Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Those who 'really don't give a fuck'*... and those who do...

An 'iconic' building, inspired by...

A great deal of blogging news to catch up on, dear readers, but here's a start.

First, a  history, which is required reading, so NO SHIRKING this part:

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

 10 January, 2008

By Dmitry 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...

Continued here:


Here's another little something which should be read, although maybe all who read may not agree it's thought-provoking stuff:

The Architect as Totalitarian

Theodore Dalrymple

Le Corbusier’s baleful influence

Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform. In one sense, he had less excuse for his activities than Pol Pot: for unlike the Cambodian, he possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy. Like Pol Pot, he wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything.


and a quote (this is getting to be a bad habit, see previous posts, but hey, I agree with him here, as actually I think he does give a fuck):

...we have to find a way forward between the anodyne and the hubristic...


Malcolm Fraser, brand spanky newly appointed Geddes Honorary Professorial Fellow at Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and ' leading Scottish architect' (despite being a Stirling finalist, MF seems doomed to be forever so described, usually in the Scotsman, a sort of  latter day Carr of York, who did excellent work elsewhere too, but I digress as ever) writing about Richard Murphy's Haymarket Tower, planned to dominate / be a bold addition to, depending on which side of heritage zealotry you are on, the World Heritage Site skyline of Edinburgh. This 'leaf shaped' 17 storey tower was  refused, greatly to Mr Murphy's much-publicised disgust:

'Terrified and timid' policy attacked by top architect


by the Minister earlier last month following a planning inquiry, and a great deal of local opposition. It was, really, 'fuck you' architecture.

Thanks to the SOOT campaigners blog, I repeat this here:

Apart from building my own house, my ambition in Edinburgh is to build one big public building before I die" Richard Murphy

For those interested in that sort of thing, you can read the docs and final report here:


and fascinating it all is too.

However, Malcolm Fraser's is a quote which really needs to be considered in other contexts.

Recently  an e-mail pinged into my inbox from St Petersburg, bearing the latest news on the RMJM Gazprom (Okhta) Tower, which is already causing destruction of important archaeology and encountering a great deal of heroic opposition. I have posted a number of times about this, and so won't repeat it all here, simply to point to past posts, describing the violence inflicted on protestors by hired thugs, the manipulation of law and public policy and the apparent unwillingness of RMJM's Tony Kettle to engage with any issues other than the ones which will bring about the desired result for his architecture firm.

The status of St Petersburg as a World Heritage Site is at risk, and there is no doubting UNESCO's deep concern. However, as with Liverpool, Bath and Edinburgh in the UK, and of course Dresden, whose Elbe Valley was struck off the World Heritage list this summer over the building of a particularly brutal bridge and the unwillingness of those responsible to consider any compromise, those who put  such status at risk, or bring worries that such status isn't high on the priorities of those who should care more,  appear unable to consider that there are always alternatives. Short termism and large egos, blinkered city officials aided by elected representatives with motives which at times seem far removed from the real needs of World Heritage cities and their residents, the desire for fat profits... and Philistinism... all are part, and more besides, of the root of the difficulties. Yes, it's complex, each city will tell you they have to move on, silly phrases about 'setting in aspic' and 'economic development' will be spouted,  and those who try to urge caution and work for a better solution are always derided as wishing to hold back 'progress'.

This morning I re-read Owen Hatherley's blog post (see right hand blogs column, and his related article in Building Design) and I quote part of it:


Patrick Lynch said some really very interesting things... and the sharpest of these, which was too long-winded an argument to shoe-horn into my round-up, bears repeating. That is: one of the central appeals of the *****ICONIC***** building to their clients is a sort of reflected glory, wherein the CEO or Manager thinks 'wow, Zaha or Santiago *really don't give a fuck, they treat their workers abominably, they don't let anyone get in the way of the realisation of their ideas, they stomp around in firm conviction of their own genius - just like me...'


Thanks Owen, it's about the gist of what I want to say, but so much easier to nick your words. I quote also your comment from your blog on this subect of September 3rd:

 Gazprom's Okhta Tower, a tossed-off glass excrescence designed by RMJM...

and also this illuminating piece from the Comments section:

Anonymous said...

I was quite close to (a few desks away from) this project as it was being designed - the main (nay, the only) idea that went into it was a slight twist to the tower. Why? Not in reference to the dialectical torsion of Tatlin's tower, oh no, but merely because they'd seen some twisted towers in the latest Blueprint or whatever and thought that they looked pretty snazzy, so might as well rip em off...

In a month when a new building proposed  for Sheffield Hallam University (architects: Bond Bryan) is shown covered in cutlery and with a vague gesture on top towards the trad factory 'saw-tooth' roof as an in yer face, over the top reference to one of the industries which made the city prosper, lest we forget,

(Student wit in years to come:

"Excuse me, but can you give me directions to the library?"

'"Of course, you pass the fork n knife n spoon building..."  OK , an oldie but still a goodie...)

and in a year where we have seen the completion of Pelli's lumpen Liverpool Gone West, apparently shaped like a ship to 'reflect' Liverpool's past maritime status:

then little would surprise regarding the 'inspiration' cited by some architects to justify paying the mortgage. However, if the quote above is true, then the twisted Okhta spire rising out of a blob of collapsed blancmange can be credited with even less intellectual rigour applied to its design than those two gems I cite. So, why?  Is it just ego and 'fuck you' architecture?

The  latest from St Petersburg sounds a little more encouraging:

Here's our reposting of the new story by Sergey Chernov from The St. Petersburg Times about the crazy debate between Okhta Center advocates and opponents aired on Channel One's "Judge for Yourself" program. The advocates... included RMJM architect Filipp Nikandrov and Okhta Center deputy director Vladimir Gronsky. There really does seem to be a (positive) shift going on: more and more high officials coming out against the project and more opposition from establishment cultural figures, including the host of this program.

We've enhanced Sergey's article with the video of the program (which, alas, I gather you won't be able to understand), video of the beatings at the Sept. 1 public hearing, and lots of links...

Here's the beginning, do read the rest, follow the links:

The St. Petersburg Times

November 20, 2009

TV Campaign Against Gazprom Tower Mounts

By Sergey Chernov

The controversial Gazprom Tower found itself under harsh attack last week on Russia’s main state television, Channel One, for the third time in the past four weeks — and its supporters struggled to offer any good reason to back the 403-meter-tall skyscraper in close proximity to the city center.

First slammed by the Kremlin-controlled channel in its primetime weekly news roundup on Oct. 18, the Okhta Center, as the building is officially known, was derided in the comedy show “Prozhektorperiskhilton” (Paris Hilton’s Spotlight) a week later, and last week became the subject of “Sudite Sami” (Judge for Yourself), a political talk show hosted by Maxim Shevchenko.

This time Okhta Center representatives — communications director Vladimir Gronsky and the project’s chief architect Filipp Nikandrov of the British firm RMJM — were given a chance to present their case for the skyscraper, which is planned to house state energy giant Gazprom’s headquarters and was described by Bloomberg News critic Colin Amery as “just another global corporate monolith — banal, dull and inappropriate.”

The unsuspecting Okhta Center team, which enjoys full administrative support in St. Petersburg, arrived at the studio to discover that the show was to be called “The Tower Against the City.” They were then refused the opportunity to show their presentation of the project, and were instead confronted with a barrage of questions — including ones they had ignored or mocked during the heavily policed public hearings held in St. Petersburg. With no backing from City Hall, OMON special-task police or menacing individuals scattered around the room pushing and kicking opponents, as there were at the public hearings, the Okhta Center’s representatives appeared helpless and confused...

Read on:


...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.”

I'd say it was a little more than that. I would suggest this, as a World Heritage Site, concerns us all.

There's more to say, other links to add, but I think I'll today press 'PUBLISH POST' and please, readers, consider this as a draft.

I'll return later, I hope you do also.



Anonymous said...

You could always go and vent your spleen at this:

EDINBURGH: Seminar - Tony Kettle : Group Design Director, RMJM Architects
3 Dec 12.00 noon
Darwin Building Room G10, University of Edinburgh
Tony Kettle has led a number of high profile projects around the world including the award-winning Falkirk Wheel in Scotland, the Okhta Centre (Europe's tallest low-energy tower), the City Palace in Russia and the Visit Northumberland Museum at Woodhorn in England. He is particularly interested in the role of art in extending the boundaries of architecture, engineering and landscape architecture.

Nemesis said...

Indeed thank you, although for those in St Petersburg it's probably too far, although I'll pass it on, and maybe venting spleens at public meetings isn't the best way forward.

Nemesis said...

I sent the details to people in St Petersburg, who would love to hear what TK says. Is anyone able to get along and video or report re Gazprom (Okhta) Tower?