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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 November 2006, 12:31 GMT
Skyscraper row hits city of tsars
St Petersburg governor Valentina Matviyenko looks at Gazprom architectural design by French Ateliers Jean Nouvel
This design is by French architects Ateliers Jean Nouvel
A bitter dispute has erupted in St Petersburg over the Russian energy giant Gazprom's plan to build a skyscraper in the historic city centre.

Gazprom is considering bids from seven world-famous architects competing to build the "Gazprom-City" business centre by the River Neva.

The head of the Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky, says the project would wreck the city's "unique aura".

St Petersburg is famous for its fine 18th and 19th Century buildings.

The city centre is listed by Unesco as a world heritage site.

Gazprom wants its new headquarters to soar to 300m (990ft), just opposite the famous Smolny Cathedral.

The state-controlled energy giant sees it as a prestige project that would boost the international image of St Petersburg - home city of President Vladimir Putin - which has benefited less from Russia's boom than Moscow.

View of Hermitage Museum
The grandeur of St Petersburg's buildings amazes many visitors
But Mr Piotrovsky warned that such architecture "ages very quickly" and "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," he said.

The St Petersburg Union of Architects has also voiced opposition to Gazprom's plan.

The rival architects on the shortlist include Rem Koolhaas, Jean Nouvel and Daniel Libeskind, who is involved in the Ground Zero project in New York.

Gazprom chairman Alexei Miller, quoted by the St Petersburg Times, insisted that the city's citizens "will be proud of these new architectural masterpieces".

Russian empress comes home
28 Sep 06 |  Europe
Russia's Gazprom profits rocket
07 Jul 06 |  Business

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