deciphered, and that encoded in them is a way of elevating and inspiring us all. The casual observer is completely unaware that many of our cherished buildings contain hidden messages and epic mythology about our cultural DNA. Behind every twisting street or eccentric skyscraper lies a repository of cultural treasure. Discovering it is like finding a field of diamonds in your own backyard.
What enlightening answers, Frank. Thank you. Your book and hunt, Astana, certainly encourages us to look at all the incredible architectural elements, surrounding us each day, with a new appreciation. It’s astonishing to realize what lies hidden in plain sight for us to discover.
Thanks again for shining a light on this fascinating subject and offering the ‘treasure hunt’. It inspires us all to explore deeper, and find those secret treasures waiting for us.
Best of Luck with all that seek! Treasure the Adventure!
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