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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Piotrovsky Warns Against Skyscraper

Itar-TassOne of the candidate bids for the Gazprom City project criticized by Hermitage Museum director Mikhail Piotrovsky.
ST. PETERSBURG -- One of the country's most respected cultural custodians on Monday urged gas giant Gazprom to drop its plans to build a 300-meter-high skyscraper in St. Petersburg's historic center.

Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage Museum, said if the skyscraper were built it would wreck the "unique aura" that brings millions of tourists each year to a city know as the "Venice of the north."

Piotrovsky is a formidable opponent even for Gazprom, a state-run monopoly worth $260 billion. President Vladimir Putin decorated him this month for services to the state and he is at the heart of the country's establishment.

"In the [United Arab] Emirates they build new skyscrapers, and then 15 years later pull them down. This architecture ages very quickly. Is this really what we want?" Piotrovsky wrote in the St. Petersburg edition of Vedomosti.

"Our historical center is unique, it is small ... and we have an obligation to protect it.

"Visitors get pleasure from the unique aura of St. Petersburg. ... If we destroy its aura, we will lose the economic foundation for our future existence," said Piotrovsky, whose father also ran the Hermitage.

"The city is steadily losing its main virtue -- its authenticity," said Alexander Margolis, a historian and head of the Fund for Saving St. Petersburg-Leningrad.

"We have come right up to a dangerous line: the destruction of the city's integrity."

With oil money pouring in, the impact is felt in the city in the shape of outlandish restoration and demolition of 200-year-old buildings to free up space.

Gazprom has short listed seven celebrated architects including Britain's Richard Rogers and Germany's Daniel Libeskind, who is collaborating on a new tower on the site of the World Trade Centre in New York.

The St. Petersburg project, called "Gazprom City," has provoked a storm of criticism from people who say such a tall building -- it will be only about 24 meters shorter than the Eiffel Tower in Paris -- would not fit in with the city skyline.

The center of St. Petersburg is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site and is made up almost entirely of low-rise 18th and 19th century buildings.

Supporters of Gazprom City say St. Petersburg needs investment and cannot afford to turn its back on change.

Piotrovksy's reputation was dented this year when it emerged that hundreds of artifacts had disappeared from the Hermitage, though there is no evidence he was involved. The husband of a former curator is awaiting trial for theft.

Margolis, like many others, fears the tower will clear the way for other skyscrapers on the banks of the Neva River.

"In drawings, ideas and business plans, St. Petersburg is virtually destroyed already," he said.