Sunday, 24 October 2010

Samara in Danger still, St Petersburg & Gazprom update...

... and news of a UK conference on Architectural Preservation in Russia, see below.  

UPDATE: Rowan Moore in the Observer on RMJM, Fred Goodwin, and Gazprom (Okhta) Tower

21st November 2010

Last November I posted a  blog post, From Russia With Love Part 2  outlining the dangers to Samara, and drawing to the attention of readers the launch of a new joint MAPS and  SAVE Europe's Heritage publication about what was happening in that city to destroy its heritage. It made uncomfortable reading, especially the murders of architects and planners.

An extract:


World-launch of the new MAPS/SAVE Europe's Heritage, Samara: Endangered City on the Volga, will take place on 18th November at Pushkin House, London.

This report is the work of a panel of Russian and international experts, and is the first of its kind to tackle the problem of the loss of architectural heritage in the Russian provinces.

The city stands on the banks of the Volga, some 400 miles south east of Moscow. It is home to a wealth of styles from wooden houses with finely carved window frames to, neo-classical, art nouveau, constructivist, industrial and post-war buildings. It is a major Russian city, closed to the West under Communism when it was called Kuibyshev. It was also the city to which Moscow evacuated during the Second World War.

Since the fall of Communism, corruption in Samara has led to the uncontrolled demolition of huge areas of the city, including its delicate system of courtyards. There is massive new construction and planners and architects have been murdered, such is the greed for land and property. Approximately one third of the old city has been destroyed. The report was initiated due to the immediate threat hanging over a Factory Canteen of the Constructivist era, which has a ground plan in the form of a hammer and sickle...

I am pleased  Rowan Moore, architecture writer for the Observer newspaper, has today published an article about his visit to the city, and the continuing problems. Here it is and with it a good gallery of new photographs:

 Please read. 

Please order the book via SAVE

Another view on the Observer article

Here is the excellent chtodelat news (linked to with latest updates on the blog list right) on the Factory Kitchen in Samara, see Rowan Moore's article, built in the shape of  a hammer and sickle:

Where to begin with an update on St Petersburg, RMJM, and the ghastly threat of the Gazprom / Okhta Tower on the World Heritage Site?

Last week, the Irish Times:

and Building Design (via Architectural Record):

Regular readers of this blog will know my opposition to this and I have tried to post relevant news when I can.

A selection of past posts:
Sept 2009

Sept 2009

Oct 2009

A site search will reveal more, and here's a snippet from this post:

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

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...

So RMJM, what answer have you?

Another snippet from that post (December 2009):

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'.

Here from 2009 is Tony Kettle's 'justification' for the Gazprom Tower, as reported in the Architects' Journal:

UNESCO should realise that special sites require a special architectural response, says Kettle

I have been pretty clear in the past about my views on UNESCO’s intervention in RMJM’s Okhta Centre project for Gazprom in St Petersburg, Russia. The plans we have drawn up are for one of the world’s tallest buildings in one of the world’s most horizontal cities, where only special buildings are allowed to break the grain.

These special buildings include 30 churches, the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Admiralty and the TV tower (which is the height of the Eiffel Tower). Each is special in its own right. A city needs a hierarchy of buildings so that the ordinary and the special work with each other. If every building attempts to be special, then they will all become ordinary; so there needs to be a good reason for a building to be out of the ordinary.

The issue of energy is the central concern of our time and Gazprom, as the largest supplier of energy in eastern Europe, is one of the reasons for Russia’s wealth and rebirth, putting it into the ‘special’ category.

The Okhta Tower must symbolise rebirth for Russia and the city of St Petersburg, while demonstrating that an innovative, low-energy building is possible in the extremes of the Russian climate. UNESCO has never disputed the quality of the design, nor the fact that the tower sits some 6km from the historical centre. But it feels it cannot allow one project to break the city’s height limits, potentially opening the gates to a ‘free-for-all’ of new development in the city. In this case, there is no latitude in its thinking, no allowance made for creation of the ‘special’.

There is more arguing for development, this time in his home city of Edinburgh,  see link, but that gives a flavour.

Well, it just shows if you are making enough cash you can justify anything. RMJM of course gave Sir Fred Goodwin a well-paid job following the banking crash, of which many feel he was in part the architect.

Here's Malcom Fraser on that subject:

Goodwin’s appointment reveals little has been learnt from the crash

January 24th, 2010

The news that the disgraced former chief executive of RBS, Fred Goodwin, has been given a berth at architecture firm RMJM is strangely delicious, like hearing the school bully, who is still treated with respect by too many, has turned-up wearing a BNP badge.

RMJM are, to me, already the epitome of what the ruling business establishment wants from “architecture”. They represent architecture as pure business model, with its crafts base and ethical sense subservient to the business interests of its corporate clients and its production line outputs glammed-up by high-art marketing -– RMJM have already provided a home for architectural “terrible enfant” Will Alsop’s celebrity shape-making bling.

There was a wonderful symmetry to this RMJM/Alsop dream-teaming, and I thought it lacked nothing until I heard this. Of course! What was missing was the application of some neo-liberal financial speculation, leading to proposals for an excitingly-whacky Dubai Formula One business center in every town …

What a fine exemplar of our failure to learn from the 2008 crash, and our monumentally daft hubris over our relationship to our built environment and the world as a whole -– oh, how I tire of those who tell me that “we just need the confidence back”!

So while my heart goes out to my friends who work down the mine at RMJM, and I fear for the application of the RBS business model and the final trashing of a once-great company, I do so enjoy the brazen effrontery of it -– it’s helpful to get these things out in the open.

I’ll try not to think what might happen in the second great crash -– will I have to pay vast RIBA subscriptions to bail out Alsop’s pension.

Instead, I’ll enjoy the sight of turbo-capitalism (on stilts!) eating itself.

Malcolm Fraser is founder of the Edinburgh-based Malcolm Fraser Architects

Well, a great deal has happened in the intervening months, although the World Heritage Committee did not put St Petersburg on the In Danger list at its meeting this summer despite its strongly worded objection to the tower which is on record*.  However,  the tower had not been granted final permission at that point which could be an explanation.

There were reports in the press last week that permission has now been granted, although naturally this is not the end of the matter and the pressure on the Russian authorities to not allow the desecration of the St Petersburg World Heritage skyline is being stepped up by activists in Russia and beyond. It is rumoured that the Russian authorities are trying to have the WHS boundaries redrawn to exclude the area in which the Gazprom Tower is to be built; in or outside the boundary will not, however, prevent the skyline being spoiled, and the archaeological destruction which has already begun on the site.

 Edinburgh activists saw off the threat to the World Heritage Site skyline by the Haymarket Tower, situated outside the WH boundary, and it gives some small hope for St Petersburg.

However, although political shenanigans and planning is nothing new to Edinburgh, naturally it all pales beside the goings on in Russia.

Last week I heard from a friend in St Petersburg, and I feel this latest news deserves a wider audience. I therefore post here an edited extract from an e-mail, there is nothing quite as good as hearing from those closely involved in the struggle first-hand:

It's not all as simple and straightforward as the BD article (most of which has just been copy-pasted from Sergey Chernov's article about the rally in the St Petersburg Times) makes it seem.

Although they got one thing right: Glavgosekspertiza is "understood" to have issued the positive ruling only because  Vladimir Gronsky (the prototype for the main character in the Chto Delat film) and his PR team at the Okhta Center company immediately began braying about the decision (and well before Saturday), but as far as I know, no one at Glavgosekpertiza itself has confirmed this news.

Meanwhile, the culture minister, Avdeev, stated that if such a decision was taken, it was "technical" -- that is, it doesn't address the "political" and/our conservation aspects of the project. Avdeev again expressed his opposition to the tower in the wake of this alleged decision.

People in the anti-tower coalition are tentatively planning legal challenges against the decision because they suspect that it didn't address the historical preservation question (as, apparently, it should have).

By the way, the rally wasn't a response to the decision: it had been planned in advance, although some of the organizers suspected the decision might be issued round the same time.

The Irish Times piece... is much closer to the truth, although I suspect that their reporter doesn't understand just how close. First of all, just last week, Medvedev finally made a direct statement (i.e., not via press secretaries) that in its own roundabout way did suggest he was opposed to the tower.

But this is just a reiteration of Medvedev's previous, much more carefully mooted stance. The really interesting thing is a revelation made by Anton Glikin, a Russian-born, US-based architect (I recall he had an essay in that pamphlet on historic preservation in Petersburg that MAPS published), during a series of lectures on the topic that he gave last week in Petersburg. During the Q&A after one of the lectures, Glikin recounted a conversation he'd recently had with an unnamed architect at RMJM in London, who allegedly told Glikin that all along they've been receiving secret memoranda from Putin telling them not to worry, that the tower would be built, etc.

A reporter from the local business daily Delovoi Peterburg was there and filed this article:

Here is my translation of the relevant passages (the first three paragraphs) from this article:

"Vladimir Putin every month sends secret memoranda to the architectural firm RMJM London containing his commentary on the Okhta Center project," American architect Anton Glikin publicly announced during the architectural conference "New Architecture in the Center of Petersburg," which took place the other day in the House of the Architect in Petersburg.

According to [Glikin], he was informed about the premier's close attention to the skyscraper project by an architect at RMJM London (the designers of Okhta Center) during a recent face-to-face meeting in London. Such claims about the premier's passion for the project are especially curious in the light of Russian Federation president Dmitry Medvedev's recent statements about Okhta Center.

During the conference [...] the issues of the Okhta Center project and the architectural look of Petersburg as a whole provoked a lively discussion amongst architects and government representatives. "The Okhta Center project is being lobbied by the high authorities, and KGIOP [Municipal Committee for State Monitoring, Use and Preservation of Monuments] supports it," said Anton Glikin in yet another blunt claim. "Under the committee's leadership, a massive destruction of the urban environment is taking place."

Now  "on the record" (as opposed to in his secret memos to RMJM) Putin has stated time and again that it's up to the local authorities to decide ("in accordance with the law") whether to build the  tower or not. Not that anyone in their right mind actually believed this, however. So if you have any journalists you'd like to "leak" this to, or if you'd like to post it on your own blog or the WHC discussion board, go right ahead....

So I have. And if anyone reading this would like to know more. my e-mail is on my profile.

My friend continues:

Even without WHS, Petersburg should be protected by any number of local and federal laws, as well as federal and municipal protection agencies like ... KGIOP. Instead, the city is being destroyed, often in violation of these laws and most always with the blessing of city authorities, including KGIOP officials. So WHS is actually not a "last ditch" defense against anything at all.

This is the problem with "international law" in general. If it is to mean anything, it has to be enforceable in some sense. Or, at least, there has to be some way of punishing state parties who violate it, if only by excluding them from the bodies organized to monitor observance of these laws. Russia is hardly alone among the violators, of course, but the "constructive engagement" approach often just leads to violators' being able to maintain a veneer of respectability while continuing to engage with perfect immunity in the offensive practices back on the home front.

... By not acting more vigorously, Unesco is complicit in the destruction of Petersburg. It actually has nothing to lose by stating unequivocally that the city will be stripped of WHS if the tower is built. This would not "free the hands" of developers and corrupt bureaucrats to engage in even more destruction, because as it is they do more or less as they please.

Here are three tiny, current examples to back my case.

Yesterday, Living City and other coalition members held a rally against the planned demolition of the so-called Jurgens House, a residential building constructed in the 19th century by Emmanuel Jurgens, a very prominent and prolific architect of the period. A "developer" got hold of the building a few years ago, and as in so many other cases of this sort, they got the necessary "expertise" from the ... Tatyana Slavina Architectural Bureau (who specialize in this aiding and abetting of destruction) -- the building (of course!) was "dilapidated" and could thus be demolished to make way for a six-storey office building with underground parking. (it's no different in this country... Nem)

Journalist Sergey Chernov has a photo reportage from the rally here:

What you might find of interest among the photos there are the images of the info stands Living City set up for the event (although you won't be able to read them). One is entitled "Охранные зоны: кольцо сжимается" ("Preservation zones: the ring is closing"), which shows the effects of the new preservation laws lobbied by KGIOP and passed by the city in 2009/2010. Basically, these new laws already constitute violations of the city's WHS, and as the explanatory text notes, the WHC has allegedly rejected this attempt at "renomination" of the city (has it?) via this shrinking of the protected districts.

After the rally (held in Mayakovsky Square), the demonstrators headed to the Jurgens House itself, which you see in the final shots in Sergey's post. Yes, it looks awfully modest, but it's the hundreds and thousands of buildings like this that make Petersburg Petersburg, not just the spectacular palaces. In local parlance, they're called "rank-and-file" or "background" architecture, but you get rid of them and you get rid of Petersburg.

And as Living City makes perfectly on the text of the stand, by all rights they should be protected. But in real life they aren't.

Here is another case that typifies how the city is being destroyed while the bureaucrats stuff their wallets. This is from the blog of Dmitry Ratnikov, a journalist from the newspaper Sankt-Peterburgski vedomosti and runs the invaluable Internet-newspaper Karpovka.Ru, which is a fairly dense chronicle of news on the topic (Ratnikov often breaks stories that everyone else would have missed this way):

Here he's bringing attention to the fact that (probably illegal) mansard storeys are being built onto the Ziegel clock factory, a truly lovely (and unique) turn-of-the-century brick complex not far from our house. This sort of "mansardization," as it's called, is going on at a feverish pace in the central districts. It is a way for developers to get round the slightly thornier task of demolishing buildings to make way for new construction. However, it has become such a plague that local legislative deputy Alexei Kovalyov (one of the activists of the famous "Salvation Group" from the early perestroika period) has recently sent an official inquiry to the city administration, asking them to explain how so many permits have been issued for such construction, which in most cases also violates preservation and zoning laws.

Finally, after destruction of or "improvements" to old buildings, we have the plague of infill construction, especially in allegedly protected parks and squares. Here is a short report on TV100 about the Lopukhinsky Garden where the battle is apparently lost. One of the city's most notorious development companies, RBI, led by ...Eduard Tiktinsky (quoted on camera in the report; he once famously suggested that the problem with green spaces in the city could be solved by building "gardens" on the tops of new buildings). They somehow got hold of a big chunk of the Garden to build a high-rise hotel. Unfortunately, the resistance in the neighborhood boiled down only to several flashy public actions. It was left to the Norway-based environmental organization Bellona (which has a branch in Petersburg that became famous in the nineties when its then-director, Alexander Nikitin, was arrested for "espionage" for reporting how Russia was disposing of its scrapped nuclear subs in the Murmansk region) to file a last-minute court challenge against the project because no one else could be bothered to do it for some reason. Last week, the court ruled against Bellona. So now TV100 has presented the horror that will ensure in the garden as fait accompli.

Also at issue here is the old rowing and boating club that has its facilities on the river that runs along one edge of the park.

My point is that one could multiply these examples in four categories -- destruction of old, allegedly protected buildings; "reconstruction" (including "mansardization") of old buildings, which also violates preservation laws; infill construction in parks and squares (also mostly illegal); and construction of high-rises that violate either zoning laws per se and/or the WHS, which also protects the historic skyline -- and thus make an ironclad case against city officials without even once referencing the Okhta Center project. "Vigorous" opposition has in part crystallized round the tower only because everyone realizes that if it is allowed to be built, that will mean certain doom for the city. Which is being destroyed as it is.

Not cheering news, and for those with an interest here is news of a forthcoming conference in the UK on the subject of architectural preservation and destruction in Russia. Speakers include Dr Glikin, see above.

Global Aspiration and Pastiche Identity: Architectural Preservation in Russia

Inter-disciplinary conference, to be held at Queen Mary, University of London on 6-7 November 2010, Mile End Road, Arts G34.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, major Russian cities have been undergoing rapid development, which has led to unprecedented destruction of the architectural heritage. Owing to the practice of replacing historical buildings with modern structures built in concrete and disguised by a mock facade in historical style, the cityscape of the Russian capital increasingly looks like a theme park. This conference convenes an international group of academics and preservationists to investigate the historical context of this crisis, examine current practices, and identify opportunities for future action. It is hoped that through an inter-disciplinary dialogue, the historical roots of attitudes regarding architectural preservation in Russia can be revealed.

The conference is organized by Prof. Andreas Schnle at Queen Mary, University of London and Prof. Catriona Kelly at New College, University of Oxford.

For further information, including the conference programme, and registration, please see here:

Sponsored by New College, University of Oxford; Queen Mary, University of London; GB-Russia Society; and BASEES.

Registration by 29 October 2010.

To read more about the issues facing heritage in Russia you may be interested in two  reports published by SAVE Europe's Heritage in association with the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society (MAPS) on Moscow and Samara.

 *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.


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