As I was browsing the Internet, I came across an article in the Washington Post that slightly deviated from the common repertoire of today’s political pieces and made me think hard about the balance of modernization and tradition. “Planned Tower Splits Venerable Russian City” by Peter Finn describes a quarrel between Gazprom, a Russian state-owned oil company, and many citizens of St. Petersburg regarding Gazprom’s plan to construct a 77-story modern complex along the Neva River in St. Petersburg. The riverbank in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, is one of the most glorious and historic sites in the world. Alongside it stands The State Hermitage Museum, one of the largest and oldest art museums in world, and the Winter Palace, Tsar’s magnificent winter residence, among other famous palaces. Surely, the modern Gazprom complex will heavily clash with the neoclassical architectural style of the Hermitage and the rococo style of the Winter Palace, as many of St. Petersburg’s citizens claim.
Of course, this is not the first time there is a resistance against the construction of modern structures in historical cities. The most famous of such confrontations was against the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889, a hundred years after the French revolution. The tall, metallic structure seemed to many as a foreigner among Paris’ grandiose, historic buildings such as the Louvre. However, today, many consider Eiffel Tower the symbol of Paris.
Two hundred years after the French Revolution, in 1989, the Louvre itself had been a center for debate between the preservers of tradition and the promoters of modernization. Aiming to bridge traditional and modern architecture, I.M. Pei’s glass pyramids were to be built as the new entrance to the Louvre. According to many, these metallic and glass structures had no place in front of the centuries old museum, but since then have become one with the historic palace.
The Gazprom complex debate led me to question whether one should be conservative when choosing what to construct in historical settings, favoring tradition against modernization, or should he promote novelties, with a belief that cities are living bodies, rather than decaying skeletons, that require progress. The successes of Eiffel Tower and the I.M. Pei pyramids lead me favor the later over former view. However, I stand opposed to the construction of the Gazprom complex. Unlike the construction of the Eiffel Tower and the I.M. Pei pyramids, both of which were aimed to decorate Paris and to glorify French history, the Gazprom complex is meant to show the strength of its owners. Approved on the basis of corruption rather than expertise of local architects and designers, it will likely be a disaster to St. Petersburg’s historic riverbank. One must look at the motives, not just the ends, because from evil nothing good ever results.