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Police and protesters clash over RMJM's Gazprom tower

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’ 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.

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 protestors started a rally on the site earmarked for the tower.

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.’

Readers' comments (11)

  • And the architects are now helping to have policy changed so that more of these monsters can tower over the city. This is a World Heritage Site. Have they no shame at all?

    People everywhere in the world, for whom this site is protected by its World Heritage inscription, should be protesting. RMJM should be boycotted.

    Here is UNESCOs decision

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  • From St Petersburg

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  • Alos this by Roorty Alex

    "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."

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  • "I'd like to invite to discuss publicly the professional and ethic position of RMJM and of Mr. Kettle in this dramatic collision." "

    Mr Kettle's ethics are certainly worrying. Why is he happy to see a World Heritage Site destroyed?

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  • Mr Kettle also says, in his linked article, that 'bad' buildings are being demolished in Edinburgh (the Caltongate development) in order to make way for new.

    The buildings he describes as 'bad' are listed buildings and conservation area buildings, by repsected architects of the past. Unesco has called for them to be retained and the development redesigned. It seems that RMJM has no interest in heritage and history.

    For more see

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    Moscow Heritage at Crisis Report - 2nd Edition (2009)

    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.

    PDF link for the online version is at the bottom of the page (with photographs and more information) or here

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  • '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?

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  • 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?

    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.

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  • (The following comment was removed from this story and the Tony Kettle article. Why are comments being censored? )

    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.

    [Editor: The rest of this post has been removed due to legal reasons]

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    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:

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