Lord Foster, the celebrated British architect, has been chosen to head a hugely controversial £184 mln. scheme to remodel a swath of St Petersburg's historic centre. He will follow in the footsteps of Dutch and Italian architects by transforming the now decrepit New Holland Island.
The triangular island was created in 1719 when the Admiralteisky and Kryukov canals were dug. Used principally as a timber depot for shipbuilding and construction, it has also housed, until recently, an arsenal and a jail.
Now this largely empty quarter of the city is to be transformed into a 7.6-hectare (19-acre) complex of modern art galleries, a theatre, hotel, shops, apartments and restaurants walled by offices, linked to the city centre by new bridges connecting it directly with Nevsky Prospect, the Mariinsky Theatre and the Hermitage Museum.
An earlier scheme, championed by Valery Gergiev, director of the Kirov opera and ballet, to create a startling new opera house on the island led to the international competition that has propelled Lord Foster to the fore.
Mr Gergiev wanted to build Russia's architectural equivalent of Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, in the guise of a 61-metre (200ft) glass cube suspended over New Holland Island. His architect, the Los Angeles-based Eric Owen Moss, also came up with an extension of the Mariinsky boasting huge canopies that resemble crumpled plastic bags.
Oleg Kharchenko, the city's chief architect, said: "We're used to beautiful, harmonious buildings that are humanist and enchanting, not formless glass structures. There's no enthusiasm for this in the city." The Kremlin, run by Vladimir Putin and other St Petersburg-sired politicians, quashed Mr Gergiev's audacity.
Just 23 metres high and employing a sophisticated system of natural ventilation and an energy strategy to maximise the insulating properties of snow and the cooling potential of the surrounding canals, the Foster development promises to be low-key and subtle.
It has the approval of the Committee for the State Inspection and Protection of Historic Monuments. The development is funded by the Russian developers, ST New Holland, although the cultural buildings will be state-run. Lord Foster believes that his new New Holland should complete by 2010.
Source: Eurobuild/Financial Times