When [the con man] Ostap Bender [in Ilf & Petrov’s Twelve Chairs] paints for the citizens of Vasyuki a mental picture of their future prosperity, his second selling point is architecture: “Hotels and skyscrapers to accommodate the visitors.” In the provincial mindset of the nineteen-twenties, skyscrapers were understood as an obligatory condition for turning a city into a “world center.” It is this archetype that is now being realized in Petersburg in the early twenty-first century.
From the Architectural Firm of Ilf & Petrov
“Dazzling vistas unfolded before the Vasyuki chess enthusiasts. The walls of the room melted away. The rotting walls of the stud farm collapsed and in their place a thirty-storey chess palace towered into the sky. Every hall, every room, and even the lightning-fast lifts were full of people thoughtfully playing chess on malachite-encrusted boards. Marble steps led down to the blue Volga. Oceangoing steamers were moored on the river.”
All we have to do is replace the “thirty-storey chess palace” with a ninety-storey skyscraper [Gazprom’s Okhta Center], the Volga with the Neva (the 400-meter folly just has to stand right on the bank of the Neva, not somewhere in the interior), chess with hydrocarbons, and the “rotting walls of the stud farms” with “hazardous” buildings, slated for demolition in accordance with 150-point lists prepared by city officials, and the entire picture painted by Ostap is restored right down to the last detail. Vasyuki becomes New Moscow, and Petersburg, Saint Shepetovka. [Shepetovka, in western Ukraine, is the birthplace of Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko.]
There are mental stereotypes that exist independently of expediency and logic, and it is these stereotypes that guide the reconstruction of Petersburg—in particular, the doctrinaire propagation of skyscrapers. The proposed new building height statute, which fully corresponds to the Saint Shepetovka mindset, is meant to further this project. This is the logic that [Matviyenko’s] “Saint Shepetovka dream team” inhabits. The dream team takes it as an article of faith that it is impossible to develop the city without the total demolition of old buildings and the erection of skyscrapers. The decisive battle for the transformation of decrepit, dilapidated Petersburg into Saint Shepetovka has been scheduled for 2008. Continue reading “Mikhail Zolotonosov: Saint Shepetovka”