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Culture news, 27.06.2007 16:11

Planning Council Slams Okhta Tower

bridge_of_Peter_the_Great By Evgenia Ivanova

Staff Writer

A controversial 400-meter skyscraper to be built for energy giant Gazprom in St. Petersburg’s Malaya Okhta, a district neighboring downtown, could be scaled down or moved further away from the historic city center, after the ambitious plan from Russia’s richest company encountered fierce resistance from city’s Planning Council.

There could yet emerge a building erected in the district, but it needs to be smaller to fit in, a member of the Council, Yury Kurbatov, said during a Council meeting on Thursday, St. Petersburg’s Construction Weekly, the official publisher of legal statements in the construction field, reported on Monday.

“The tower is the product of modern technologies, and it is absolutely out of place in Okhta. It might be transferred to a different and more suitable location,” he said.

Although the Council agreed that the industrial area of Malaya Okhta’s is in need of regeneration, many of its members found the declared height to be inappropriate, according to the weekly publication.

The tower’s height would have to be reduced by 100 meters for it to match the scale of its surroundings, project reviewer Vladimir Linov said.

“The impact of the appearance of a 400-meter skyscraper on Okhta would be equal to us constructing a modern building on every street in the historic city center,” Linov, who is also a senior lecturer at the St. Petersburg State Architectural and Construction University, said.

“The conclusion is that the renovation of the Okhta territory is necessary, but it needs to be done based on a ‘don’t harm’ principle, in this case, a ‘don’t harm the historic center’ principle,” the expert said.

If the controversial skyscraper is still constructed at its full height it will be visible from 80 percent of the St. Petersburg’s city center views, which in turn will affect the skyline of the entire UNESCO-protected center, Linov said.

A New York-based non-profit organization, the World Monument Fund, included St. Petersburg’s skyline in its 2008 list of the world’s 100 most endangered sites in its “Economic and Development Pressure category.”

“Often historic sites suffer in the interest of short-term gain that result in long-term losses. New construction often means destruction of historic places,” the fund’s president Bonnie Burnham said in a statement.

According to the note, published June 6, Gazprom’s plans mean that St. Petersburg is facing “encroachment or outright destruction”.

Burnham called St. Petersburg’s skyline “a center of architectural achievement in Russia” and “now the proposed location for an enormous Gazprom skyscraper that will forever change it.”

The tower’s chief architect Philip Nikandrov said however that his building will not in any way harm the city.

“The tower fits seamlessly into the city’s panorama,” Nikandrov told St. Petersburg Times in April this year, presenting findings of research commissioned by RMJM, the company behind the skyscraper project, earlier this year.

The study had used satellite navigation equipment and concurred with other research undertaken by the city’s Monument Preservation Committee, which employed a helicopter, Nikandrov said.

“Their findings are the same — the tower won’t spoil the city,” Nikandrov said.

“On the contrary, you can say this is a beautiful addition to St. Petersburg’s landscape, which consists of occasional dominating buildings that overlook St. Petersburg’s regular buildings,” Nikandrov said in a telephone interview in April.

“If you look at the city from Troitsky Bridge or from the Peter and Paul Cathedral, you can see that it is not Smolny Cathedral that dominates the city’s panorama, but rather the Bolshoi Dom [FSB headquarters] on Liteiny Prospekt,” he said. “Our skyscraper in its present form and shape will be beautifully anchor the city’s panorama if one is looking from the city center.”

Meanwhile, Zhivoi Gorod, a non-governmental organization that aims to preserve the historic buildings of St. Petersburg has gathered more than 6000 signatures against the decision to build the skyscraper in close proximity to the city center, Zhivoi Gorod coordinator Nikolai Smirnov told The St. Petersburg Times on Friday.

“In principal we are not against the skyscraper, we just don’t understand why it has to be built so close to the center [of St. Petersburg],” he said while his organization was picketing in front of Petro Palace Hotel on Maly Morskaya Ulitsa where real estate developers including Nikandrov had gathered on a conference.

“We strongly disagree with the realization of ambitious, voluntary projects such as the building of the high-rise office block for the Gazprom company in the estuary of the River Okhta, on the location of the former city of Nien and the Nienshants fortress, a historical and archeological monument,” Smirnov said in the statement published last Saturday.

Gazprom Neft, Gazprom’s subsidiary in St. Petersburg, last week launched “Okhta,” a fund to support cultural heritage, and is planning to build a museum about St. Petersburg’s first settlements, Interfax news agency reported.

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(c) 2000