The six architects solicited by Russian oil giant Gazprom to design their new headquarters after relocating from Moscow to St. Petersburg, have revealed their designs this week.
Situated directly opposite the Smolny Cathedral on the Neva River, the brief for a building not higher than 300m drew condemnation from locals, and a boycott from Russian architects.
Which left the door wide open for a gaggle of starchitects (and RMJM) to submit their designs. You can't tell RMJM aren't starchitect quality because on the official competition page they have their company logo instead of a photo of a serious looking bald-headed man.
Gazprom are set to reveal the chosen design on December 1st. But they've got a tough job - all the designs are unspeakably hideous. Where do you start? Herzog & de Meuron, RMJM, and Massimiliano Fuksas all offer dreamy spires, Nouvel a kind of bridged glass slab, and Libeskind has created what has been called "Brancusi's poodle". Which just leaves Koolhaas/OMA's "will this do?" sugar cube stack. If I was a betting man, I'd put money on Herzog and de Meuron.
In a competition where context has been banished, pure willfulness runs riot. The buildings could look like anything, and as a consequence, they all look like shit. It's rather depressing that the five of the biggest names in world architecture (and RMJM) couldn't come up with a half-decent design amongst them. Fuksas' design looks the most polished, but that's hardly surprising since he's used it before for a project in Savona.
Mikhail Piotrovski, director of the world-famous Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, has urged that the project be blocked.
"Some of the designs show genius," he said. "But putting it opposite Smolny would deform the historic skyline of the city and look like a challenge.... It was mere accident that we inherited this fantastic city. We must not damage it."
I find it most surprising that Koolhaas, having spent so long courting the Hermitage as a client, would risk damaging the relationship by coming up with this clunker.