Public Heckles Skyscraper Architect

Public Heckles Skyscraper Architect

The architect said he was not aware that he was violating Russian or international laws.

Published: June 29, 2011 (Issue # 1663)

Tony Kettle, an architect with British RMJM — the firm behind the design for the controversial Gazprom tower — had to cut his presentation short amid shouts of “Shame on you,” “Time’s up!” “Go home!” and other hostile reactions from the planned skyscraper’s opponents at a public hearing in St. Petersburg on Friday.

Kettle, RMJM’s design principal for the European studio and the skyscraper’s architect, arrived in person to present and defend the much-criticized high-rise project, which was moved from the Okhta area after years of public outcry, protests from UNESCO and the Russian Culture Ministry.

Although Gazprom has moved the planned skyscraper to a far more remote location on the shore of the Gulf of Finland in Lakhta, in northwestern St. Petersburg, the project has continued to cause controversy.

Local legislation sets the height limit for construction in the area at 27 meters because of birds’ migration routes, but Okhta Public Business Center, the Gazprom subsidiary responsible for the project, has announced plans to build a building that would be even taller than the 403-meter structure originally planned for Okhta.

In Lakhta, the subsidiary now plans to build a tower of 500 meters, which is 18.5 times higher than the maximum allowed in the area.

The company held the public hearing as a step in obtaining exemption from the law limiting the height. Gazprom insists that economically, the building of lower buildings is not feasible in the area because of the plot’s configuration. Opponents point out that the company freely chose the plot and could find another location where it would not be subject to height limitations.

They were not impressed by the promotional film shown to demonstrate that the city’s UNESCO-protected historic views would only be marginally affected by the structure, describing the 3-D model as “misleading.” In addition, the captions on the video said that the calculations were made for a building with a height of 472 meters, rather than the planned 500.

The Okhta Center’s representatives said that although detailed research and expert evaluations were yet to be carried out, the company had nevertheless begun the process of applying for an exemption from the height regulations.

Kettle, who was attending a public hearing for the project for the first time, said that the new location presented a “huge opportunity to do something really special,” describing his firm’s project as a “new piece of architecture worthy of the city.”

Kettle said that the inspiration for the skyscraper came from the spires of the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Admiralty. He argued that the city’s protected skyline has already been affected by the 310-meter-tall television tower, built in 1962.

When Kettle said that his tower would be “a new dominant worthy of the city,” a woman from the audience shouted back, “We already have a dominant — the Peter and Paul Angel.”

Kettle made a comparison between the newly-designed base of the planned skyscraper and the stone beneath the Bronze Horseman, simultaneously demonstrating a projection of the historic monument on the screen. This elicited a burst of laughter from the audience.

Kettle stopped after about 25 minutes amid shouts from the audience that his speech was not relevant to the subject of the public hearing — the exemption from the height regulations — and after a district administration official who was moderating the hearing asked him to sum up.

During the session of questions and remarks from the public that followed the speeches, Yelena Malysheva, an activist with the anti-skyscraper preservationist organization Okhtinskaya Duga confronted Kettle with a question, asking whether he knew that he was violating both Russian and international laws.

“I am not aware of that,” Kettle replied.

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