New Tower Attracts Criticism

New Tower Attracts Criticism

Published: June 17, 2011 (Issue # 1661)

The political opposition, preservationists and ecologists have voiced objection to the second incarnation of the planned Gazprom Tower even after the controversial skyscraper project was moved from the Okhta district near the city’s historic center to a remote site in Lakhta on the northwestern outskirts of St. Petersburg.

The planned skyscraper could be disastrous for migratory birds while still affecting the city’s historic skyline, opponents say. Because of the birds’ migration route, the local law forbids the construction of buildings higher than 27 meters in the area in which the site bought by Gazprom in March is located.

Last month, the Okhta Public Business Center, Gazprom’s subsidiary that is in charge of the project, announced the planned skyscraper would be even higher than the 403-meter one designed for Okhta, reaching 500 meters. The plans are to have the British architectural bureau RMJM’s original project of a spiraling glass tower reworked and extended.

On Wednesday, Okhta Public Business Center announced a public hearing on the issue of obtaining exemption from the height restrictions in the area, due on June 24.

Earlier this month, the Yabloko Democratic Party wrote a letter to St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko and Gazprom’s head Alexei Miller asking them not to violate the law and to discuss the project with the public and preservationists.

Speaking on Thursday, Yabloko’s local chair Maxim Reznik said the main objection is the planned 500-meter height.

“The height will violate the historic views, it’s obvious that it will be visible [from the city center]; there are absolutely no grounds to ask for such a height,” Reznik said.

Pyotr Zabirokhin, a coordinator with the preservationist pressure group Living City, said that the skyscraper would impinge on the city’s historic views, such as the view of the Peter and Paul Fortress when seen from Palace Embankment.

“There are no grounds given for why such a height is necessary, except for economic practicality from the point of view of Gazprom,” Zabirokhin said Thursday.

“It can be said for certain that Gazprom has once again decided to act illegally, asking for an exemption, even if it’s obvious that there can’t be an exemption from 27 meters to 500 on principle.”

Zabirokhin also stressed that independent research is needed to understand the influence of the skyscraper on the city’s historic skyline.

The Okhta Center commissioned two research institutes to assess the building’s visibility from the center. Both came to the conclusion that the planned skyscraper will not affect the city’s protected skyline, the company’s press officer Tatyana Yuryeva said in an email.

“Research has shown that the shape of a tall building can be seen from some panoramas, but due to the distance of more than 9 kilometers, the silhouette of the building will not stand out among the steeples of the city’s recognized landmarks that make up the city panorama,” Yuryeva wrote on Thursday.

Unlike the Okhta site, Lakhta is on a bird migration route, and environmentalists say the planned skyscraper could prove disastrous for birds.

Sergei Rezvy, a senior lecturer with the Biology and Soil Science Faculty of St. Petersburg State University and an ornithology expert with the Baltic Fund for Nature of the St. Petersburg Naturalists Society, said that the issue is complex and requires thorough examination.

Migrating birds fly at a height of several dozens of meters to seven or eight kilometers, but most fly at a range of between 100 and 400 meters, Rezvy said.

“On the one hand, there are thousands of such structures built around the world, but, on the other hand, in this corner of the Gulf of Finland, the migration stream is quite intensive, which makes this place different from others,” he said.

Rezvy said research needs to be conducted to estimate possible harm.

“There are certain weather situations, such as low cloud, when hundreds and thousands of birds could fly into the tower in just one day.”

Rezvy said that the danger is aggravated by the fact that the building is planned to be glass-plated.

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