Here are my early summer evening snapshots of yet another catastrophic urban anti-development in the ex-Capital of All the Russias, this time on Korolenko Street in the Central District.
These snapshots were taken on an old Nokia 3110 that has long suffered from a ghostly “pillar of flame”-like blemish on the lens. The blemish lends shots an extra creepiness when they are taken at the wrong time of day. Sometimes, it is just what the doctor ordered.
After all, rancid, pretentious crap like LSR’s hideous Russky Dom (Russian House) anti-development on Korolenko, designed by local architectural bureau Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners, does not deserve high-quality photography.
It deserves grassroots resistance, but there has never been enough of that, especially lately, under Putin 3.0, and especially when “projects” like this have been battering the old city and the Soviet new estates hotter and heavier than the beleaguered and outnumbered historic preservationists and other local residents and activists have the time or the forces to handle. (For those who read Russian, here is one local press account of attempts by preservationists to resist the demolition of this block in the UNESCO-protected historic center. This mostly verbal skirmish took place almost exactly three years ago.)
Red construction site fences are a rarity in Petersburg. Such fences are almost ubiquitously blue.
In fact, this particular fence apparently began life blue, like most of its other local brethren. But then it was painted red.
“From the creators of Paradny Kvartal,” reads the caption, a backhanded endorsement if there ever was one.
Whatever the ethnically tinted title of the project, Russky Dom, could mean amidst all the ideological, political, economic, social, and physical wreckage of its own site, and its place and time, is beyond me. Except, maybe, that it visually represents the aspirations of the Russian ruling class, their servitors, and their aesthetically stunted fans among the masses. (Whom, I assure you, are far fewer than the eighty-six or eighty-four percent cited by dubious polling organizations and reproduced ad infinitum by Russian and western media alike, who then go further by conjuring up a fake alternate reality to explain these fake ratings.)
The specs include a variable number of storeys (from five to nine), flats from 60 to 250 square meters in size, an underground parking lot for 519 cars, and commercial spaces, as well as “closed yards and a large promenade zone [sic].”
The caption reads, “Unusual flats: panoramic views from terraces on the upper floors; flats with turrets and second levels.”
The description of the project on Gerasimov’s website, aside from the usual boilerplate (e.g., the development is meant to blend into the built environment while also striking a bold pose), reveals, unsurprisingly, that it was inspired by Russian Revival style architecture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
If this is not an admission of aggressive ideological and aesthetic bankruptcy, I don’t know what is. In this sense, however, Russky Dom tries to blend in not with its built environment but, rather, with the country’s hyper-reactionary zeitgeist.
Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya declared today that Russia’s education system is too “tailored to the study of foreign languages,” according to a report by United Russia, the country’s ruling political party.
“How can we expect to preserve our traditions under these circumstances?” Yarovaya asked worriedly, criticizing the Education Ministry’s plan to make a second foreign language compulsory in the school curriculum and require students to pass a standardized exam in at least one foreign language.
The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets published an even more radical quotation from Yarovaya’s statement: “While studying in our schools, students spend 866 hours of instruction on the Russian language and 939 hours on foreign languages. Now the Education Ministry wants to introduce a compulsory standardized exam in a foreign language and mandate the study of a second foreign language. My fellow citizens, what kind of country are we raising here?”
Yarovaya also said the state’s current educational standards focus on “students’ personal success,” which she claims is “foreign to the Russian frame of reference,” instead of developing traditional values. Additionally, she expressed concern about the variety of school textbooks used throughout the country to teach the same subject.
This kid was polite, making a point of getting out of the way when I was snapping pictures, but he was wearing a jacket emblazoned with the word “Russia” and toting a toy AK-47.
Whom or what was he planning to go to war against, Yarovaya and her “traditional values,” which are actually designed to keep the current kleptocratic regime in power in perpetuity and keep people like the little kid poor and disempowered, or “foreign frames of reference”?
* * * * *
I (or, rather, my Nokia) tried to peer through a hole someone or something had punched through the red fence to get a sense of how the Russky Dom was shaping up.
But when I got to the corner of the block, I discovered the construction site’s main gate was wide open, probably because the workday was wrapping up.
Work was proceeding apace on the Russian reactionary elite’s dream home.
As well it should have been, because, according to the site’s “passport” (everyone and everything has a passport in Russia, including built and unbuilt buildings), construction is scheduled to be completed in July 2017, a mere two years from now.
So if you are thinking about getting in on the ground floor of this Russian neo-Revivalist reactionary real estate action, the time to call is now.
It was not that the Leningrad City Executive Committee and Main Internal Affairs Directorate (i.e., police) motor pool garages that previously occupied the lot were things of great beauty (and until they were threatened with demolition, three years ago, seemingly nobody knew that what was left of the barracks of the First Artillery Brigade Life Guards may or may not have also been taking up otherwise expensive land there), but they served some purpose other than driving up real estate values and giving rich people a venue to offload their extra cash, kids, lovers or themselves while on vacation from Goa or London.
They were also part of the city’s real history, for better or worse.
The other day, a friend of mine showed me, on the invaluable but somewhat incomprehensible Regional Geographic Information System, how many “projects” real estate developers had stashed away among the nearly incomprehensible and numerous filings and permit requests they make with the city’s relevant committees.
If all these projects are implemented, Petersburg will be unrecognizable in ten years or fifteen years or so, a bright and shiny Russian Revivalist and “neoconstructivist” no man’s land with lots of elite housing, business centers, entertainment and shopping complexes, and superhighways.
But there will not be much of anything else, because Petersburg’s inner-city light and heavy industries were long ago condemned, under the guise of “developing and preserving” the historic center, to banishment to the far suburbs or even farther, to the outer darkness of the Leningrad Region. The orders were signed by Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, in 1994, and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, in 1996, respectively.
The funny thing is that the new powers that be revived this approach a few years ago. As current Governor Georgy Poltavchenko has said recently, “The formula goes like this: ‘Preservation through Development, Development through Preservation.’
Or as a comrade and I have written elsewhere, Petersburg is a “World Heritage Site under permanent reconstruction.”
All shabby snapshots and main text by the Russian Reader. Additional images and quoted text courtesy of Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners, Meduza, Kanoner, and Wikimapia.