Saint Petersburg: Dialogue About Architecture

07.10.12 Larisa Tsvetkova:
“Ohta Center is a new area of Saint Petersburg integrating
 functions of a business center and a cultural complex with a high tourist draw. Ohta Center will entirely change the image of the former Soviet industrial area and will be a new dimension of the development of Saint Petersburg outside its historic part.
Ohta Center pursues a principally new approach of shaping urban environment by maintaining an optimal balance between business and public spaces. Approx. 65% of the area will be occupied by the offices of the world level, 35% free public facilities: a museum of modern art, an observation deck, a theater and concert hall, a stadium, a sports facility, and parks…”


This project of the first skyscraper was the first big sensation for the old city that had never known modern architecture before. The Gasprom Company wanted to make big investments in Saint-Petersburg and 
build a very modern business center, so they start the competition, invite architects from abroad, and there it was – a new project of a tower on the river bank! So now we had everything: the site, the project, the money. In this case, it should be the time to start the construction…
But instead the discussi


on started. The tower is much higher than it is allowed for buildings in the area, so who does allow to break the law? Will it destroy the historical panorama of the city? Does the government agree? Do the citizens agree? Etc, etc…
It was discussed for months if the project is good or bad, and nobody could ever come to an agreement. This was the problem without a solution, because no one ever asked why. All the city was discussing qualities of the building that is presented on colorful pictures, but nobody was talking about any reason why the building should be constructed. There was neither analysis nor plan, and therefore no good reason for it to be built and no real benefit for the city that it could bring, except its existence itself. 
The numerous pictures and texts look more like advertisement rather than a project. They could never really bring enough information. On the official website they promised to give the new future for the area by adding more offices and some public facilities that shopping centers usually have. It is a big question if people there need more offices in the area. Nobody asked them and nobody analysed that. Besides that, there was no information about functional and spatial connections within the area and with the other parts of the city, and no solution for the traffic situation which is already very bad. And another question is: why skyscraper, actually? We do have enough free square meters in the area, so there should be a good reason for such a radical proposal. Or is it just a scaled up business card for Gasprom?..
The situation illustrates the main problem both in Russian education and working practice – not only they ignore modern thoughtful approach to architecture and planning, but also they don’t even know that it can be used. Until people at least know about modern ways of working and start asking “why”, Russian architecture will stay in the 20th century without any movement. The following pictures demonstrate the level of discussion about the topic.


The project was cancelled in December 2010. 

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