Totally Wired

DSCN5713A view of Kolokolnaya Street, in downtown Petersburg, crisscrossed by telecom cables. Photo by the Russian Reader

Telecom Operators Taking Their Time Clearing Nevsky Prospect of Wires
Zhanna Zhuravlyova
Delovoi Peterburg
May 15, 2018

Clear Sky, a program designed to move underground the thick network of wires stretching over Nevsky Prospect, has been launched. The results so far have not been promising. Only three out of dozen and a half telecom operators have gone underground.

The first three telecom operators have removed their fiber-optic cables from Nevsky Prospect and moved them underground into conduits built as part of the city’s Clear Sky program. These trailblazers were Prometei, Obit, and Centrex Smolny, a wholly owned affiliate of city hall’s IT and Communications Committee (KIS), which acted as the project’s general contractor, according to Centrex Smolny’s director Felix Kasatkin.

According to Kasatkin, another three or four operators are ready to move their overhead lines, currently stretched between poles and buildings, underground in May. There are around a dozen and a half telecom providers whose lines crisscross the space immediately above the Nevsky. According to market insiders, the cost of dismantling the old lines and rerouting them to the access points into the underground conduits could range from ₽100,000 to ₽2 million. The cost depends on how many times the cables cross Nevsky, and how close they are situated to the necessary access points.

It is utterly impossible to force operators to remove the lines. The overhead lines may be ugly, but they are completely legal.

A Multi-Channel Story
The problem of overhead lines on the Nevsky surfaced in 2012, when Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko voiced his outrage over the large number of lines, which disfigured the city’s main thoroughfare, in his opinion. The solution appeared obvious: move all the telecom operators into Rostelecom’s underground conduits. Many of them, however, resented the prospect, complaining about the state telecom operator’s rates, the speed with which it performed work, and its frequent refusals to configure networks.

That was when an alternative and somewhat extravagant solution was advanced: putting the telecom lines in Vodokanal’s water main conduits. A design was drafted, but never implemented.

The final solution seemed simpler. The city would build its own infrastructure within Rostelecom’s conduit, offering to rent the space to telecom operators. The idea was that they would be more open to this proposal than to collaborating with Rostelecom, with whom they were in constant competition.

Built for Free
Ultimately, ten underground conduits were built under the Nevsky, and collective access fiber-optic cables were inserted in them. Ownership of the conduits is currently being transferred to Centrex Smolny, and telecom operators are encouraged to lease the fiber-optic cables.

Kasatkin emphasizes the rates for leasing the cables are as low as possible, since they include only servicing charges. There is no need to recoup the costs of constructing the conduits, since they were built at the city’s expense. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to find the relevant government purchase order for performance of this work, nor could Centrex Smolny could not provide us with specific information on on the matter.

According to Rustelecom, around twelve kilometers of conduits were constructed for the Clear Sky project. The cost of laying one kilometer of conduit is around ₽100,000, says Yuri Bryukvin, head of Rustelecom. So, along with the cost of materials and incidental expenses, the total costs could have amounted to ₽1.5 million. KIS chair Denis Chamara reported ₽30 million were spent on the project.

Broken Telephone
Telecom operators who have received Centrex Smolny’s offer say the cost of leasing one kilometer of fiber-optic cable is approximately ₽500 a month. One conduit can contain eight, sixteen or more fiber-optic cables.

All the telecoms who operate in the city centere have fiber-optic cables that cross the Nevsky five or six times, explains Vladislav Romanenko, commercial director of Comlink Telecom. In this case, a telecom would pay up to ₽50,000 a month to lease fiber-optic cables.

Andrei Sukhodolsky, director general of Smart Telecom, whose lines also hang over the Nevsky, says the company has not yet been made an offer by Centrex Smolny.

“I have definitely not received official proposals in writing,” Sukhodolsky claims. “Theoretically, we would agree to move our lines if we could understand the costs.”

“The cost of the lease you quote is quite decent, but we have not received a commercial offer to lease fiber-optic cables,” says Romanenko. “Currently, we are considering laying our own cable in Rostelecom’s conduits.”

ER Telecom told us they were working to move their communications lines, but they did not specify where they were moving them.

The initial list of streets that should have been cleared of unnecessary wires under the Clear Sky project featured a dozen streets, including Bolshaya Morskaya Street, Moskovsky Prospect, and Izmailovsky Project. So far the KIS has no specific plans to go beyond the Nevsky. And, perhaps, the issue will no longer be relevant after the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Market insiders point to Moscow as a positive example. The city moved its cables underground with no hitches and in much greater numbers. In Tatarstan, the authorities have obliged building owners to dismantle all structures that have not been vetted by the city on pain of paying a hefty fine.

“So the building owners dismantled the telecom lines on their own,” our source at Comfortel told us.

Our source at the KIS was at pains to emphasize that operators removed the lines “voluntarily and at their own behest.”

*********************

The overhead lines on the Nevsky usually contain eight to sixteen fiber-optic cables, which means the price of leasing a single conduit for moving lines underground could be as much as ₽8,000 a month. Then it would make sense to take advantage of Centrex Smolny’s offer. But of an operator is running a large number of cables, he would find it more profitable to lease a conduit from Rostelecom. We have already moved our cables to Rostelecom’s conduits without waiting for the offer from Centrex Smolny. It’s odd certain operators postponed the move to May, since construction work is not carried out by telecom operators only when the temperature dips below –15°C.
—Dmitry Petrov, director general, Comfortel

We have been preparing for the move for three years or so. In one spot, where our cables cross the Nevsky, we took advantage of Centrex Smolny’s offcer. The terms for leasing the fibers really are good. Centrex Smolny is clearly not making any money on this project, but they are probably not losing any money, either. The important thing about the project is the telecom operators are not commercially entangled with Centrex Smolny, while many telecoms have long, complicated relationships with Rostelecom: for example, when a lot of illegal fiber-optic cables were laid in the conduits, something that is still a matter of controversy.
—Аndrei Guk, director general, Obit

Translated by the Russian Reader

This Is Russia

DSCN0810

“This is Russia. This is the Russia that Americans are so scared of.”

In the background of this photo, you can make out the Galeria Shopping Center, located in downtown Petersburg. It’s gigantic, covering the land once occupied by five or six graceful tenement buildings and a cultural center and cinema. They were demolished in the mid 1990s, not to make way for the shopping mall, but so a new train station could be built there, jeek by jowl with the existing Moscow Station, because federal and regional officials wanted to build a high-speed train line between Petersburg and Moscow. Millions of dollars were allocated for the project, but ultimately, the train line was never built nor was the new station erected. No one knows what happened to the millions of dollars allocated for the project. They simply vanished into thin air.

The site of the former-future high-speed train station sat vacant for many years behind a tall, ugly construction-site fence. No one could figure out what do to with all that wasteland, which was in the very heart of the city, not in some forgotten outskirts. However, before the money had vanished, and the project was abandoned, construction workers had managed not only to demolish all the tenement buildings on the site but had also dug a foundation pit. Over the long years, this pit filled up with water. Some time after Google Maps had become all the rage, I took a look at our neighborhood via satellite, as it were, and discovered to my great surprise it now had a small lake in it. It was the foundation pit of the former-future high-speed train station, filled to the brim with water.

Good times came to Petersburg in the 2000s, when the country was flush with cash, generated by high oil prices, a flat tax rate of 13%, and runaway corruption. It was then the city’s mothers and fathers (I’m not being ironic: most of Petersburg’s “revival” was presided over by Governor Valentina Matviyenko, a former Communist Youth League functionary who had converted to the gospel of what she herself called “aggressive development”) decided that Petersburg, one of the world’s most beautiful, haunting, enchanting cities, should be extensively redeveloped, despite its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a mecca of consumerism that would give pride of place to cars and new highways, since cars had become the new status symbol among the city’s rich and poor alike. They also decided that, since other big cities in the world had lots of high-rise buildings, their city, which did not have almost any high-rise buildings, should have lots of them, too.

Basically, they decided to demolish as much of the inner and outer city as they could get away with—and they could get away with a lot, because they had nearly unlimited political power and lots of the country’s money at their disposal—and redevelop it with high-rise apartment buildings, superhighways, big box stores, and shopping and entertainment centers, each one uglier and bigger than the last. Thanks to their efforts, in a mere fifteen years or so they have gone a long way toward turning a Unesco World Heritage Site into an impossible, unsightly mess.

But let’s get back to our miniature inner-city lake. Finally, developers came up with a plan to convert the site into a giant shopping mall. Even better, the architects who designed the mall were clearly inspired by Albert Speer, Hitler’s favorite architect and a leading Nazi Party member, to turn a rather oversized mall into a celebration of kitsch faux-neoclassicism, precisely the sort of thing Speer had championed in his projects. This, indeed, was a bit ironic, because Petersburg, then known as Leningrad, had survived a 900-day siege by the German army during the Second World War. Considered the longest and most destructive siege in history, it killed at least 800,000 civilians, that is, it killed the grandparents and great-grandparents of many of the people who now enjoy visiting this mall, with its distinctly neo-fascist aesthetic.

Along the sides of the street running down towards the photographer from the Albert Speer Memorial Shopping Center, you see lots of shiny new, fairly expensive cars, parked bumper to bumper. In fact, the Albert Speer has a huge underground car park where you can park your car relatively inexpensively (our neighbor lady, a sensible woman, does it), but most Petersburg car owners actually think parking their cars wherever they want—especially either right next to their residential buildings or, worse, in the tiny, labyrinthine, incredibly charming inner courtyards of these eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings—is their legal right. It isn’t, but they don’t know it or don’t want to know it. I know they think this way because many Petersburg car owners have told me so.

To my mind, the precipitous rise in personal car ownership in Petersburg has done more to degrade the city’s beauty than all the underinspired colossal high-rises put together, because the city was purposely designed by its original builders, beginning with Peter the Great, to have a good number of intersecting and radiating, awe-inspiring, long and clear sightlines or “perspectives.” Hence, many of the city’s longest avenues are called “prospects,” such as Nevsky Prospect (the title of one of Nikolai Gogol’s best stories) and Moskovsky Prospect. Nowadays, however, you gaze down these “perspectives” only to see traffic jams and hectares of other visual pollution in the shape of signs, billboards, banners, and marquees. It’s not a pretty sight.

On the right of the picture, somewhere near the middle, you should be able to spot a small shop sign with the letters “AM” emblazoned on it. It’s one of the dozens of liquor stores that have popped up in our neighborhood after the Kremlin introduced its countersanctions against US and EU sanctions, which were instituted in response to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine. The US and EU sanctions targeted individuals and companies closely allied with the regime. Putin’s countersanctions, in a manner that has come to seem typical of how the Russian president for life’s mind works, were targeted against Russian consumers by banning the import of most western produce into the country. An exception was made for western alcoholic beverages, especially wines and beers, and this meant it was suddenly profitable again to get into the liquor business. The upshot has been that you can exit our house, walk in any direction, even putting on a blindfold if you like, and you will find yourself in a liquor store in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

Last summer, I tried painting a little verbal and photographic sketch of the effect this massive re-alcoholization has had on our neighborhood, along with other, mostly negative trends in the use and abuse of commercial space in the city.

Finally, there is one other thing you should know about all those new, mostly oversized cars parked on the street. Since the average monthly salary in Russia barely crawls above 600 or 700 euros a month, even in a seemingly wealthy city like Petersburg, most of those gas-guzzling, air-polluting status symbols were bought with borrowed money.

Just the other day, in fact, I translated and posted a tiny article, originally published in the business daily Kommersant, about how people in the Voronezh Region currently owed banks approximately two billion euros in outstanding loans. In 2015, the region’s estimated population was around 2,300,000, so, theoretically, each resident of Voronezh Region now owes the banks 870 euros, which I am sure is more than most people there earn in two or three months. Of course, not every single resident of Voronezh Region has taken out a loan, so the real damage incurred by real individual borrowers is a lot worse.

I could be wrong, but I think what I have just written gives you a rough idea of how you go about reading photographs of today’s Russian cities, their visible aspect in general, turning a snapshot into something meaningful, rather than assuming its meaning is obvious, right there on the surface. You don’t just tweet a photo of a new football stadium or fancy restaurant or street jammed with expensive cars and make that stand for progress, when progress, whether political, economic or social, really has not occurred yet in Russia, despite all the money that has been sloshing around here the last fifteen years. Instead, you talk about the real economic, political, and social relations, which are often quite oppressive, murky, and criminal, that have produced the visible reality you want to highlight.

Doing anything less is tantamount to engaging in boosterism, whataboutism, Russian Worldism, and crypto-Putinism, but certainly not in journalism. That so many journalists, western and Russian, have abandoned real journalism for one or all of the isms I have listed is the really scary thing. TRR

Photograph by the Russian Reader

 

 

 

Clouds Rose Over the City: How the ZSD Has Changed the Face of Petersburg

The Western High-Speed Diameter seen from the spit of Kanonersky Island, June 26, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
The Western High-Speed Diameter (ZSD) tollway, currently nearing completion, as seen from the spit of Kanonersky Island, June 26, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

How the Western High-Speed Diameter Has Changed Petersburg’s Look
Kanoner
August 15, 2016

The central section of the ZSD (Western High-Speed Diameter) has almost been completed and looks as it will for years to come. Petersburgers are getting used to how the tollway’s tall bridges have altered familiar cityscapes.

Construction of the ZSD’s central portion was launched in 2013. By that time, the entire southern segment from the Ring Road to the Yekaterinagofka River had been opened to traffic, and a little while later, the ribbon was cut on the northern segment, which runs from Primorsky Prospect to the Scandinavian Highway. While the city built the southern and northern segments in the guise of Western High-Speed Diameter JSC, the most complicated section has been entrusted to Northern Capital Thoroughfare, Ltd., which is linked to VTB Bank and Gazprombank.

The length of the central portion is around 12 kilometers. It runs from the Yekateringofka River to Primorsky Prospect. The segment mostly consists of a series of bridges crossing the Neva Bay on high piers. It was designed by Stroyproyekt Institute JSC. The crossings over Petersburg’s two main fairways—the Petrine Fairway (in the mouth of the Malaya Neva River), and the Ship Fairway (in the mouth of the Neva River)—were built higher. The ZSD reaches its highest point when it passes over Kanonersky Island and the Sea Channel.

A map of the western edge of central Petersburg. The ZSD's 12-km central section is indicated by the dotted pink-and-white line running roughly from north to south along the shoreline. Image couresty of OpenStreetMap
A map of the western edge of central Petersburg. The ZSD’s 12-km central section is indicated by the dotted pink-and-white line running roughly from north to south along the shoreline. Image courtesy of OpenStreetMap

The height of the cable bridge across the Ship Fairway is 35 meters. The crossing is noteworthy for its inclined pylons. According to designers, they are supposed to resemble the drawbridges in Petersburg’s historic center.

Another of its distinguishing features is its visibility from the historic center. The chunks of concrete in a tight web of cables are visible over the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island if you look from the Liteiny Bridge; they can also be seen from the Admiralty.  In addition, the bridge has risen over the far end of Bolshoi Prospect on Vasilyevsky Island. The inclined pylons have had the greatest visual impact on the view down Bolshoi Prospect from northeast to southwest.

The new view down Bolshoi Prospect, Vasilyevsky Island

The cable bridge over the Petrine Fairway reaches a height of 25 meters. However, two of its pylons have risen to a height of 125 meters, which is slightly higher than the spire of the Peter and Paul Cathedral. In recent years, the cathedral has rapidly been losing its status as the city’s visual centerpiece. The tall pencil-like pylons can now be easily seen from the Islands.

The 125-meter-high pylons of the ZSD as it crosses the Petrine Fairway at the mouth of the Malaya Neva River. Photo courtesy of The Village
The 125-meter-high pylons of the ZSD as it crosses the Petrine Fairway at the mouth of the Malaya Neva River. Photo courtesy of The Village

The bridge crosses the Elagin Fairway at the mouth of the Bolshaya Nevka River. The bridge is situated at a height of sixteen meters, but that has sufficed to wipe out one of the oldest views of the Gulf of Finland, the view that once opened from the spit of Elagin Island. Whereas previously you could catch a glimpse of Kronstadt from the Central Park of Culture and Rest (TsPKiO) on a sunny day, you now must admire the highway.

This video provides a bird’s-eye view of construction of the ZSD over the Bolshaya Nevka River and the nearby Zenit Arena football stadium, on the spit of Krestovsky Island. Posted on YouTube by Alexander Parkhomenko on April 11, 2016, it was, apparently, filmed by a drone on October 18, 2015.

But as it crosses the Sea Channel, the bridge has come to tower over an entire island, Kanonersky. Its metal girders hang right over the island’s late-Soviet residential high-rises.  Some of the buildings will have to be resettled, but no buildings have been demolished yet and, most likely, none will be.

Путиловская набережная, ЗСД

Канонерский остров, ЗСД

This stretch of the ZSD is the highest, because the main water route to the Neva (i.e., the one with the deepest fairway) runs through this part of town. The height of the span is 52 meters. Initially, it was planned to be slightly higher, 55 meters. It was lowered “to mitigate the highway’s longitudinal profile in order to ensure traffic safety on the approaches to the highest portion of the ZSD.”

The ZSD running right over the treetops of Kanonersky Island. Photo by the Russian Reader
The ZSD running right over the treetops of Kanonersky Island, June 26, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
The ZSD under construction near the central beach on Kanonersky Island,
The ZSD under construction near the central beach on Kanonersky Island, June 26, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

The 52-meter mark was cleared with the United Construction Corporation and the management of the Port of Saint Petersburg. Nevertheless, a group of activists including Rear Admiral Igor Kolesnikov and Alexander Ivanov, Honorary Worker of the Soviet Marine Fleet, issued a statement that “the bridge clearances adopted in the draft project exclude the passage of large ships, vessels, and boats.”

Морской канал

In addition to the bridge, the face of the city has been impacted by another engineering decision made by the ZSD’s designers. As it passes the western edges of Vasilyevsky Island and the Island of the Decembrists, the road has been laid along the bottom of a ditch dug into the ground. Moreover, the road bed is essentially situated where ten years ago the waves of the Gulf of Finland washed the shoreline.

ЗСД на Васильевском острове

A tunnel was built under the mouth of the Smolenka River to construct this segment of the highway. It was built using the cut-and-cover method. Due to this fact, the Smolenka flowed into the gulf via two channels. While the tunnel was under construction, they were closed in turn to drain the water away. During the first phase, the tunnel was dug under the southern channel; during the second phase, under the northern channel.

ЗСД, тоннель под Смоленкой

The reclaimed lands to the west of the ZSD have been undergoing vigorous housing development, but they are cut off from main part of Vasilyevsky Island by the ZSD itself. The only link is Michmanskaya Street, which runs over the highway via an overpass, which was built before construction on the ZSD had begun. To improve transportation accessibility over the highway, two more bridges have been erected in the vicinity of Europe Square. For the time being, however, like the entire ZSD, they are fenced off and closed not only to traffic but also to pedestrians.

Under the investment agreement, the central section of the ZSD must be delivered this year. In the wee hours of August 9, a demonstration took place that involved securing the locking section of the road bed for the cable bridge over the Ship Fairway. Next, the final guy lines have to be adjusted and tightened, and the road bed must be asphalted.

According to the most recent statements by Petersburg city hall officials, the entire highway is scheduled to be open to traffic in November.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos by Dmitry Ratnikov, except where noted.

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“Clouds Rose over the City,” from the film The Man with the Gun (1938), as sung by Mark Bernes:

Clouds rose over the city,
The smell of storm was in the air.
In faraway Narvskaya Zastava
Walked a young lad.

Ahead of me is a long, long road.
Come out, my dear, and say goodbye.
We’ll say our farewells in the door.
And you wish me luck on my way.

A Snowy Sunday in Petrograd with Donbas Separatists

Promo flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman's ID, Art of Foto Gallery, Saint Petersburg, January 15-February 3, 2016. Courtesy of the gallery
Promo flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman’s Pass, ARTOFFOTO Gallery, Saint Petersburg, January 15-February 3, 2016. Courtesy of the gallery

This morning I got an urgent message from a friend, alerting me to the fact a funny sounding exhibition of photographs was underway at a downtown photo gallery I had never heard of.

It was true, as my friend pointed out, that the announcement for the show, an exhibition of portraits of Eastern Ukrainian pro-Russian separatist fighters (opolchentsy), taken by Petersburg photographer Mikhail Domozhilov, sounded quite dicey politically, as posted on the website of the exhibiting gallery, ARTOFFOTO.

It sounded a little less outwardly partisan when translated into English and printed on the flyers I would later find lying on a windowsill in the gallery:

“The self-proclaimed and still unrecognized state [of the] Donetsk People’s Republic appeared as a result of a civil war in Ukraine in April, 2014. The Donbass People’s Militia became the driving force of the new republic. In the year that passed after the declaration of the DPR, its militia transformed from an anarchic group of super activists [sic] divided into small groups and willing to go weaponless and die for an idea into a regular army with all its necessary attributes—[a] code [of military conduct], subdivisions [sic] and their chiefs, headquarters and machinery.

“This episode is about transition and transformation, about a shaky equilibrium between belonging to one country and to another, utopic in its essence. And also about the self-identification of the participants throughout the conflict. In several months former miners, builders, mechanics have become professional warriors, and a new, extreme reality has replaced the ordinary one. With major destruction[], artillery shelling and [a] non-continuous front, these people suddenly found themselves in the middle of historical events and news reports.

“This episode includes several close-up portraits of militia members in mobile studios at military and training bases, as well as on [the] frontlines.”

(English-language flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman’s Pass [Opolchenskii Bilet], ARTOFFOTO Gallery, Bolshaya Konyushennaya, 1, Saint Petersburg, January 15–February 3, 2016)

It was also true that the photographer, Mr. Domozhilov, had shown a penchant in his career for subjects that might be characterized as rightist, such as this fascinating series on the ultras for Petersburg’s Russian Premier League side, FC Zenit.

The ultras series featured virtuosic albeit historically and aesthetically coded works such as this.

domozhilov-terrace
Mikhail Domozhilov, From the series Ultras, 2010. Courtesy of the photographer’s website

On the other hand, Mr. Domozhilov’s tearsheets included portraits, just as compelling, of pro-Ukrainian fighters on the Maidan in Kyiv.

But I did not think it fair to pronounce judgement on the work on the basis of a couple of websites, so I set off into the winter wonderland that Petrograd has become in the last week to see the show for myself.

Continue reading “A Snowy Sunday in Petrograd with Donbas Separatists”

Avenger

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Puskhin Street, Petrograd, October 14, 2015. Photos by the Russian Reader

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“Stockmann to sell its department store business in Russia,” Nasdaq GlobeNewswire, November 27, 2015

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The St. Petersburg Times
February 2, 2011
Governor Tries to Remove City’s Historic Status
By Sergey Chernov, Staff Writer

Actor Oleg Basilashvili and author Boris Strugatsky were among artists, teachers and rights activists who wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday asking him to deny City Governor Valentina Matviyenko’s request to exclude St. Petersburg from the Register of Historic Settlements.

“Recent years have demonstrated convincingly that the city authorities are not capable and, more importantly, do not want to protect the historic center of St. Petersburg,” they wrote in the letter.

“The ‘planning mistakes’ that appear one after another, distorting the unique appearance of our city, are a direct consequence of the permits and authorizations issued by the city authorities.”

The letter cites the new Stockmann building erected in place of two historic buildings demolished to make way for the Finnish department store, which has altered the view of the portion of Nevsky Prospekt close to Ploshchad Vosstaniya, and the 19th-century Literary House on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the Fontanka River that is being demolished right now, as the most recent examples.

[…]

Source: Chtodelat News; the emphasis is mine.

Don’t Mind the View

Vista of Vasilyevsky Island’s Bolshoi Prospect Blocked by Western High-Speed Diameter Pylons
July 9, 2015
Kanoner

The pylons of a bridge currently under construction as part of the central segment of the Western High-Speed Diameter tollway have encroached on the vista of Vasilyevsky Island’s Bolshoi Prospect. People with good eyesight can see them from the First Line, on the far eastern end of the avenue.

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Fishermen say farewell to their view of the Baltic Sea on a warm May day as the Western High-Speed Diameter’s pylons emerge from the murky depths of the Gulf of Finland. Gavan, Vasilyevsky Island, Petrograd, May 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Construction of the tollway’s central segment, which links the Ekateringofka River Embankment and Primorsky Prospect, began in 2013. The general contractor is Northern Capital Thoroughfare, Ltd. The length of the segment is approximately twelve kilometers. According to the investment agreement, it it must be delivered in 2016.

The main segment of the highway will pass over the water on a flyover designed by Stroyproyekt Institute JSC. One part of the thoroughfare is a cable bridge spanning the shipping fairway in the mouth of the Neva River. Pylons are now being erected for the bridge. Two of them are exactly aligned with Bolshoi Prospect on Vasilyevsky Island, it turns out. They are clearly visible both from Gavan (the western section of Vasilyevsky) and from the first Lines, and this despite the fact that currently they have been built to a little over half their projected full height.

google-spb view
Recent Google satellite image showing the emerging cable bridge section of the Western High-Speed Diameter tollway, the mouth of the Neva River, and the southwestern tip of Vasilyevsky Island, including Bolshoi Prospect

Earlier, concerns were voiced that the size of the Western High-Speed Diameter was insufficient, and therefore tall-masted sailing ships would be unable to sail into the Neva under the new cable bridge. But this viewpoint was not heeded.

The emergence of new buildings and facilities in the vistas of historic streets is not a rarity in Petersburg. The sky above the Nicholas Children’s Hospital, at the end of Chapygin Street, has been completely occluded by the high-rises of the Europe City residential complex (developed by LSR). The vista of Poltava Street has now been blocked by the Tsar’s Capital residential complex (LenspetsSMU, developer), and the new residential building Hovard Palace (Hovard SPb, Ltd., developers) is twice as high as the surrounding built environment and has thus emerged above the skyline at the beginning of Socialist Street.

tsars' capital-render
Artist’s rendering of Tsar’s Capital residential complex, currently under construction near the Moscow Station in downtown Petersburg. Image courtesy of LenSpetsSMU developers

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Hovard Palace Residential Building Encroaches on Vista of Socialist Street
May 13, 2015
Kanoner

Hovard Palace, a residential building currently under construction at Zagorodny Prospect, 19, has significantly encroached on the vista of Socialist Street. It has also changed the look of neighboring Jambyl Lane.

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Hovard Palace, currently under construction, rises high above the end of Socialist Street. It is clearly visible from the other end of the street, half a kilometer away. Photo by the Russian Reader
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Hovard Palace towers above a a square named in memory of the revered Kazakh traditional folk singer Jambyl Jambayev, situated on a lane bearing his name. Photo by the Russian Reader

To make way for the elite complex, a pre-Revolutionary building originally designed as a block of rented flats for State Bank employees was demolished. The five-storey house was built in 1898–1901 and designed by architect Heinrich Bertels.  After investor Hovard SPb, Ltd., took an interest in the site (according to rumors, the company has personal ties to former Petersburg governor and current Federation council chair Valentina Matviyenko), residents of the dormitory that had been housed in the Bertels building were forcibly evicted to the village of Shushary, outside the Petersburg city limits. [Translator’s Note. The June 2012 linked to here paints a slightly more complicated picture of how the now-demolished building was resettled.]

City hall officials categorized the forced relocation as having public significance. This was preceded by a personal memorandum from Valentina Matviyenko, in which she wrote, “The site has public significance. Work to find a solution.” The memorandum was addressed to three deputy governors.

This “public significance” made it possible for Hovard SPb to avoid complying several provisions of the law. In particular, it was allowed to demolish the building (although the demolition of pre-Revolutionary buildings is expressly forbidden), and construct the new building higher than stipulated by local height zoning regulations. The environmental impact analysis was conducted by Devros, Ltd., which is directly linked to one of Valentina Matviyenko’s people, Alexei Komlev, ex-deputy chair of the city’s Landmarks Use and Preservation Committee (KGIOP). The analysis show that the new building would be visible behind neighboring buildings, but within tolerable limits.

The eight-storey [sic] residential building was designed by Moscow architect Mikhail Belov. Soyuz 55, Ltd., run by Alexander Viktorov, former chief architect of Petersburg, adapted Belov’s design to local conditions [sic].

Hovard Palace
Rendering of Hovard Palace, which the caption, in Russian, says contains nine storeys. Image courtesy of Novostroy-Spb.ru

Now, as the upper floors are being erected, they are clearly visible from the surrounding streets. The building’s impact has been especially acute on the vista of Socialist Street. And from the intersection of Zagorodny Prospect and Socialist Street one can see that the eight-storey building has risen above the cour d’honneur of Simonov House (Zagorodny, 21–23), which forms a small side street.

The look of Jambyl Lane has changed as well. Jambyl Square, containing the monument to Jambyl, looks different, and the bard himself now strums his lute against the backdrop of the new building.

The developer promises to deliver Hovard Palace in the late summer.

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Hovard Palace and environs, July 16, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Translated by the Russian Reader

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.

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

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“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