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City news, 02.02.2007 12:54

UNESCO Slams Gazprom Tower Plan

gazprom By Evgenia Ivanova

Staff Writer

The huge skyscraper that state energy giant Gazprom is planning to build on a site opposite Smolny Cathedral will ruin St. Petersburg’s historic skyline, UNESCO said on Wednesday.

The director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Center Francesco Bandarin called the controversial Gazprom-City tower design “unacceptable” because it is too close to the historic center of the city, Interfax reported Wednesday.

President Vladimir Putin said he understood the concerns of those against the plan on Thursday during a press conference in Moscow, but added he would leave it to City Hall to decide the project’s future.

“I understand the concerns of those who say [the proposed Gazprom-City building] is too close to the historic center,” reported Putin as saying on Thursday.

“But where [such projects] have to be implemented, the decision should be made on the level of St. Petersburg’s authorities. Such decisions should not be shifted to me, I have enough of my own problems,” Putin said.

Although Gazprom Neft, a part of Gazprom, which intends to use the building for its headquarters, could not be reached for comment Thursday, architects behind the project referred to UNESCO’s criticism as “unfounded” and said it was too early to discuss the matter.

“Bandarin has not seen the final concept, as it is simply not ready,” said Philip Nikandrov, a representative of RMJM London Limited, the architectural company behind the winning design for Gazprom-City.

“We must wait until May 2007 when the entire project is due to be finalized. Until then the concept is still in development and things like the height and size of the building might change.”

“Now there is nothing to talk about,” Nikandrov added in a telephone interview with The St. Petersburg Times on Thursday. “There’s a long way from the idea to its realization, and I’m sure they [UNESCO] understand that.”

“Before any judgments can be passed regarding our project, it is important to find out what effect the tower has on the city’s image… and to demonstrate it to the public,” Nikandrov said.

Meanwhile Petersburgers remain divided over the topic, according to findings from the Agency for Social Information-St. Petersburg, or ASI, researched in December.

“There’s no united opinion. The number of people supporting the idea, the number of people who are against it and the number of people who could not state their position are roughly the same,” Roman Mogilevsky, ASI’s head told The St. Petersburg Times.

ASI also found the significant difference between perceptions to the project on the part of young people and representatives of older generations.

“A significant number of the young people questioned were more positive towards the tower as they were more pragmatic and more willing to accept new architectural ideas. They welcome the idea of new jobs [the development may bring] and think the tower might give them additional places for recreation,” Mogilevsky said.

“A lot of negative responses came from old people as they were afraid to accept change,” Mogilevsky said.

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(c) 2000