Don’t Protest Here

miting
Petersburg historic preservationists gathering for a “sanctioned” protest near the Sports and Concert Complex (SKK), a late-Soviet era landmark in southern Petersburg that recently collapsed while being illegally dismantled, killing one worker. Photo by Sergei Yermokhin. Courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg

Don’t Rally Here: It Will Be More Difficult for Petersburg’s Historic Preservationists to Protest
Svyatoslav Afonkin
Delovoi Peterburg
March 11, 2020

The Petersburg Legislative Assembly is amending the city’s law on protest rallies. The rules for holding protests have become more complicated, especially for historic preservationists.

The city parliament passed in the second reading a new redaction of the law on protest rallies. Thanks to amendments introduced by the parliamentary majority, the minimum number of “Hyde Parks” [locations where it is legal to have public protests] has been reduced from eight, as stipulated in the first redaction of the draft law, to four. Moreover, the parliament’s legislative committee added another restriction: a ban on public events outside dilapidated buildings in danger of collapsing.

Several sites designated as “dangerous” have inflamed the passions of historic preservationists in recent months. The roof on the Petersburg Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) was deemed dangerous. The Basevich tenement building on the Petrograd Side, which has been threatened with demolition, is also considered dangerous. Protest rallies have recently taken place on more than one occasion at both sites. The resettled houses on Telezhnaya Street, which the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] wants to sell, have also been the focus of public attention once again.

Drone footage of the collapse of the Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) in Petersburg in January 2020. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Alexei Kovalyov, leader of the Just Russia faction in the legislative assembly and deputy chair of its commission on municipal facilities, urban planning, and land issues, argues that new language in the bill appeared for a reason.

“Of course this will be an obstacle for historic preservationists. Our faction opposed these cretinous amendments. There is no doubt that this is why the new norm was introduced. It was done deliberately,” Kovalyov told DP.

Anna Kapitonova, a member of the presidium of the Petersburg branch of VOOPIiK [Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Landmarks], noted that the amendments could make life more difficult for protest organizers: small protest rallies, such as a series of solo pickets, sometimes take place right on the sidewalks, after all. According to Kapitonova, the authorities were also able earlier to prevent even solo pickets on the pretext that scheduled maintenance or construction work was taking place nearby.

“Last year, I held a solo picket at the entrance to the Smolny. After a while, an official with the law enforcement committee came out of the building. Although the Smolny is hardly a dangerous site, scheduled maintenance of the facade was underway over fifty meters from my picket. But the official told me it was dangerous for me to be there, and asked me to move away,” Kapitonova said.

Denis Chetyrbok, head of the legislative assembly’s legislative committee, told DP that the amendments were introduced in connection with a Constitutional Court ruling, and parliamentarians had no other motives.

“If there is a dangerous building that might collapse located next to the place indicated in the [protest rally] application, then it will be difficult to secure approval for a public event,” Chetyrbok confirmed.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Cabbies Left While the Cossacks Stayed: Rostov-on-Don on the Eve of the World Cup

rostov arena-2Rostov Arena. Photo courtesy of ftbl.ru

The Cabbies Left, The Cossacks Stayed
Gleb Golod
Takie Dela
June 8, 2018

The banks of the Don River in Rostov were always quite different. The right bank was landscaped, featuring bars and restaurants suited to every taste, singing fountains, and amusements. The left bank featured a wild beach chockablock with sand and trees. It was a favorite spot for picnickers and outdoor shish kebab cookouts. People used to swim there until the Don was completely polluted.

The new Rostov Arena has been built on the the left bank. Nine months and 913 million rubles [approx. 123 million euros] turned the wild beach into a landscaped park and river embankment. All that is left of the levberdon, as Rostovians call it, is a pier that extends nearly to the middle of the mighty river.  Over the long years it has been there, it has rusted, and there are holes in its covering here and there. The locals loved it, however. In the evenings, you would always find a couple in love, a photographer and his model, a small group of friends, and an old fisherman who had good luck catching herring in the middle of the Don.

Since May 1, when the park on the left bank officially opened, it has been standing room only on the pier. Locals stroll there with their children, joined by the foreigners who have arrived earlier in Rostov-on-Don. Someone worried about safety decided to limit the number of people on the pier and welded an iron grille to the entrance, but this has not stopped the flood of visitors. Cyclists toss their bikes over it, men help their female companions climb over it, and parents ferry their children from one side of the grille to the other.

Every half hour, an improvised river taxi docks alongside the pier. It charges adults 500 rubles for a ride. Children sail for free.

“Business? What business? The main thing we sell are emotions. River cruises are soothing. Adults can relax while the kids doze,” a man in a sailor’s hat and striped shirt advertises a short cruise on the Don while docking at the pier.

“Business has been good, of course, since so many people started coming here,” he admits. “I would give the embankment a ‘C’ for now. There is not much in the way of infrastructure or development. We’ll see how it looks a year from now.”

The boat pilot does not waste any time. He has struck up a conversation with a young boy, whom he has given a tennis ball. The boy persuades his parents to go for a ride on the boat. They quickly give in. The vessel weighs anchor and speeds off toward the other shore.

The Stadium and the Park
The boat pilot gave the new park a “C,” but the locals like the new sports facilities and playgrounds, and the fact the park is well maintained. But it lacks trees, many of which were cut down during the beautification.

“There is a lot of exercise equipment, and the air is fresh, but I probably won’t be coming here in the summer. There are few trees and little shade. But you know what the heat is like here in July. You could kick the bucket,” says a young woman in workout gear.

The local are not imagining things. There really are many fewer trees. The park was built without consideration of the place’s specific features. Consequently, the “city’s green shield” was left with huge gaps in it, says Alexander Vodyanik, environmentalist and assistant secretary of the Russian Public Chamber.

The “wild” green area on the left bank, which stretched all the way to Bataysk, a suburb of Rostov-on-Don, moistened the winds sweeping in from the Kalmyk steppes, winds that are especially palpable in the spring. It was the primary source of fresh air, supplying it just as ably as a forest, says Vodyanik. The place had to be beautified, but a completely different park should have been built, a wetlands park.

“Historically, this place functioned as a city beach, and it should have been turned into a city beach. People swim at a beach, but the Don has been so badly polluted for so long that swimming was definitely off limits in this part. In that case, swimming pools could have been set up while simultaneously purifying the water. This has been done in Germany on the Rhine, which is much dirtier than the Don, and the project has been a success,” says Vodyankik. “But a park was built here instead. An instant lawn, which has already gone bad, was rolled out. Eighty percent of the poplars were cut down. We had problems with our woodlands as it was, but they were damaged even further.”

The so-called Tourist Police are identified as such on the armbands they wear. A female student from Namibia leads a tour for her friends, who have arrived to enroll at the Don State Technical University. A young man named Aman hopes to get a ticket to the match between Brazil and Switzerland. If it does not work out, however, he will just go for a stroll around the city.

“I really like it here. The city is pretty and has an interesting history. Things are good, the park is good. Everything is terrific and cozy,” he says in English. “By the way, could you tell me where the stadium is? All the signs are in Russian, which I don’t actually understand.”

Rostov Arena was built at a distance from residential areas, so loud fans will not bother locals even on match days. The stadium is accessible by bus and taxi. True, fans will have to walk the last 500 meters to the turnstiles. This decision was made for security reasons.

Cabbies Leave the Fan Zone
Specially accredited taxi drivers will ferry fans from the left bank to the right bank and the fan zone on Theater Square. The most popular taxi services in Rostov-on-Don, Uber and Leader, accessible on the Rutaxi app, will not be working during the World Cup because they are not officially registered as commercial transport services.

Among the major cab companies, Yandex Taxi and Taxi 306 have been accredited to work during the World Cup. Roman Glushchenko, executive director of Taxi 306, told us  a total of 500 cars had been accredited in Rostov-on-Don, but he refused to discuss whether that would be enough cars to handle all comers.

According to gypsy cab driver Leonid, around 150 drivers of the ten thousand drivers affiliated with the company 2-306-306 have been accredited. Cabbies like Leonid mainly work for themselves rather than licensed carriers, which are practically nonexistent in the city, he explains. The gypsy cabbies use Yandex, Uber, Gett, and Leader as dispatchers, either directly or through small intermediary firms. So, when the issue of accreditation for the World Cup arose, it was a problem for drivers, who had to obtain permits, sign a contract with a licensed carrier, and paint their cars yellow or white. The Rostov Regional Transport Ministry issued the full list of requirements for accreditation.

“I’m not going to lift a finger to get accreditation,” Leonid admits. “Why should I give myself a headache by getting permits that would mean I would start making a loss? Licensed cars must be stickered with the taxi company’s ID tag. I don’t want to have this for a number of reasons. I would also have to register as an independent entrepreneur, get a license from the Transport Ministry, which was free until this year, and insure my cab, although premiums are higher than usual. And that’s over and above the 25% cut I give to Yandex. I know lots of gypsy cabbies. Not a single one of them has bothered to get accreditation. It’s just bad business for them.”

To prevent the few accredited taxis from jacking up rates for Rostovians and fans, the Transport Ministry has established a single rate for the entire World Cup.

Leonid plans to spend the World Cup in Sochi. He says the transport system there is better, applying for a license is easier, and the city is generally better prepared after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Who wants to sit in traffic jams driving back and forth to the stadium?” he grumbles.

Although the World Cup lasts only four weeks, Theater Square, which will house a fan zone that can accommodate 22,000 fans, was closed to car traffic and public transport on May 13 and will remain closed until July 21. In the mornings and evenings, buses are already stuck in traffic on Sholokhov Avenue. When the World Cup kicks off, share taxis (marshrutki) will be removed from Red Army Street. Officials have promised they will be replaced with new buses.

There are plans to show all the matches on giant screens, organize entertainment for fans, and open food courts on Theater Square. The fan zone is a few hundred meters from the ruins of an entire residential neighborhood, destroyed by fire last year.

The square itself is home of the Gorky Drama Theater, hence the square’s name. It is one of two Russian buildings whose models are exhibited in the Museum of Architecture in London. (The other is St. Basil’s Cathedral.) The late constructivist landmark resembles a stylized caterpillar tractor. Corbusier called it a “gem of Soviet architecture.” Unfortunately, the fan will not be able to see it. The theater could not be cleaned up in time for the World Cup and has been draped with several banners.

Rostov-on-Don-Maxim-Gorky-Drama-TheatreThe Maxim Gorky Drama Theater in Rostov-on-Don. Postcard image courtesy of Colnect

Painted Residents Greet Cossacks
The authorities promised to repair and reconstruct many historic buildings and entire streets in preparation for the 2018 World Cup, but with a few weeks left before the championship, it was clear they would run out time.

Residents of Stanislavsky Street, in the downtown, recount how workers have been laboring outside their houses round the clock, trying to finish their work not by June 1, as city officials had promised, but at least by June 14, when the World Cup kicks off. When you are in a hurry, mistakes are inevitable: a female pensioner was unable to exit her building because the door was blocked by paving slabs. Other houses wound up a meter lower than the newly beautified street, and residents have had to jury-rig stairways to the pavements.

Around fifty buildings in Rostov-on-Don’s historic center have been hung with giant photographs of the buildings or World Cup banners because they could not be repaired in time. Among them is the famous house of Baron Wrangel, where the leader of the Whites during the Russian Civil War spent his childhood and youth. The house is a neoclassical architectural landmark. The mansion was nationalized during the Soviet period and turned into a kindergarten. The kindergarten shut down in the nineties, and the building was abandoned. Over the years, it has become quite dilapidated and has been repeatedly vandalized, so it looks hideous.

But when only a few months remained until the World Cup, no one had any brighter idea than to drape the landmark with a picture.

2010_04_24_domvrangelyaThe Wrangel House in Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of RostovNews.Net

The Rostov branch of the Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks (VOOPIK) tried to persuade city officials a dilapidated Wrangel House would look better than a picture emblazoned on a tarp. They circulated a petition and sent a letter to Governor Vasily Golubev, all to no avail.

“We got a reply less than half a page long. It acknowledged receipt of our letter, but there had been an onsite meeting of a commission chaired by Deputy Governor Sergei Sidash. On the basis of arguments made by commission members, they had decided to drape it in banners,” says Alexander Kozhin, head of VOOPIK’s Rostov branch.

800px-Гостиница__Московская_The Moscow Hotel, in downtown Rostov-on-Don, before the 2007 fire. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The same plight befell the Moscow Hotel, a nineteenth-century eclecticist building. In 2007, it was badly damaged in a fire and has been awaiting reconstruction ever since. The dilapidated Gorky Library (originally the Sagiyev Family Tenement House, an Art Nouveau landmark) is covered in scaffolding. It has been decided to demolish the Pavlenkova Tenement House, on long-suffering Stanislavsky Street, altogether.

sar-htosThe Sagiyev Family Tenement House aka the Gorky Library, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of voopiik-don.ru

 

1526621588_pavlenkovoyThe ruins of the Pavlenkova Tenement House, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of Rostov.ru

A few weeks before the start of the World Cup, images of a building on Sholokhov Avenue appeared in the news and social media. Happy residents peered from the windows: a fiddler holding his instrument, an artist at an easel, a girl blowing soap bubbles, a football fan wearing a Spartak FC scarf, and patriots with the Russian tricolor draped on their backs. The balconies are adorned with balloons and potted plants.

All of them were painted images on yet another banner covering up unfinished repairs.

The upcoming championship has not changed the life of Rostov-on-Don’s real residents all that much. Schoolchildren and university students started and finished their final exams earlier, so schools and universities would be closed when the World Cup kicked off. The old airport was shut down, replaced by the new Platov Airport outside the city. All political rallies and marches have been prohibited during the World Cup.

The police will not be alone in enforcing this and other prohibitions. In early May, Don Cossacks in Rostov announced that three hundred Cossacks, included mounted Cossacks, would be keeping the peace on the streets as “volunteers.” They have assured the public that, at their own behest, they would not engage in violence and would leave their whips at home. If the police, however, are breaking up a fight, the Cossacks will back them up. The volunteers in papakha hats will pay particular attention to LGBT fans.

TASS_1044980_673“Cossacks.” Photo courtesy of Russia Beyond

“If two men kiss at the World Cup, we will tell the police to check them out,” they said.

The first World Cup match in Rostov-on-Don kicks off on June 17. A total of five matches will be played on the left bank of the Don: four matches in the group stage and one match in the round of sixteen.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Subtle Art of Vanganizing

Human languages are amazing things. In English, for example, it is relatively easy to change a word’s part of speech simply by using it as a different part of speech. So, we can wonder (verb) when I will publish something really worthy of wonder (noun) on this blog.

Since Russian, on the other hand, is a so-called synthetic language (i.e., a language whose nouns, verbs, adjectives, and pronoun are fully declined and conjugated) you have to do a bit of prestidigitation to turn, say, a noun into a verb. The easiest (though by no means the only) way to do this is to add the verbalizing suffix -ovat’ to the noun or other part of speech in question.

One of my favorite such newfangled verbs is vangovat’, which means “to predict, to prophesy.” It has a heavily ironic connotation, since it was formed from the familiarized Christian name of the blind Bulgarian mystic and clairvoyant Vangelia Gushterova, née Dimitrova (1911–1996), more popularly known as Baba Vanga or Grandmother Vanga.

Despite having passed away over twenty years ago, Baba Vanga and her prophecies are still extraordinarily popular amongst Russians who go in for a what an old friend once referred to as “spooky knowledge,” while she is an object of ridicule amongst sane Russians. I have no evidence to prove it, but I take it that it was a member of the latter group who coined the verb vangovat’, which we will translate as “to vanganize.”

I thought of the verb this morning as I was perusing the electronic edition of one of Russia’s most respectable newspapers, the liberal business daily Vedomosti. Today’s edition features a gallery of photos of the stadiums in major Russian cities that will host the 2018 World Cup later this year.

An innocent enough feature, you would think, before I realized that Vedomosti‘s caption writer might have engaged in some full-blown vanganizing, to wit:

default-1d86“The arena in St. Petersburg is meant for 67,000 spectators. Here, the Russian team will play one match in the group stage and will get through the semifinals.” Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Yegorov/Vedomosti

But maybe not. The original caption (“Арена в Петербурге рассчитана на 67 000 зрителей. Здесь сборная России сыграет один из матчей группового этапа и пройдет полуфинал”) could also be translated as follows: “The arena in St. Petersburg is designed for 67,000 spectators. Here, the Russian team will play one match in the group stage, and the semifinals will take place.” That is, with or (probably) without the Russian team.

Whatever the case, the so-called Zenit Arena, situated on the western tip of Krestovsky Island, has been like a bad Baba Vanga prophecy from the very start. First of all, to make way for its eventual construction, the old Kirov Stadium, a lovely immense thing designed by the great constructivist architect Alexander Nikolsky, a grand oval open to the sky, the sea, the sun, and all the elements, and surrounded by a beautiful park, was demolished in 2006. Quite illegally, I might add, because it was a federally listed historical and architectural landmark.

IMG_2019

The Kirov Stadium in the summer of 2006, when it briefly served as the site of a sparsely attended alterglobalist counterforum, organized in response to a G8 summit, hosted by President Putin in the far south of the city, in the newly restored Constantine Palace in the suburb of Strelna. Enclosing the alterglobalists in the already condemned Kirov Stadium was a brilliant move on the part of local authorities, who thus invisibilized the entire event and made it nearly inaccessible to the general public. Although a subway station has been planned for the new stadium, it was not in operation in 2006 and probably will not be online in time for the World Cup, either. Photo by the Russian Reader

Since then, the project to construct the new stadium has been a raucous debacle, involving endless delays and extreme cost overruns; the employment of North Korean slave laborers, one of whom was killed on the job; the multiple firings and hirings of general contractors and subcontractors; and numerous revelations of newly discovered structural defects.

The construction of Zenit Arena has also been part of the general uglification and rampant redevelopment of the so-called Islands, a series of parklands situated on several smallish islands in Petersburg’s far north. It now seems that city officials and developers thought all those parks and all that greenspace were taking up too much valuable potential real estate and pumping too much oxygen into the atmosphere, because in recent years they have gone after the Islands and their environs with a vengeance.

Zenit Arena, the Western High-Speed Diameter (ZSD), and Gazprom’s Lakhta Center skyscraper are merely the most visible aspects of this mad greedfest, its crowning jewels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGazprom’s Lakhta Centre skyscraper, under construction, as seen in April 2017 from another site of urban planning greed and madness, a nearly 500-hectare “reclaimed” island plopped in the Neva Bay immediately west of Vasilyevsky Island. The new island, which remains nameless, will eventually be built up with high-rise apartment blocks. Local residents vigorously protested the land reclamation project in the planning stages, but the authorities roundly ignored them. Photo by the Russian Reader

Getting back to my original topic, I think the Vedomosti captioner might have been taking the piss out of readers, after all. Here is another photo and caption in the series:

default-1huy

“The stadium in Yekaterinburg is a cultural heritage site. Part of the historical façade has remained after the reconstruction.” Photo courtesy of Sport Engineering Federal Unitary Enterprise

When I slipped this photograph onto my desktop, the filename caught my eye: “default-1huy.jpg.” I took this to mean that someone at Vedomosti was not terribly impressed with Yekaterinburg’s blatantly criminal attempt at “historical preservation” and decided to tag it with one of the most powerful cursewords in a language positively crawling with them. But since this a family-oriented, Christian-values website, I will let the experts explain the particulars.

Like the Sochi Olympics, I vanganize that the 2018 World Cup will be an unmitigated disaster for any and all locals who do not manage to escape the vicinity of the venues in time. I would also vanganize that the World Cup has already been a disaster for cities such as Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, which had venerable, heritage-listed stadiums put to death for the purpose, but I don’t think you can vanganize retroactively. TRR

Quarenghi in the Concrete Jungle

Quarenghi in the Four Fools District
Natalia Vvedenskaya
Gradozaschitnyi Peterburg
October 13, 2017

I have lived nearly all my life in a neighborhood built in the mid 1980s and nicknamed by locals the “four fools district” in honor of the street names: Mentors Avenue, Shock Workers Avenue, Pacesetters Avenue, and Enthusiasts Avenue. The neighborhood is populated with late-Soviet cookie-cutter buildings: a block of 16- and 14-storey residential buildings, a supermarket, school, and kindergarten, following by another block of identical residential buildings, a post office, medical clinic, an identical supermarket, and identical school.

But sometimes you encounter remnants of the previous civilization among the gigantic prefab Lego sets.

“Zhernovka, a Forgotten Eighteenth-Century Suburban Manor on the Okhta River” was the title of an article published by Nikolai Lansere. The article actually reopened the landmark to architecture lovers. You could write an article about Zhernovka with the exact same title now, nearly a hundred years later, because the estate, which has miraculously survived on the border of an industrial park and high-rise housing district, has been abandoned and forgotten once again.

The renowned architect Giacomo Quarenghi eretcted the manor’s main building in the 1790s. It was built for Gavrila Donaurov, an official in the chancellery of Emperor Paul I. Quarenghi also built an entrance gate and pavilion-cum-pier on the banks of the Okhta, which have not survived. The estate was surrounded by a landscape park.

In the mid nineteenth century, the estate was taken over by the Bezobrazov family, and so it is also referred to as the Bezobrazov Dacha.

Zhernov’s plight after 1917 was tragic and typical. First, it served as a club for workers, then a warehouse, and then a cowshed. The interiors were destroyed to make way for a dormitory, after which “the building’s architecture was disfigured by a reconstruction that was not completed.” The landscape park disappeared after the war.

In 1973, Zhernovka was transferred to Orgprimtvyordsplav, a Soviet enterprise that worked with restorers for ten years to revive the building. Extensions were demolished, the pond was dredged, new trees were planted, and two main rooms, the parlor and a bedroom, were restored.

In 2014, the Soviet company’s successor, Kermet, Ltd., ceded its rights to the estate. Since then, the building has been managed by the Agency for the Management and Use of Historical and Cultural Landmarks (AUIPIK), which has been trying to find a new owner for it, so far unsuccessfully.

However, if you compare Zhernovka with a nearby eighteenth-century landmark on the Okhta, the Utkin Dacha, Zhernovka looks halfways decent. Although the building is not in use, it is guarded and heated, and work has been underway to reinforce the foundations.

By the way, the park is open to visitors in the afternoons. You just have to push open the impressive gate with the coded lock on it.

You can find a detailed history of the estate on the Walks around Petersburg website (in Russian).

My excursion was arranged by Open City, a project for familiarizing Petersburgers with the city’s cultural heritage and opening the doors of historical and cultural landmarks, many of which are inaccessible to the general public for various reasons.

The editors of GP thank Open City for the chance to visit the estate. They also thank tour guide and Okhta landmarks researcher Natalia Stolbova.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Red Banner Textile Factory: File under “Real Estate”

Erich Mendelsohn's power plant for the Red Banner Textile Factory, July 31, 2016. The construction site of Baltic Commerce's dubiously named Mendelsohn Housing Complex is located immediately to the left of the plant. Photo by the Russian Reader
Erich Mendelsohn’s power plant for the Red Banner Textile Factory, July 31, 2016. The construction site of Baltic Commerce’s dubiously named Mendelsohn Housing Complex is located immediately to the left of the plant. Photo by the Russian Reader

ICOMOS Asks the Smolny to Reconsider Project for Redeveloping Red Banner Factory
Fontanka.ru
September 2, 2016

Russian and German specialists from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) have published an open letter requesting plans to construct a residential building next to Erich Mendelsohn’s power station at Pionerskaya Street, 53, in Petersburg, be reconsidered and the Red Banner Textile Factory be recognized as a federally protected constructivist-era landmark.

The letter was published on the website of the Petersburg branch of ICOMOS. It was signed by six specialists from Russia and Germany, including Petersburgers Margarita Stieglitz and Sergei Gorbatenko.

The Red Banner Factory on Pionerskaya Street is “the only major work by the great German architect Erich Mendelsohn in Russia. […] Globally, it is a key work of avant-garde industrial architecture,” the specialists write in the letter.

Nevertheless, the landmark is in poor condition. Neither preservation or restoration has been carried out, noted the experts. And next to the factory’s symbol, the former power station, the company Baltic Commerce is erecting the nine-storey Mendelsohn Housing Complex.

“The residential building will be considerably taller than the ensemble’s historic centerpiece, violate its visual integrity, and reduce its value in terms of urban planning and the ensemble’s composition,” the specialists from ICOMOS argue.

They call on “responsible parties” to review the existing project, develop a concept for restoring and converting the entire factory complex, and prioritize the restoration and conservation of the factory’s buildings, as well as make the ensemble a federally listed landmark.

Currently, the building housing the factory’s former heating and power plant and several sections of the Red Banner Textile Factory are federally protected. The rest of the block can be redeveloped with buildings up to 33 meters tall. Deputy Governor Igor Albin visited the factory in August, following complaints by historical preservationists. He assured them construction of the residential building was being carried out lawfully.

Translated by the Russian Reader. The article, above, should be read as a serious follow-up to the warning bells I tried wanly to sound in “Leningrad Then, Petersburg Now,” published on August 16, 2016.

History Hysteria Architecture

On July 1, Petersburg developers and architects held a round table to discuss how to eliminate the alleged threat to their happiness and livelihood posed by historical preservationists and local grassroots NIMBY and housing activists, as recounted here by journalist Dmitry Ratnikov.

According to Ratnikov, Elena Smotrova, head of Tellus Group developers, compared the activists to the infamous mafia protection rackets that shook down honest businessmen in the 1990s. Architect Yevgeny Gerasimov recommended calling the police when activists showed up, while Igor Vodopyanov, head of development and management company Teorema, claimed that activists had driven developers from Petersburg. What lay in store for the city, he argued, was a “Cuban historical preservation” scenario, where houses are propped up on wooden stilts (sic), and there is no business.

In fact, pace the anti-populist hysteria of Gerasimov, Vodopyanov, Smotrova and Co., literally everything that has been built and developed in Petersburg in the past fifteen years has been utter garbage by even the most minimal and indulgent international standards.

This is not to mention the ruinous effects of such pseudo-architecture on the historic built environment, but these refined ladies and gentlemen passing themselves off as developers and architects have had the gall to blame the so-called gradozashchitniki (“city defenders”) for their woes. What chutzpah.

So the pushback on the part of local people of good will, had it not happened in the face of such an assault on the city, would have been more mystifying. In fact, practically the only thing worthwhile, in terms of grassroots politics, to come out of Petersburg in the last ten years has been this relatively strong movement of historical preservationists and just plain folk out in the Soviet new estates defending their turf (and the relatively decent Soviet planning therein) from bad developments and even worse architecture.

Given their lack of talent at developing and designing buildings that would complement and enhance one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and their hostility towards the much more refined aesthetical and legal sensibilities of the amateurs who mostly populate the ranks of the activists, it is not surprising that Petersburg’s architects and developers often resort to facile evocations of history to cover up their crimes and misdemeanors, which often involve demolishing listed or perfectly serviceable and comely old buildings and replacing them with variations on post-postmodern listlessness and anomie, whose only real purpose is to occupy as many storeys and square meters as possible and stroke the egos of their “authors” by physically dominating their historic built environments.

And given the current political conjuncture, it is no wonder these historical evocations and gestures are usually deeply reactionary celebrations of Russian imperial history rather than Russian revolutionary history (whose early period produced art, architecture, and theory that people are still marveling over and studying  almost a hundred years later, and whose middle and late periods are, at very least, recognizable as legitimate products of architectural and social history).

While strolling around the city this past spring, a friend and I came upon this newish oddity on the Sinop Embankment of the Neva River.

sinopskaya 22-back

Upon closer inspection, it turned out the grillwork on the balconies were emblazoned with rather odd, at first glance, inscriptions.

sinopskaya 22-balcony
“Battle of Sinop. The Paris, ship of the line. The Grand Duke Konstantin, ship of the line. The Empress Maria. The Rostislav, ship of the line. The Chesma, ship of the line.”

After pondering this funny list for a few minutes, I realized the inscription on the top balcony read, “Battle of Sinop,” and that listed below it were Russian naval ships that, I discovered later, had taken part in this maritime slaughter of Turkish ships during the distant Crimean War.

The building’s designer, “post-neo-Empire style apologist” Dmitry Lagutin, explained the gimcrack notion behind the building in an August 2012 interview with online local architecture and development watchdog publication Karpovka:

The building was intended as a memorial to the Battle of Sinop, the last battle between sailing ships. The idea arose when we had to get the image across to the client and convince them to build a classical building. We wanted to deliver the building before December 1 of this year, for the anniversary of the Battle of Sinop.

There is a two-storey glass dome at the top of the building, an expensive luxury. It can be seen from the other shore. But if you are walking along the embankment, the dome is not visible. It disappears into the depths, and the building becomes smaller. So there will be a smooth segue from Alexander Nevsky Square with its lower built environment. There is a pediment, which, if you look closely, resembles the stern of a ship. It supports a sculpture of Empress Maria, recalling the name of the flagship Empress Maria, which Admiral Nakhimov commanded in the battle. The names of the ships [involved in the battle on the Russian side] will appear on the gridwork of the facade.

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Rendering of the new building on Sinop Embankment, 22. Courtesy of Karpovka.net

[…]

We are communicating with sculptors. There is architecture that includes a place for sculpture. And our building has a lower arcade of six arches. Between the arched windows there are niches that will house sculptures of [four Russian] admirals. Everyone knows Nakhimov. There is Kornilov and Panfilov, whom everyone confuses with Panfilov’s Men. There is Novosilsky. The four admirals who took part in the Battle of Sinop. Real heroes.

Now, as we are selecting sketches, we have to study the story of each admiral to avoid mistakes, starting with how they looked. We have to study every thing down to the epaulettes and buttons. Recently, a monument to Nakhimov was erected on the street of the same name. It was chockablock with crude mistakes.

When the busts of the heroic Russian admirals were unveiled on October 3, 2013, the city’s high and mighty were present for the festivities, as reported by Peterburgskii Dnevnik, the city government’s official newspaper.

Busts of Admiral Kornilov, Pavel Nakhimov, Fyodor Novosilsky, and Alexander Panfilov were unveiled today in a ceremony at Sinop Embankment, 22.

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St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, Russian Museum director Vladimir Gusev, businessman Boris Zingarevich, who initiated the creation and installation of the busts, and sculptor Alexei Arkhipov attended the unveiling.

It is no accident that the sculptures of the great admirals have appeared on the Sinop Embankment. 2013 marks the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Sinop, which was the last battle involving sailing ships. Likewise, sixty years ago, the embankment was named in honor of this naval battle.

“It is twice as nice and important that that we have not forgotten the glorious tradition of the Russian fleet and are unveiling the busts of those who were victorious at Sinop. I thank everyone involved in the project—the architects, designers, and builders—for wanting to recall history and for their initiative,” Georgy Poltavchenko said at the unveiling ceremony.

The designer of the busts, Union of Artists member and sculptor Alexei Arkhipov, said that executing the works was not easy, because there were very few extant images of the admirals. The decorative elements—buttons embossed with coats of arms, and the decorations worn by the admirals—were a particular challenge. In total, the work took around a year.

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Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko (second from left) with naval officials and other dignitaries at unveiling ceremony. October 3, 2013, Sinop Embankment, 22

The dome of the building on Sinop Embankment where the busts of the great admirals have been installed is crowned by a replica of the bas relief from the bowsprit of Admiral Nakhimov’s flagship, which was named after the Empress Maria Feodorovna. In turn, the names of the ships involved in the battle have been inscribed on the railings of the balconies in the building, which will house a business office center.

For what it’s worth, before this recent outburst of collective built patriotism, the lot at Sinop Embankment, 22, was occupied, until 2003, by a much homelier but more more recognizably Petersburgian building. Known as the Alexander Nevsky Lavra House, it was erected in 1860 by architect Karl Brandt (1810–1882).

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Alexander Nevsky Lavra House in 1993. Photo courtesy of A. Kaidanovskij

And this is what Brandt’s modest building looked like on the eve of its demolition.

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Sinop Embankment, 22. Photo courtesy of CityWalls.ru

I was reminded of our springtime encounter with the patriotically dolled-up “business office center” on the Sinop Embankment while investigating one of the Petersburg’s oldest streets, Galernaya, with a group of local psychogeographers a couple weeks ago.

During our drift, we came upon this little Art Nouveau bonbon at Galernaya, 40.

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According to CityWalls.ru, it was built by Maxim Kapelinsky in 1905–1907 and 1910 as an apartment building and publishing house for S.M. Propper.

And yet a plaque on the first storey claims that the great Russian architect Vasily Stasov lived and died there on September 5, 1848.

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This apparent contradiction is easily explained. When Stasov lived there, the lot was occupied by the Kireev estate, which extended all the way from Galernaya to the Admiralty Canal Embankment on the other side of the block.

The real mystery, however, is not whether Stasov lived here at the end of his rich life, but whether the building now on the site is the same building that Kapelinsky built over a hundred years ago.

Views from the side and the front, and a glimpse through a crack in the gateway hinted that something fishy might have been afoot at Galernaya, 40.

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Sales office of Holland apartment complex, Galernaya, 40

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In fact, it seems that Kapelinsky’s hundred-year-old Art Deco confection has not been restored, as deceptively suggested by the façades on both ends of the block. Instead, it has been partly or totally reconstructed, its original innards replaced with tonier digs, more storeys and square meters, and its “empty” courtyards righted with a lot of infill construction.

On November 2, 2014, CityWalls.ru user “Vlada” made a snapshot of the official sign that has to be erected, like a permit, outside all such construction sites.

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The sign reveals that the Propper House, identified as a listed regional architectural landmark, is being “adapted for modern use (reconstructed) as an apartment hotel.”

As redeveloped by the Clover Group, the Propper House has now been renamed Holland.

I cannot recommend the project’s video presentation (accessed by pressing the big arrow on the home page) or the page where you can select an apartment (and simultaneously take “virtual tours” of various parts of the complex) highly enough, because you will be quickly convinced that the Propper House has indeed been “adapted” (gutted) to make way for a new gentry and their loose cash.

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Visualization of penthouse deck, Holland apartment complex, Galernaya, 40

How this brutal approach to a listed regional architectural landmark is compatible with local law, federal law, and the city’s explicit obligations as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, all of which should amply protect the city’s historic center from such predations, is beyond me. This, however, has been the standard practice for the past ten years, a sad fact known all too well by the pesky gradozashchitniki I mentioned at the beginning of this post, and by tens and hundreds of thousands of other Petersburgers who are less active civically, but have seen perfectly well what has been going on and to whose benefit.

But you will not be surprised, I hope, when you learn that Clover Group’s elegant wrecking ball methods have also been sanctified and sanctioned by Russian imperial history, to wit:

The Holland complex consists of three sections, Amsterdam, Hague, and Zandaam, located in historically significant renovated buildings. Ranging in height from five to seven stories, each of the buildings offers luxurious apartments of various sizes (from 27 to 195 meters square). The names given to them were not accidental. These resonant names have their roots in Petrine times. These were the names of the three main stops in Holland during Peter the Great’s Grand Embassy.

If you suspected there might be something in common between the pseudo-historical papering over of what are often latter identified, euphemistically, as “town planning mistakes,” and the current political regime’s uses and abuses of history, you would be on the right track.

Goethe reportedly said that architecture is frozen music. In today’s Russia, new “architecture” is the frozen hysteria of a ruling class and society “enslaved by history” and thus unable to do anything other than salvage and bricolage it to justify its knowingly futureless projects. That this often involves simultaneously destroying real history, such as the historical buildings and cityscapes of the former imperial capital, is only one of the paradoxes generated by this extremely dangerous political moment in Russia. TRR

“Standing on the Rooftop of a Dvor” and Other Miracles of Daily Life in “Brutalist” Petersburg

I usually don’t agree with the smart-alecky overread leftish folks who start crying “Orientalism! Orientalism!” whenever they see travelogues and anthropological essays “from the real Russia” like this one, but here I am tempted to join them.

I am also astonished the editors at the Guardian don’t understand the difference between “brutal” living and “brutalist” architecture, of which per se there is no more in Petersburg than anywhere else in the world.

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This is not to mention that “dvors” (courtyards) usually don’t have “rooftops,” at least not in this regional ruin-porn capital.

More importantly, self-avowed “urban decay” devotees like the whiz-bang art photographer from the Guardian are sorely missing out on the much more interesting and inspiring, but infinitely more complex and often tragic story of how the city’s residents have been fighting at the grassroots over the past ten years to preserve its classical, spectacular skylines and numerous architectural treasures as well as the often pleasantly green courtyards in its non-neoclassical, “brutalist” districts. But to tell that story you have to see Petersburgers as more than disempowered, colorful props in your personal post-ideological, neo-romantic visual fantasy.

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At some point, art—and solidarity—means putting down the camera. Or pointing it in a direction other than immiseration and defeat. Such angles exist in abundance everywhere, even in lowly Petersburg. // TRR

Photos by the Russian Reader

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Here are a few glimpses of the real modern city of Petersburg and the people who have been fighting for it.