The St. Petersburg Times
November 20, 2009
TV Campaign Against Gazprom Tower Mounts
By Sergey Chernov
The controversial Gazprom Tower found itself under harsh attack last week on Russia’s main state television, Channel One, for the third time in the past four weeks — and its supporters struggled to offer any good reason to back the 403-meter-tall skyscraper in close proximity to the city center.
First slammed by the Kremlin-controlled channel in its primetime weekly news roundup on Oct. 18, the Okhta Center, as the building is officially known, was derided in the comedy show “Prozhektorperiskhilton” (Paris Hilton’s Spotlight) a week later, and last week became the subject of “Sudite Sami” (Judge for Yourself), a political talk show hosted by Maxim Shevchenko.
This time Okhta Center representatives — communications director Vladimir Gronsky and the project’s chief architect Filipp Nikandrov of the British firm RMJM — were given a chance to present their case for the skyscraper, which is planned to house state energy giant Gazprom’s headquarters and was described by Bloomberg News critic Colin Amery as “just another global corporate monolith — banal, dull and inappropriate.”
The unsuspecting Okhta Center team, which enjoys full administrative support in St. Petersburg, arrived at the studio to discover that the show was to be called “The Tower Against the City.” They were then refused the opportunity to show their presentation of the project, and were instead confronted with a barrage of questions — including ones they had ignored or mocked during the heavily policed public hearings held in St. Petersburg.
With no backing from City Hall, OMON special-task police or menacing individuals scattered around the room pushing and kicking opponents, as there were at the public hearings, the Okhta Center’s representatives appeared helpless and confused.
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“During the past 80 years, no architectural masterpieces have been created in the city,” said Nikandrov, following one of the lines of the Okhta Center’s publicity campaign, to which the presenter Shevchenko asked whether Nikandrov considered the project to be a “masterpiece.”
“I think that this tower is a masterpiece,” Nikandrov replied.
Professionally, Nikandrov’s reasoning was confronted by Andrei Bokov, president of the Russian Union of Architects, who gave examples of Soviet architecture in St. Petersburg.
“I don’t know you, and I am shocked that a man whom I, the president of the Union of Architects, see for the first time, has taken responsibility for such a complex undertaking,” Bokov said.
“This project is naive and aggressive; it is dull, it is archaic. Chinese cities are being built with buildings that are vastly more interesting and better than what you are offering. Your brains haven’t been turned on.”
Advocates of the tower who were present in the studio struggled to come up with good reasons to support the project. The arguments they made frequently sounded eccentric.
Film director Vladimir Bortko claimed that the tower would be an “adornment” to St. Petersburg. When Grigory Revzin, Kommersant’s architecture critic, asked him to specify with what it would adorn St. Petersburg, Bortko replied, “With beauty!”
“You mean there’s no beauty [in St. Petersburg]? Not enough?” Revzin asked.
“Not enough,” Bortko responded.
Boris Nadezhdin, one of the leaders of the pro-Kremlin “liberal” party Pravoye Delo, touched on the political meaning of the tower, implying that it would symbolize the growing power of Russia.
“This tower is a symbol that Russia is rising from its knees, among other things,” he said.
“In clear weather it should be visible from the NATO Headquarters in Brussels!”
Gronsky applauded his own remarks, as if giving a sign to the pro-tower rent-a-crowd used at hearings in the past two years, but there was no rent-a-crowd to back him among the show’s audience.
At one point during the 45-minute show, film director Bortko, who appeared to be verging on hysteria for most of the program, rushed out of the studio, failed to find the exit and circled the speakers again before managing to leave.
Summing up the debates, Valery Fadeyev, editor of Expert magazine, said that the planned tower should be thoroughly discussed on a national level.
“We should return to the first phase of this project,” he said.
“The project has now gone outside of St. Petersburg. This problem has become national.”
The national uproar and Channel One’s campaign against the tower began after City Governor Matviyenko signed a decree exempting the Okhta Center from the height regulation law on Oct. 6. Some media suggested a rift in the Kremlin over the project and even took it as a sign that the project may soon be cancelled by the Russian authorities.
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