From the department of silver linings comes this item from Russia: because of the financial crisis, plans for a controversial skyscraper that would have towered over St. Petersburg’s low-slung Baroque skyline have been delayed and — preservationists, architects and many residents fervently hope — may never be carried out.
The mayor of St. Petersburg has submitted an amendment to next year’s budget to cut money for the city’s first skyscraper, which was to have been financed with Gazprom, the Russian oil and gas behemoth that has itself suffered financially with the spectacular decline in energy prices.
From the start, the proposed design for the tower by the London firm RMJM drew considerable criticism, the twisting facade alternately being described as evoking a flickering gas flame or a corncob. But the principal complaint from historical preservationists was its height.
The building would soar 1,299 feet, shattering a czarist-era rule that no structure, other than a church spire, should exceed the height of the city’s centerpiece building, the former Winter Palace, now the Hermitage Museum. Before the law was changed specifically for the Gazprom project, the zoning restriction at the proposed site was 138 feet.
So contentious was the proposed height that three of four foreign architects on the selection committee resigned rather than consider any design of that sort in downtown St. Petersburg. Critics took to calling it the “Gazoskryob,” or “gas scraper.”
Critics, including Unesco and a number of prominent architects, pointed out that the site was directly across the Neva River from Smolny Cathedral, a delicate ensemble of spires and onion-dome cupolas. And they roundly panned the design itself.
“It could be a mirage, appearing over the sand,” complained Semyon I. Mikhailovsky, an architectural historian and the vice president of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Art. “It was unclear they needed it before, and now it is clearly unneeded.”