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City news, 13.11.2006 12:28

Hermitage Director Joins Outcry Over City-centre Skyscraper Plan

Gazprom City Scyscraper The director of St Petersburg's Hermitage museum has spoken out against plans to build a 300-metre high skyscraper in the heart of Russia's former imperial capital. In an interview with the Guardian, Mikhail Piotrovsky said the tower would ruin the city's profile.

An exhibition of short-listed concept designs for the so-called Gazprom City development, which includes one by the British firm RMJM, opened in St Petersburg this week. The plans by Russia's biggest energy company to build a tower opposite the 18th century Smolny cathedral on the Neva river have incensed local preservationists.

Mr Piotrovsky said: "Some of the designs show genius, but putting it opposite Smolny would deform the historic skyline of the city and look like a challenge."

The development, a multistorey business centre, is part of a wider plan by Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, to boost his home city's prestige.

St Petersburg is famed for its beautiful neo-classical facades, churches and waterways. It was built in the early 1700s as a vast urban project by Peter the Great. Its centre was added to Unesco's list of protected monuments in 1990.

Russia's Union of Architects has boycotted the Gazprom City tender in protest at the project, leaving seven foreign firms to battle it out.

Gazprom has defended the tower proposal, saying that it will "become a link between St Petersburg's past, present and future and give the city a new image".

But Nikita Yaveyn, a former head of the city's architectural protection committee, said: "If they build it, the only solution will be to call in terrorists to blow it up. Can you imagine if I constructed something higher than 300 metres in the Champs-Elysees? Every Frenchman would spit on my heels."

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(c) 2000