Monday, 28 September 2009

Trump wants it all...

See blog

Just uploaded, please do watch as Menie resident David Milne seeks support for himself and other residents resisting Donald Trump's attempts to have Compulsory Purchase Orders placed on his home (a converted coastguard's building, in a setting so beautiful no wonder he doesn't want to leave).

Latest news:

Meanwhile, Trump has been accused of spying! Here's the article in the Sunday Times:

September 27, 2009

Donald Trump spied on us, say activists
Mark Macaskill

Donald Trump has been accused of using a mole to obtain leaked e-mails which he claims reveal the identity of the campaign group that dressed up statues across Scotland as the American tycoon.

Trump claims that the messages, which he has passed to police, show that the publicity stunt was organised by Tripping Up Trump (TUT), which opposes the magnate’s plan to build a £1 billion golf resort in Aberdeenshire and force out homeowners standing in the way of the development.

However, members of the group claim they are not involved with the Menie Liberation Front, which has claimed responsibility for dressing up 20 statues in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling with Donald Trump masks and golf clubs “to symbolise the way Trump thinks he can walk over Scotland”.

The incident is being investigated by Grampian police...
(Read it all via the link above and and wee yourself laughing! Honestly, have the police nothing better to investigate?!)

Excellent publicity stunt though, has certainly raised the profile of the campaign.

The statue of James Clerk Maxwell in Edinburgh, one of many in Scotland given the Ol' Combover treatment on Thursday. It is reported that Rebus has been drafted in to track down the culprits.

Here's the STV News report from last week

Meanwhile, the petition is growing, but an appeal has been made to try to get signatures past 10,000 before the crucial vote this week.

Motion by Martin Ford

Back soon with the promised expanded Middlesex Guildhall blog, and more updates of other things connected with history and architecture and campaigns and stuff.


Friday, 25 September 2009

Middlesex Guildhall: Supreme Court or super hypocrisy?

I'll return later with more comment (well, OK, ranting) and an updated blog on this; meanwhile, here's a little something to read.

The Guildhall Testimonial

If you link to the Scribd site, you can read what I said there under the doc.

The report is copyright SAVE and is reproduced by kind permission. Print copies are still available from at a very reasonable cost. It was compiled by Adam Wilkinson, former SAVE Secretary, now Director, Edinburgh World Heritage.

Feel free, however, to pass on the link to read online.

Hugh Pearman (Sunday Times) on the shiny 'updated' building:

although he possibly didn't know about the Commons Select Committee hearing; I'll add a bit about that later.

Back soon with more.


Thursday, 17 September 2009

Scotland the Brave - Trump and trams

For anyone who has missed the two major stories keeping the pages of the Scotsman filled I can't begin to explain in a short blog the background to them. I can, however, point, as far as the first is concerned, to the excellent campaign now being waged against Ol' Combover Donald Trump's Toytown Golf Resort which is to ruin forever a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Aberdeenshire, Tripping up Trump.

Bad enough that the Scottish government rolled over and caved in at the first sniff of 'rich man's gold', but worse, there is now talk of compulsory purchase of people's homes in order that this 'luxury resort' can be built.

Link to the site, read all about it, and you can join the campaign and sign the petition here:

Tripping Up Trump

Tripping Up Trump is a fresh energised movement standing up for the local people and environment threatened by Donald Trump’s development in Aberdeenshire.

This real life story is no longer just about whether you agree or not with the controversial golf and housing complex. This is now about the human rights of the local people threatened by Donald Trump’s aggressive use of power. Trump is pushing to use compulsory purchase to clear local people from their land, not for a school, or a hospital, but for his profit.

Worse still, Trump received outlined planning permission on the grounds that he had all the land he needed. This is why Tripping Up Trump stands strong, demanding that Donald Trump doesn’t abuse the law and locals affected by his controversial golf course.

Say NO to compulsory purchase and sign our petition!

The plans (and comments!) can be seen and read here:

I did enjoy Jonathan Meade's take on it all (about four and half minutes in to this short programme):

Next up, the trams in Edinburgh, which I first wrote about here:

and here:

A highly amusing, in a wry sort of way, as it's all true and worse besides, video has appeared on YouTube, which deserves a wide audience.

How it will all end is anyone's guess. Heads should roll, but of course, they won't.


Saturday, 12 September 2009

St Petersburg WHS, Gazprom, Okhta Centre, BD - and JG

An update on the recent two blogs

Respected architecture critic Jonathan Glancey (above) has written in this week's Building Design of the violent clashes in St Petersburg, although without really apportioning the blame to those responsible (not, as far as I can see, the protestors but the thugs hired to prevent lawful protest).

Here's a link to further reporting and pictures on this (update Sept 13th)
(Interesting comments on that one - although to read the only full version of the truncated comments quoted left on t'internet you have to read them in a blog not too far from this one!)

It is intriguing to see how passionate St Petersburg’s residents are over the Gazprom tower proposals

But we don’t do violence

11 September 2009

Violence at Gazprom tower meeting” blared a headline in last week’s BD. The occasion was a meeting in St Petersburg at which Gazprom and RMJM were lobbying to change a local zoning law keeping buildings to a maximum height of 48m. This led to a newsworthy clash between protesters, police and security guards.

How often do people actually come to blows over buildings in peacetime? Protest is certainly not uncommon, and yet even the threat, and then the sorry reality, of the destruction of New York’s Pennsylvania and London’s Euston stations, witnessed no violence I am aware of. Equally, many people around the world have been offended in recent decades by heavy-handed office buildings, bombastic hotels and any number of crass residential and retail developments. But although angry, they have kept their fists uncoiled and their powder dry....

Read more:

But there’s been nothing quite like the Gazprom clash. When big business is threatened, it can and will fight hard, especially when supported by government.

Violence can rarely be condoned, but it is intriguing to see how passionate people living in St Petersburg are about their city. British architects might find this uncomfortable, but they can rest assured such passions are unlikely to spill over into violence in our own less demonstrative country

Well, no, Mr G, violence cannot in this case be condoned at all; it seems, however, that peaceful protest is being stifled by the use of such violence

In this country we do tend to use the law and public pressure, but let's face it, it's up to small but determined organisations (see yesterday's blog on a SAVE legal victory) and individuals banding together in a common cause (see the linked blogs column for a representative sample) to carry the huge burden of protest at the never-ending threats to our historic environment.

Maybe we should get more militant.

I wonder what would happen if we did? Would riot police be sent in?

December 2005

Lambeth Borough Council is threatening the imminent demolition of twenty-two Victorian houses on St. Agnes Place, Vauxhall, London SE11, SAVE Britain's Heritage has told Sapling.

According to SAVE, this is a precise repeat of Lambeth's actions on 20th January 1977, when it purposely damaged eleven of the 26 houses on St Agnes Place it then hoped to demolish, with the aim of putting them beyond repair.

Adam Wilkinson, Secretary of SAVE, told "Lambeth, which owns the houses, forcefully evicted squatters from the site earlier this week, apparently resulting in one hospitalisation. The squatters had been there for thirty years, and the buildings are consequently in reasonable condition - wind and weather tight and structurally sound. Lambeth is currently seeking approval - from itself - of the demolition of 52 - 74 and 75 - 91 St Agnes Place.

Lambeth's intention is to create a clear site. This site will then be handed over to a housing association. However there are no plans in place for any replacements.

Lambeth's draft Unitary Development Plan specifically seeks the retention of these buildings. (Policy MD069).

"SAVE Britain's Heritage strongly opposes the proposed demolition of these buildings. They are perfectly decent historic buildings in good condition, eminently and easily capable of conversion into a range of accommodation, as might be required by the housing association."It's a return to the bad old days. What does Lambeth think it is doing, giving itself permission to demolish a set of perfectly good historic buildings that is has identified as worth retaining, and destroying a community in the process."There are literally hundreds of examples of where these sorts of much loved historic buildings have been reused. For example, in 1975 Shepherdess Walk in Hackney was saved from demolition and restored by a housing association. The days of this sort of thing are unnecessary. Demolition is completely unnecessary."

Lambeth's earlier controversial attempt at eviction and demolition in 1977 was chronicled in "Our Vanishing Heritage" by SAVE's President Marcus Binney. After 200 police had been called in to protect a large mobile crane progressing down the street wielding a ball and chain, smashing in the fronts of houses one by one, Commander Patrick Flynn of the Metropolitan Police said "I don't want to be involved in anything like this again. We are not street politicians."

Pic credit: SAVE 1977

FALLEN SAINTS (December 2005)

On Tuesday, St Agnes Place, Kennington - the oldest squatted street in London - was evicted by bailiffs and hundreds of riot police. On Wednesday the area including the park was still cordoned off, and it is believed demolition was taking place. Supporters turned up, but there was very little they could do due to the sheer scale of the police operation. A wake for the death of St Agnes Street was held at Lambeth Town Hall in the afternoon. The eviction took a full twelve hours with the last few remaining residents brutally beaten by the cops, resulting in one losing consciousness and being taken away by ambulance.

Police also evicted the Pirate TV bus, despite being unable to find anything wrong with the paperwork or the bus, except that it couldn’t start. The cops instructed it be towed away but luckily the boys from the recovery firm managed to get it going and save it from the police compound.

Not content with evicting a whole street, police and bailiffs then evicted a squat in nearby Bolton Crescent, despite the fact the court case for the eviction was not due to be held till 16th December, making the eviction illegal: nice to see the boys in blue upholding the law.

There was predictably little mainstream coverage of the eviction, and the journos around were “embedded” with the police, and only shown what the police chose to show. The eviction marks the ends of the thirty year old vibrant community and leaves 150 people homeless with winter already here. It will instead be replaced by a soulless estate and a sports centre. It is reckoned that “unpaid rent” on the properties amounted to £4m over the years and that, according to Lambeth Council, they were “paying nothing to the community” - as if paying rent for your home to some landlord was more important than actually being a thriving community not based on capitalist exploitation.

Pic credit: SAVE

St Agnes' Place Lambeth, prior to demolition in 2006

A short account and pictures of the police presence, 1977 and 2005, appeared in the SAVE News

St Agnes' Place, London In January 1977 a large mobile crane swinging a ball and chain made its way down St Agnes' Place, Lambeth, smashing in the fronts of the houses one after another with the simple aim of damaging as many buildings as possible to the point that they were beyond repair. The owner of the buildings, Lambeth Council, knew an injunction was coming and moved the crane in at dawn, along with two hundred police officers. Eleven of the twenty-six houses were damaged before the injunction was granted.

Fast forward just under nineteen years. The remaining houses had been squatted for many years by a Rastafarian community, which had by and large settled and been left to its own devices by the local authority. And then it happens all over again. The bailiffs move in, attempt to kick out the residents (with the police officers in riot gear there to ensure a peaceful eviction), and the wreckers move in.

Pic credit: SAVE December 2005

The buildings, perfectly decent Victorian terraced houses, typical of the area, were still owned by Lambeth. They were not in a conservation area, nor were they listed.

SAVE moved to take legal action against the demolition, only to find that the local authority had just about managed to paper over the gaps in its case as a result of an aborted action by one of the local residents. As ever, had we known a little earlier, more could have been done to stop this act of wanton vandalism by the local authority. With London's buoyant housing market the buildings could easily have been economically repaired and reused. It appears that councillors and certain officers had long regarded the area something of a running sore and were keen to tidy it up –through demolition.

The local authority put forward no plan for the site post demolition, just some vague ideas about a community facility. Judge, jury and executioner: the sooner that demolition is regarded as a form of development,thereby requiring planning permission, the better.

Handsome buildings, which could have been retained, now gone. People made homeless, and violence against those evicted, by the police. Hmmmm. We don't do violence here though, not according to Mr Glancey.


PS The picture credits: although the police pics came from the SAVE news linked to, I gather that the older one was first published in the local press and the later one came from a local resident. I apologise if I have breached anyone's copyright.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

SAVE saves Gravesend Temple from bulldozers!

Latest news from SAVE Britain's Heritage

A Sikh temple and former church in Gravesend, Kent, has escaped demolition following a successful legal challenge by SAVE Britain’s Heritage.

SAVE challenged Gravesham Council’s decision to approve the destruction of this fine Victorian building on grounds that it was unlawful. At the same time, SAVE served an injunction on the developer preventing demolition. On 9 September the council conceded defeat. The planning committee will now reconsider the application.

Although unlisted, the temple (Gurdwara) is in a conservation area and in good condition. Early in August, the council approved an application for its demolition to make way for a new residential development - a decision taken in the face of strong opposition from SAVE, the Victorian Society, Urban Gravesham (the Civic Society), and local residents. SAVE then instructed its lawyers, Susan Ring of Richard Buxton Solicitors and Barrister Harriet Townsend of 2-3 Grays Inn Square, to issue a legal challenge based on a number of grounds, including a failure by the council to follow proper procedure in ignoring both national planning guidance and the advice of its own conservation officer.

The Gurdwara was originally built as a congregational church. The architect was Sir John Sulman (1849-1934) who built over 70 other churches in this country. However, he is best known for his work in Australia, where he became a leading architect and an important figure in the field of town planning. He designed a number of civic and institutional buildings including the Civic Centre buildings in Canberra and is credited with playing an important role in the development of Australia’s cultural identity.

The church falls within the Windmill conservation area and has also been included in a list of buildings of local interest. In opposing the application to demolish, SAVE, together with other objectors, argued that this was a landmark building which made a positive contribution to the conservation area and that its loss would not be outweighed by the public benefits of the new development. Since its construction, the building has been more or less in constant use and has been well maintained. Despite WWII bomb damage and some unsympathetic alterations it has retained its overall integrity and much of its original fabric.

Included in the grounds for SAVE’s legal challenge was that the consent for demolition ran contrary to Gravesham Council’s conservation policy, as laid out in the recent conservation area appraisal. Also, crucially, SAVE felt the council failed to pay proper attention to national heritage guidelines for the demolition of buildings within conservation areas as set out in PPG15. SAVE argued from the outset that the motive for demolition appeared to be purely financial and there was little evidence that the feasibility of other uses have been seriously investigated. Given the damage inflicted upon Gravesend during the Blitz and later, as a result of post-war road-led redevelopment, the decision to condemn this building seemed all the more tragic and short-sighted.

William Palin, Secretary of SAVE,
says ‘SAVE is delighted that the council has admitted its decision to allow demolition was unlawful and that it will now reconsider this application. We hope that the application will be refused and that, instead, the council will encourage a scheme for sympathetic reuse.’

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architects, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.

For further information please contact William Palin or Catherine Townsend on 020 7253 3500

Susan Ring Richard Buxton Environmental and Planning Law 19B Victoria Street Cambridge CB1 1JP

Harriet Townsend 2-3 Gray's Inn Square London WC1R 5JH

PRESS RELEASE ISSUED BY SAVE Britain’s Heritage, 70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ Registered Charity 269129

Excellent news. Well done to all at SAVE and the legal team.


Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Cock-up or conspiracy? Gazprom, RMJM and the AJ

The proposed Gazprom Okhta Centre, St Petersburg World Heritage Site, RMJM architects

An update on last Wednesday's blog about the major threat to St Petersburg's World Heritage Site (and thank you for the kind comment from a St Petersburg resident, see below blog post).

The following was posted in the comments section under the article in the Architects' Journal, in response to the very inaccurate and apologist 'justification' by RMJM's Tony Kettle. Then it was removed from the site, without explanation.
It has since been reposted and at the moment remains on view, but in case it vanishes again (censorship by the AJ, at the behest of - who exactly?) I repost it here.

(UPDATE Wednesday - the News Editor of the AJ has explained that the post contains comments which could be construed as libel. As the publisher of such comments, the AJ of course could be legally liable to any comeback from Mr Kettle and RMJM. He has now truncated the comments section under one story with an explanation.  I repost comments here in full without any endorsement as to their veracity; if RMJM wishes to sue me then that's up to them, but they won't get much as I'm skint, and they'd look even more silly than they do now. Just thought I'd clear than one up. Also, Mr Kettle, the 'bad buildings' you claim were being removed for the Caltongate development are in fact listed. One handsome listed building, which was in use until the occupants were decanted, to be demolished, another to be a tacky facade scheme, alongside tenements built as 'model housing' for the poor. Those were to be the front of a 'five star' hotel on the Royal Mile. Pictures, and so much more, here: . That one has hopefully all gone tits up, with the developer going bust. I remain disgusted, as do many, at what is happening in St Petersburg, and the wilful campaign to spoil a World Heritage Site. No doubt many other developers and architects will be watching this one with interest; they don't really seem to understand the whole rationale of World Heritage Sites. Or possibly they do, but don't care. Ego and greed prevail. )

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 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

One response to that:

I join my voice to the first comment which is quite just, both in its architectural and its social diagnosis. The fact that an ambitious architect and designer renders himself totally, his hands and his ethics, for the service of an agressively antidemocratic and misantrope corporation, puts in doubt every his word. If the "special" in the city is measured uniquely with the beloved by the actual Russian governors "vertical" and "hierarchy", if smashing the visual equilibrium of the XVIII and XIX-century styled Petersburg center symbolises "Russia's rebirth", then Gazprom itself should be considered as the the world's salvator and king, as it pretends to be. A really popular and representative movement of Petersburg residents who pronounce aganst this scaring project is a strong reason to reconsider either the investors plans or Mr. Kettle ambitions. It's no good fame to remain in eternity as a city smasher, isn't i it? But beside the personal and corporate motivation of the project supporters, I'd like to invite to discuss publicly the professional and ethic position of RMJM and of Mr. Kettle in this dramatic collision.

Roorty Alex

Original articles:

A further comment:

5-Sep-2009 7:45 pm

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 a 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.


5-Sep-2009 5:20 pm

'People everywhere in the world, for whom this site is protected by its World Heritage inscription, should be protesting. RMJM should be boycotted.'
Indeed. Any ideas about how to organize such a protest and boycott?

It's quite clear to me that because of the Okhta Centre project and the other ways that the Petersburg administration and the Russian government are flagrantly failing to meet their World Heritage obligations, that Petersburg will be delisted. What's worse, I think that there are certain government officials who actually want this to happen. First, it will untie their hands to do whatever they like (which is pretty much what they're doing anyway). Second, it would allow them to score some cheap propaganda points. They would say (in fact, they've already said as much) that 'the west' (in the guise of UNESCO) is simply trying to meddle in Russia's internal affairs and impede the country's 'development'.

Are there any good studies or articles about RMJM's 'bad' practices in other instances? What went on with the Scottish Parliament building?

Alternately, does anyone know of cases (successful or not) of international mobilizations against the destruction of World Heritage Sites? What methods were used?

Keep in mind, in the present instance, that our foes employ dirty tricks. At the last two public hearings on Okhta Centre, the 'supporters' of the project used riot police and 'security guards' (hired thugs) against activists and opponents of the project. The use of hundreds of paid 'extras' ('supporters') at the second hearing was well documented by such local media outlets as Moi Raion newspaper and the ZAKS.RU Internet news site. In the run-up to the last hearing, ZAKS.RU also infiltrated and documented a 'rehearsal' for extras led by an Okhta Centre official.

I think this, and not only the dubious merits of the project itself and its effects on a World Heritage Site, should reflect badly on the all the parties to this outrage -- the architects, the building contractor, the city administration, and the national government. But how do we turn our outrage into something more effective?

And that question is at the heart of the matter, really. As these people have no shame, how can they be shamed?

I wonder what Robert Matthew (the RM of RMJM) would have made of it all.

From the late 1960s, he was also faced with the need to respond to the growing crises of Modernist architecture and the planned economy. Where some ‘great men’ of his generation, such as Holford or Spence, sank into relatively quiescent retirement, Matthew blazed up into a final burst of frenzied self-renewal, refocusing his efforts back home in Scotland, where he returned to his family architectural ‘roots’ in conservation by leading the drive to ‘save’ the classical Edinburgh New Town, and at the same time launching into a final ‘crusade’ of global environmentalism.


Read also:

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Another huge erection!

One yesterday, another today! What a busy week for the Republic!

Today's priapic pest is the threat to the St Petersburg World Heritage Site, the RMJM 'Gazprom' Tower. Like Dresden before it, which this summer had its World Heritage Site status removed, this is currently on the World Heritage In Danger list: ,

Sadly, those responsible for these atrocities don't care, they can run away with the cash and that's all that counts. UNESCO is in the horns (sorry, must stop the puns) of a dilemma; does it allow development which will ultimately destroy that which should be protected, the Outstanding Universal Value of individual sites, thus allowing that to set a precedent for more, or does it use the ultimate sanction, and remove sites from inscription, and allow the site to be destroyed anyhow?

Personally I think we should be sending in a gunboat, but the World Heritage Committee hasn't that option.

Well peeps, I like the cut of the jibs of those in the city who aren't taking this lying down.

As the report in AJ says:

Police and protesters clash over RMJM's Gazprom tower
1 September, 2009 By Richard Waite

Attempts by Russian energy giant Gazprom to build a 394m-tall UK-designed skyscraper in St Petersburg are being fought every inch of the way by protesters in the city

St. Petersburg residents on Tuesday (01.09.09) clashed with police and OAO Gazprom security guards during a public hearing over the plan to erect the tallest skyscraper in Europe. Around 12 people who attended Tuesday’s meeting were removed, as calls of ‘shame on Gazprom’ rung in the air.

The Okhta Center is the work of Scottish architects RMJM and is intended to house the headquarters of Gazprom Neft, a Gazprom subsidiary.

The Okhta Public and Business Centre, the Gazprom company heading the development, says it is an ‘architectural gem’
(Well, they would, wouldn't they?) that will give the city a modern look. However, the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organisation claims that the centre, also known as the Gazprom Tower, would defile the city’s historic skyline.

See for yourself here:

and here:

But protesters filed a lawsuit asking the court to cancel the public hearing because it would be ‘illegal’ and that the towers would be sited too close to the 18th century Smolny Cathedral. It is not the first time objectors have run into trouble with the police over the proposed 67-storey skyscraper. In January last year ‘two activists’ were arrested after 300 protesters started a rally on the site earmarked for the tower.

(Interesting read, that... was Bandarin telling porkies? Or is Kettle speaking with forked tongue?)

Meanwhile, Unesco’s World Heritage Committee has expressed ‘grave concern’ about the building and has asked that the project be suspended.

Responding to the news, RMJM released this statement: ‘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 proposed amendment.’
(In other words, we are moving the goalposts in order to get this monster built, and pave the way for others. It's ££££££ speaking!)

Click here to read RMJM’s group design director Tony Kettle’s justification for the proposed skyscraper :

Hmmm. Wrong about so much, yet trust me I'm an architect?

Building Design runs the story also:

Clashes 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 St Petersburg 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 protesters prompted chants of “shame on Gazprom”, according to a Bloomberg report. One protest or, 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 Petersburg 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.
Read more:

Strong words from UNESCO (really, this is as bad as it gets):

33COM 7B.118 - Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments (Russian Federation) (C 540)
Decision Text

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-08/33.COM/7B.Add,

2. Recalling Decision 32COM 7B.105, adopted at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008),

3. Regrets that the State Party did not provide a state of conservation report, or a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value;

4. Notes with concern, that the maps provided by the State Party define boundaries that include a significantly smaller area than that inscribed, and encourages the State Party to submit formally a significant boundary modification (according to Paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines) to allow the Committee to consider this issue;

5. Also notes with concern that the buffer zone proposed does not extend to encompass the landscape setting of the property and in particular the panorama along the Neva River, and requests the State Party to reconsider this buffer zone and submit it formally to the World Heritage Centre;

6. Reiterates its request to the State Party to develop, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS, a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value, for examination by the World Heritage Committee;

7. Expresses again its grave concern that the proposed "Ohkta Centre Tower" could affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, and requests the State Party to suspend work on this project and submit modified designs, in accordance with federal legislation and accompanied by an independent environmental impact assessment;

8. Also expresses its grave concern about the continuous lack of a leading management system and defined mechanisms of coordination for the management of the property;

9. Also requests the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission to the Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments to assess the state of conservation of the property;

10. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2010, a state of conservation report for the property that addresses the above points for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session in 2010, with a view to consider, in the absence of substantial progress, to inscribe the Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and related Groups of Monuments (Russian Federation) on the List of the World Heritage in Danger at its 34th session 2010.

This, and all associated documents, can be read here:

Russian Federation
Date of Inscription: 1990Criteria:
(i)(ii)(iv)(vi)St. Petersburg regionN59 57 00 E30 19 06Ref: 540

Brief Description

The 'Venice of the North', with its numerous canals and more than 400 bridges, is the result of a vast urban project begun in 1703 under Peter the Great. Later known as Leningrad (in the former USSR), the city is closely associated with the October Revolution. Its architectural heritage reconciles the very different Baroque and pure neoclassical styles, as can be seen in the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Marble Palace and the Hermitage.

Lest we forget: World Heritage Site Status is not thrust opon places, it is applied for and has to be justified by the countries concerned, which agree to protect, for all of humanity, the Outstanding Universal Value of the site.

That doesn't mean no development in urban centres, but it does mean that any development should protect the OUV, the authenticity and integrity of a site, and that policies and plans should be in place to protect and conserve.

And what's the problem? Greed really. No matter how many fine words it's all dressed up in, no matter how many weasel words are spoken, it's just plain unadulterated greed.

The second joint publication by SAVE Europe's Heritage and the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society, while mainly about Moscow, has a chapter on the dire things happening to St Petersburg's historic architecture also:

(click to enlarge)

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.

An informative article here by one of the authors:

Edmund Harris is a trustee of the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society (MAPS) and editor of the new, revised edition of "Moscow Heritage At Crisis Point," a joint report by MAPS and SAVE Britain's Heritage on the crisis facing the historic heritage of Moscow and St Petersburg. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

...Gazprom's plans to build the 396-meter Okhta Center opposite St Petersburg's Smolny Convent produced more column inches in the press than any other construction project. But while that effort is currently hamstrung by financial constraints, work has continued on numerous other destructive and insensitive schemes. The panorama of the headland of Vasilyevsky Island -- with its 19th-century rostral columns and stock exchange, and the elegant 18th-century Kunstkamera -- has already been blighted by the Oil and Commodities Exchange (67 meters) and the Finansist residential tower (65 meters) that now rear up in the background. And that is not the only part of Petersburg's skyline to have been wrecked...

There is a great deal more information and pictures here:

Here is a direct link to the 2009 updated, expanded edition, of Moscow Heritage at Crisis Point, including the St Petersburg chapter, online as a PDF: (warning large file, takes a while to download)

The print verson will be available soon from :

Moscow Heritage at Crisis Report - 2nd Edition (2009)£18.00 (£18.00 Friends Price)
Following up from the 2007 report this new edition brings our attention back to the continued threat to Moscow’s architectural heritage. This latest bilingual report from SAVE Europe’s Heritage and MAPS (Moscow Architectural Preservation Society), with support from DoCoMoMo International, lists the latest loses, the current threats and proposals to help protect Moscow’s historic buildings. This new edition, which displays 200 pictures across 128 pages, also includes information about threats to St Petersburg.

This has been launched in Russia but will not be launched in Britain until late September - copies will be available to order from the SAVE office in October. We ask for a voluntary donation of £18

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;

Moscow historian Rustam Rakhmatullin.

So get that order in now!



See comments, and here's that link from St Petersburg live:

Thought provoking reading.

See also blogs: (Pictures also)

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Welcome! (And imposter warning.)

I gather 'someone' is pretending to be me and others and is posting pointless comments on a website, with a link here! (All his comments can be read linked on that website as Guest, Unaccredited, etc, so it's not hard to narrow the field.) One comment and link posted as Nemesis was removed, but I see he's still at it under another alias.

That sad person visited this site last week and this afternoon, again this evening, and has Virgin Media as his ISP, Glasgow Central, and I have his number... as, indeed, has the site concerned, and other linked blogs visited.

If he wants a few lessons in punctuation and spelling I hope he does say. Capital letters missing, bad spelling, and an apostrophe in the possessive pronoun? Hardly my style, is it, dahlings? As he is fond of saying - sheesh!

It's not hard to spot the dog, even if not wearing a kilt. Internet harassment and a barking obsession, what a bizarre activity, eh, saddo?

I hope the funny phone calls aren't you also, as the police have been informed.

Apart from that fruitcake, welcome new readers.



Wednesday am

Welcome again, our imposter from Glasgow City! ! I suppose this obsession I should find flattering!