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St Petersburg WHS at risk?

Author Nem
#1 | Posted: 24 Jul 2009 03:36 | Edited by: Nem 
The second joint publication by SAVE Europe's Heritage and the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society, while mainly about Moscow, has a chapter on the dire things happening to St Petersburg's historic architecture also:

"The study also includes a chapter on St. Petersburg, where more than one hundred buildings have been destroyed over the last six years, even as many were on official state "protected" lists."

From yesterday's Building Design

More information here:


Edmund Harris is a Cambridge-trained Russianist who has been a Moscow resident since 2003. He is a trustee of MAPS and was involved in setting up the organisation in 2004 with Clementine Cecil and Kevin O'Flynn.

Clementine Cecil is a journalist and campaigner for the preservation of built heritage. She lived in Moscow from 2001 to 2005. Cecil is a co-founder and trustee of MAPS. She is also involved in a project to conserve churches in Tver region with the Paul Khlebnikov Foundation.

Anna Bronovitskaya is an architectural historian, associate professor at the Moscow Architecture Institute, and an editor of 'Project Russia' and 'Project International' magazines.

Other authors of the report include specialists such as Marcus Binney, President and founder of SAVE (UK); Adam Wilkinson, former secretary of SAVE and now Director of Edinburgh World Heritage Site (UK); Calder Loth, Senior Architectural Historian of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (USA); Nataliya Dushkina, Professor of City Planning at the Moscow Architecture Institute; Nataliya Bronovitskaya, art historian; Nataliya Samover, historian and journalist; Elena Minchyonok, Saint-Petersburg journalist, and writer and Moscow historian Rustam Rakhmatullin.

Events (back)

Press-conference - 2nd edition of the "Moscow Heritage at Crisis Point" Report

Schusev State Museum of Architecture
Moscow, 5, Vozdvizhenka
July 22, 5 p.m.




The report is a follow up to the 2007 report, which brought the crisis that Moscow's heritage is undergoing into the centre of national and international attention. Despite the successes of the report, the destruction continues. The scale of the threat is such that a new edition of the report was considered necessary.

The new report details the changes of the last two years what new losses the city has suffered, which buildings are under continuing or new threat, why this is happening, and also outlines the path for a more sustainable future for the city.

This new report from SAVE Europe's Heritage and the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society (MAPS), with support from Do.Co.Mo.Mo International, condemns the losses while illustrating the astonishing range of historic building in Moscow, from medieval churches to elegant post-war modernism all threatened by the furious pace of redevelopment of the city by a coterie of property developers during the tenure of Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

The report will be available on the internet following the presentation on

Here it is, as a PDF:

The book will be available at the "Falanster" bookshops.


Author Nem
#2 | Posted: 11 Aug 2009 18:25 
An article from today's Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty:

Author Nem
#3 | Posted: 2 Sep 2009 04:51 
The latest news on the Gazprom Tower

Story and picture

Clashes in Moscow over RMJM's Gazprom tower
2 September, 2009

By Anna Winston

A public meeting to discuss RMJM's proposal for a 400m tower in St Petersburg descended into violence on Tuesday, with protesters being forcibly removed by security guards working for the developer, Russian gas giant Gazprom.

The meeting is part of RMJM and Gazprom's quest to change the city's zoning laws which do not allow buildings taller than 48m.

The clash between police, guards and protestors prompted chants of "shame on Gazprom", according to a Bloomberg report. One protestor, Gennady Turetsky, said: "You're creating an atmosphere of civil war here in St. Petersburg. Look at all these security measures, all the people being taken away."

Last week, UNESCO issued a new warning that St Petersburg could face losing its world heritage status if the tower, officially called the Okhta Centre Tower but known as the Gazprom Tower, goes ahead.

In a statement published on its website, UNESCO repeated earlier concerns for the future of the entire heritage site but singled out the tower for additional comment.

"The World Heritage Committee expresses its grave concern that the proposed Okhta Centre Tower could affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property," it said.

UNESCO has requested that all work be suspended on the project and that the design be modified.

In a statement, RMJM said: "The City of St Petersburg is reviewing its rules and regulations for tall buildings. This City Council Meeting was the first step towards amending its planning restrictions to allow for buildings which are over 100m in height. RMJM is assisting the City Council in going through the due process in support of the proposal for amendment."

The tower, which is to be the headquarters for Gazprom and will include a concert hall, museum, hotel and business centre, has attracted controversy since RMJM won the commission in 2006.

RMJM beat Jean Nouvel, Massimiliano Fuksas, Rem Koolhaas and Daniel Libeksind in a surprise victory after an international competition which saw star judges Norman Foster, Rafel Vinoly and Kisho Kurokawa walk off the jury.

In 2007, St Peteresburg residents and preservationists staged a protest against RMJM's proposed design.

And earlier this year the St Petersburg city government, which had committed to financing 49% of the scheme, announced it would no longer contribute to the project which could cost up to $3 billion. Gazprom has now pledged to fund the entire project itself.

UNESCO statement on this

Author Nem
#4 | Posted: 2 Sep 2009 17:30 
Ive been sent this this evening, from someone in St Petersburg.

Worth reading.

Anti-Viruses and Underground Monuments: Resisting Catastrophic Urbanism in Saint Petersburg

ByDmitry Vorobyev & Thomas Campbell
Saint Petersburg is besieged by elite-backed architectural mega-projects and micro-interventions. Dmitry Vorobyev and Thomas Campbell describe the dominant strains of 'renovation' and the popular resistance to them arguing that, in St. Petersburg, class conflict takes the form of opposed visions of urban renewal and historic preservation...

Author Nem
#5 | Posted: 7 Sep 2009 10:51 | Edited by: Nem 
There's been an odd development regarding this.

A recent comment on the story in Architects' Journal (UK leading architecture publication) was removed from the site. It's now been reposted, and I copy it here so that others can have some idea of what is happening in St Petersburg.

(Tony Kettle is the architect from RMJM, the architects responsible, who 'justified' the tower also in a recent AJ article).

"Mr. Kettle is trying to put a good face on a very, very bad game, just like his employers at Gazprom and their bought-and-paid supporters in the Petersburg administration. In this article he plays fast and loose with the facts and with the character of the city where he plans to plop down his 400-meter-high monstrosity. In what sense does the planned skyscraper 'sit' 6km from the historic centre'? The distance between the skyscraper and Rastrelli's Smolny Cathedral is certainly not 6km. In fact, Mr. Kettle's tower would be directly opposite the cathedral across the Neva River (and thus crush it). This is not to mention the fact that the 'special buildings' he mentions are nowhere near 400m high, and what 'dominance' they do exert on the horizontal Petersburg skyline is achieved with thin, elegant spires, not huge masses of steel and glass, as will be the case with his building. While the TV tower is higher than these other 'special buildings', it is in fact located at a great distance from whatever point in the historic centre that you would care to call the 'historic centre'. Visibility studies have shown, however, that Mr. Kettle's tower would be clearly visible from any number of such points and would thus rudely violate the current skyline, which like the ensembles of buildings themselves is an explicit part of the World Heritage Site that the city and the Russian Federation have obliged themselves to protect and preserve.

What is more disturbing is that from the very start this project has been accompanied by the lies and machinations of Mr. Kettle's firm, Gazprom, and the Petersburg administration. In addition to its World Heritage Status, the city's architectural heritage is supposedly protected by any number of local and federal laws which themselves should have been sufficient to prevent even the consideration of such a ruinous, violent project. Instead, as current practice shows, developers and bureaucrats have been happily bypassing all these laws, demolishing ordinary buildings and listed monuments in their drive to make quick profits. Without exception, everything that has been erected in their place is miserable junk from any normal architectural viewpoint, even from a viewpoint more tolerant of modernism and postmodernism than is usually the case amongst Petersburgers weened on neoclassicism and art nouveau.

Let's forget for a second about the murky story of how Mr. Kettle's firm was awarded the contract in the first place. He will tell you about a juried competition with 'public input' or something of the sort, forgetting, I imagine, to mention that three members of the jury, including Sir Norman Foster, found the situation so scandalous that they resigned. Let's pretend, instead, that RMJM won the contract 'fair and square'. What has happened since that beautiful day for all humanity, especially its Russian branch? The city administration and Gazprom have been doing somersaults in an effort to bypass existing laws on historic preservation and new construction, including the newly minted Regulations on Land Use and Development which clearly stipulate a maximum height of 100m for new construction at the site in question. Worse yet, they have engaged in a vigorous and expensive campaign of obfuscation which has involved, among other things, paying off local celebrities to express their 'support' for the project, misinforming the public about its legal aspects and the city's World Heritage status, commissioning 'opinion polls' that have been shown to have been faked and ordering visibility studies whose alleged result is that the tower wouldn't be visible from anywhere (hence no one should worry). But why build a skyscraper that no one will be able to see?

The worst aspect of their campaign, however, has been their mockery of the public hearings on the project and public concerns in general. In at least two instances, hearings were held without timely and clear notification of the public, amongst other procedural violations. That is just the icing on the cake, however. During last summer's hearing (the second of three such events) the organizers paid several hundred 'extras' 400 rubles or so (approx. 8 pounds) to come to the hall where the hearing was held and express their 'support' for Mr. Kettle's future masterpiece. Disturbed by these 'irregularities', a group of local activists and concerned citizens tried to shut the hearing down. They were eventually forcibly dragged from the presidium by riot police (OMON) and several of them were arrested. As this was happening, the Gazprom/Okhta Centre official chairing the event urged the skyscraper's 'supporters' to cheer on these police thugs as they performed their necessary work. When the hearing was over, these pseudo-citizens dashed out of the hall to a spot nearby where they had been promised they would get their well-earned pay. Unfortunately, journalists were wise to this and also on the spot, so the supporters' minders had to quickly arrange to pay them the following day at another location. Although these shenanigans were well documented in the local press, none of the people responsible for this abomination faced legal consequences or criminal charges.

This brings us to the hearing held just the other day, September 1, whose stated topic was Okhta Centre's petition to be granted an exception to the 100-meter-high zoning rule I've already mentioned. Let's start with the fact that, once again, timely notification of the hearing did not happen. Worse, the hearing was scheduled for 9am on September 1. September 1 is called the 'Day of Knowledge' in Russia and is practically considered sacred; it is the first day of the school year, a day on which parents accompany their children to the ceremonial openings at their schools. The hearing's organizers knew this, of course, and thus hoped to keep away some number of activists and citizens who might otherwise have attended. I also think that they hoped that the extensive press coverage usually garnered by the Day of Knowledge would overshadow any negative coverage of the hearing.

The citizens and activists who did make it to the hearing faced a police cordon around the building where it was held and three (yes, three!) security checks before they could get inside. What is this if not intimidation? That would have been enough. It gets worse, however. During the hearing itself, several people who protested too loudly (by shouting and unfurling protest banners or placards) were pounced upon by thugs (euphemistically described as 'Gazprom security guards' in some English-language media accounts I've read) and dragged out of the hall, where they were beaten, kicked, and dispatched to a nearby police precinct. One of these protesters arrived there so bloodied that the police immediately sent him to hospital.

Now that these pseudo-democratic rituals have been observed, Mr. Kettle's employers can happily submit their height-regulations waiver to the proper commission and, I fear, expect quick approval followed by the local governor's signature. So much for public input.

I've described all this in such detail because it goes to Mr. Kettle's strange argument about the 'rebirth of Russia'. He doesn't elaborate on this point, except to say that it has something to do with the wealth acquired from the export and sale of energy resources. In fact what we have witnessed over the past ten years is the rebirth of the Russian police state. Whereas in the past this police regime defended the absolute rule of an imperialist monarchy and then, later, a totalitarian bureaucracy, now it has been called upon to defend the economic, financial and political monopoly secured over the past fifteen or so years by a tiny elite of oligarchs and security forces officers. I don't need here to go into the details of this group's rise to power, which involves staggering crime, rampant corruption, the destruction of civil liberties, flagrant violation of human rights and the intimidation of the free press. All these things are all too well documented in the English-language media, to which I refer curious readers.

So this is the 'rebirth' that Mr. Kettle has elected to participate in. Its expression in the architectural realm, especially (but not only) in Moscow and Petersburg, has been the wide-scale destruction of the architectural legacy, a catastrophe which has been unleashed to satisfy a real estate and new construction speculative boom fuelled by oil and gas revenues. Instead of investing in badly needed infrastructural improvements and strengthening civil society in the process, the new elite has been cashing in its newfound wealth and power to make even more money, in defiance of democratic norms and public needs. When it comes to Petersburg and the planned Gazprom tower, however, there is an added symbolic dimension. The skyscraper is meant to show that this heedless violent, criminal squandering of Russia's future has 'conquered' all other possible outcomes and all other visions for the country. While the city's social and political history has not been untroubled, to say the least, the building of the skyscraper would signal the triumph of this new 'petrocracy' and the end of Saint Petersburg, which after all was a utopian project. Mr. Kettle's project, on the contrary, will be an emblem of the dystopia the country has again sunk into.

In a better Russia, the competence and ingenuity of architects like Mr. Kettle would be used to build schools, theaters, hospitals, kindergartens, low-cost estate housing and other public buildings and spaces that would promote architectural innovation while not demolishing Petersburg's outstanding, absolutely unique heritage. This project would not only involve popular participation, it woul

Author Nem
#6 | Posted: 7 Sep 2009 10:55 | Edited by: Nem 

This project would not only involve popular participation, it would be generated by ordinary people themselves, who would democratically allocate the country's common resources to make improvements to their own living, working, educational and cultural conditions.

This, alas, is not the case, and Mr. Kettle's Okhta Centre project is a gargantuan barometer that shows how much this is not the case. That is why I call on architects, journalists, activists and ordinary people in Britain and Scotland to shed what light they can on this project and pressure Mr. Kettle and RMJM to end their involvement in this crime against the people of Saint Petersburg, Russia and the world.

A Concerned Resident of Saint Petersburg"

The following was also posted in the comments.

"Live footage of 'security guards' 'detaining' a 'protester' at the 'public hearing' on the Okhta Centre in Petersburg on September 1:

The crowd is chanting 'Shame!'

I wonder: is this what public hearings in Scotland look like? (RMJM is Scottish firm)

When the tower gets built and UNESCO strikes Petersburg off the World Heritage list, at least these people will be able to console themselves with the thought that they put up a fight."

Author Nem
#7 | Posted: 20 Oct 2009 06:53 | Edited by: Nem 
More depressing news from St Petersburg

This is no longer a metaphor. What which was awaited for, feared but not believed finally happened - the bulldozers of Gazprom assaulted the ruins of Nyenskans (XVII century) and Landskrona (1300) fortresses. They broke into one of the bastions, leaving a 50 square meters pit where an 1.6 meter ancient earthen wall stood. A hole large enough for an armored regiment to break in. A part of Landskrona moat was destroyed as well.

More information

The whole sorry background of the Gazprom scheme

in which I am ashamed to say the UK firm of RMJM is deeply embroiled.

Published copies of the report discussed in the first post above are now available here:

Author Nem
#8 | Posted: 19 Nov 2009 19:19 
The latest news from St Petersburg about the Gazprom Okhta Tower is here

Summing up the debates, Valery Fadeyev, editor of Expert magazine, said that the planned tower should be thoroughly discussed on a national level.

"We should return to the first phase of this project," he said.

"The project has now gone outside of St. Petersburg. This problem has become national."

The national uproar and Channel One's campaign against the tower began after City Governor Matviyenko signed a decree exempting the Okhta Center from the height regulation law on Oct. 6. Some media suggested a rift in the Kremlin over the project and even took it as a sign that the project may soon be cancelled by the Russian authorities.

And in the Guardian last week, Jonathan Glancey:

Not all Gazprom, mostly about the UK, but it did have this to say:

Now its toughest fight, and one that it is unlikely to win, is over the future of St Petersburg, a city arguably even more beautiful than Bath. Here, the Edinburgh-based architects RMJM have won permission to build the vertiginous Gazprom Tower, or Okhta Centre, as it has since been renamed. Rising from the site of a historic Swedish fort, it will set a precedent for local Flash Gordon-style redevelopment. But planning permission has been granted by Valentina Matviyenko, governor of St Petersburg and a Putin appointee. The tower, and other similar developments, look unstoppable.

I hope not.

Author Nem
#9 | Posted: 24 Feb 2010 18:12 | Edited by: Nem 
Here's recent news on further destruction in St Petersburg, received this evening: ersburg/

As it says:

"Finally, we should stress that the "little" motherland/fatherland at issue here (Saint Petersburg) is the common property of all humanity (as our comrades from DSPA point out, below): the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you're unhappy with what the combined forces of stupidity, greed, and bureaucratic corruption are doing to our common property, please write to UNESCO. Please write to us (at the e-mail address in the sidebar) if you need more information about the destruction of Saint Petersburg..."

and a little updating of the news in the posts above:

and this, from December 2009:

"Last weekend, a bunch of folks went on a protest action
designed as a "stroll" around the (Gazprom Okhta) tower construction site. The impetus
for the "stroll" was news that some kind of drilling was going on,
possible harmful to the archaeological finds uncovered there. You can
see Sergey's photos here:

The most symbolic part of the action was when the strollers stood in a
line on the banks of the Neva and joined hands, a mini recreation of the famous moment during perestroika when the citizens of the Baltic republics joined hands on the highway that runs through their countries..."

Author Nem
#10 | Posted: 1 Jun 2010 13:52 
They fight on, do the people of St Petersburg.


Meanwhile, I gather that RMJM is being sort of possibly shamed into redrafting the height and design of the Gazprom Tower, political pressure and all that.
But we will see.

Author Nem
#11 | Posted: 1 Jun 2010 13:58 

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