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Okhta-Centre: Pro Et Contra
November 15, 2010 18:40

Okhta-centre is a business centre in St. Petersburg , existing yet as a project of Gazprom Group and city government. It will include the first supertall skyscraper in the city. The main tower of Okhta Centre is going to be the tallest building in Europe amongst live building proposals. The project mission is to create a new public and business area, moreover, with its its own specific recognizable element. It will be actually this high rise building, supposed to become one of the landmarks of a new Petersburg. The project implies the construction of six buildings united with a common base floor.

The public and business area Okhta Center will be located outside the historic part of Saint Petersburg, in the area with industrial buildings of the Soviet epoch (former Petrozavod plant), distinct to the right bank of the river Neva. The project provides for the whole set of events on ecologic rehabilitation of the territory of Malaya Okhta and the river Okhta. The completion of the construction of a new architectural landmark Okhta Center is planned by 2012. The whole complex by 2016

An architectural competition had been carried out in 2006, and well-known British architectural firm RMJM London Ltd. was chosen for building the Gazprom-city, renamed then into Okhta-centre by a committee consisting of four foreign architects (in fact, three of the four architects, namely Norman Foster, Rafael Viñoly and Kisho Kurokawa, have retired from the jury before it convened, opposing all of the shortlisted designs because new building would effect city silhouette aggressively), four representatives of the St. Petersburg City Administration, including Matvienko herself, representatives of Gazprom and others. The core design team includes British architect Tony Kettle, Chief Architectural Designer Charles Phu, Russian architect Philip Nikandrov, and Roger Whiteman. In 2008, Arabtec, the construction company involved in construction of the world’s tallest building in Dubai, has won a contract to build this 60 billion-ruble ($2.56 billion) complex.

So, that is a short representation. Everything looks rather good. But things are not not so simple. The project has met strong resistance of general public and cultural professionals as one spoiling the historical look of St. Petersburg.

First of all, a few leading architects (Norman Foster, Rafael Viñoly and Kisho Kurokawa) have already expressed themselves, having retired from the competition jury. After that in 2008, Chris Wilkinson, head of Wilkinson Eyre Architect, said in an interview to REGNUM correspondent that he believed contemporary architecture was delicate. According to Wilkinson, it is necessary to save architectural heritage of the past as much as possible. What about Okhta-Centre, everything depends of the distance from the historical building system: the farther the better.

The Russian architects said their word as well. Union of Architects has organized a photo exhibition called "Sky scraper out of law": photo montages represented there demonstrated the way how Okhta-Centre tower spoils historical sights of the city.

Representatives of UNESCO also didn't like the project and even expressed readiness to include St. Petersburg into black list of world heritage, list of objects in danger. They recommended to stop realization this project and look for alternatives.

Among the organizations, protesting against Okhta-centre is Zhivoy Gorod (Alive City), headed by Julia Minutina. They have called exclusion of constructing this complex in the close vicinity from the historical centre of the city one of their main goals.

Among the politicians and people of culture expressed their different opinions are St. Petersburg governor Valentina Matvienko, president and prime minister, director of Hermitage Michail Piotrovsky, Valery Gergiev and Galina Vishnevskaya.

Valentina Matvienko has called constructing Okhta-Centre one of those great ideas looking first crazy. She said she doesn not know how to live in the city absolutely conserved. According to Matvienko, the better idea is saving heritage of the past with progress. St. Petersburg governor believes that a pair critical points won't spoil the city sight. Moreover, the complex itself is believed to be very valuable one from the architectural point of view. Matvienko has recently offered to Julia Minutina, leader of Zhivoy Gorog to take part in the resolving contradictions of Okhta-Centre by taking up a post of vice-president Committee on State Control Use and Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks.

Mikhail Piotrovsky said that sky scraper among historical buildings would look brassily. Director of Hermitage believes that St. Petersburg really needs Downtown, but outside the historical centre, like La Defense in Paris. The problem, however, is that Okhta-Centre is outside historical centre, but its tower is tall enough to be seen from almost everywhere.

Valery Gergiev, world-famous conductor and Director of Mariinsky Theatre has called this "Architecture of the Future". He told that Mariinsky Theatre is going to have a new building like this. Our city would be a great architecture of 21th century, if we don't penetrate into the Old St. Petersburg, Valery Gergiev said.

Opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya expressed herself in the similar way: if the complex is to be built outside the historical centre with historical buildings, on the outskirts, so why not?

All in all, everything is not so simple. But the sums money invested into Okhta-Centre are so large, that the project seems to be incorporated, if it spoils sights of St. Petersburg or not.

Tags: St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre    

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