Skyscrapers in Russia: a necessity or the implementation of somebody’s ambitions?

Skyscrapers in Russia: a necessity or the implementation of somebody’s ambitions?
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Skyscrapers are considered to be the embodiment of authority and business. Is it really so?

The next 100+ Forum Russia, the largest Russian forum on high-rise construction, will open in October. It will be held in the regional center of Yekaterinburg. The executive secretary of the 100+ Forum Russia organizing committee, and the executive director of the Urals Builders’ Guild, Vera BELOUS, spoke to “Construction.RU” on why a forum on high-rise construction is taking place in this city and why high-rise buildings should be constructed in Russia at all.   


Advantages of the regional format

— What advantages does the regional format provide?

— Forums on such a level are really rare in the regions. Most of them take place in the capital, but Yekaterinburg is a unique city. Architecture from the 18th century, constructivist epoch construction and modern buildings of glass and concrete are combined here. We have a rich heritage and are ready to share it.  

This year we have changed the name from “Forum of skyscrapers” to “Forum of unique and high-rise construction”. It is a new concept: cities grow both up and down, and we could not but pay attention to underground construction. Another important part of a city’s life is the construction of bridges and large span structures.

There are several skyscrapers in Yekaterinburg, like the “Iset” tower and the “Vysotsky” business-center. These are the highest building outside central Russia.  What do we want to say? The erection of  high-rise buildings is entirely feasible outside Moscow and Saint Petersburg. And we can do it evenin our severe climate.

Skyscrapers in Russia: a necessity or the implementation of somebody’s ambitions? 

— The forum is only 2 years old. What problems have already been solved there?

— One of the most important results of the forum is a road map which is to improve the business climate in the region in the sphere of unique and high-rise construction. The main principles of this program documentation were formulated at the first forums and now we expect it to be adopted by legislators.

The main task now is to reduce the total number of administrative procedures for high-rise development approval. If we manage this, it will be a big step forward.


“Skyscrapers start – the rules end”?

— Regarding high-rise construction, there is an axiom: “Where high-rise construction starts, the rules end”. As far as we know, there is no developed normative-technical basis for high-rise construction. Have you succeeded in the creation of technical regulations for high-rise construction in the last two years?

— We are steadily moving towards the creation of regulations for skyscrapers. Two rules and regulations drafts have been developed. The first one is called “High-rise buildings and complexes - design rules”, the second one, “Engineering systems for high-rise buildings”. Both the documents are at the final stage of approval.  

These drafts have been discussed publicly. Feedback from Yekaterinburg and other regions was collected. 850 notifications on 383 sheets were sent. More than 300 notifications were adopted, which is a very good result.  

Now the drafts are being tested by experts, and we hope to have the document by November or December. So, we may say that rules and regulations are coming about.  

Skyscrapers in Russia: a necessity or the implementation of somebody’s ambitions? 

— What regulations did you not manage to include in the document?

— Unfortunately, such important section as fire security have not been included. We did our best, but did not manage it. Separate rules and regulations on fire protection are likely to be developed. We are looking forward to this.  

The adoption of these important documents will allow us, at last, to end the notorious standard specifications which were so widely criticized.


A city cannot widen forever

— High-rise building are known not to be very popular in Russia. From your point of view, what prevents the process of high-rise construction development in Russian metropolises? And how can you explain the phenomenon of Yekaterinburg in this regard?

— Actually, there are not many million-plus cities with building higher than 100 m in Russia. There is a commonly held opinion that skyscrapers are the embodiment of authority and business: “I shall build a house as big as I can”. Of course, such a message exists, but…  

High-rise buildings are a necessity for a big city. In Moscow, it takes two hours to get from one end of the city to another. Yekaterinburg is a very compact regional center which may be crossed in 40 minutes at most. Besides, if a developer manages to get a land plot in the center of the city, he will try to get all he can from the area.

And as a practicing constructor, I can say that it is unreasonable to erect a five-storey building on an expensive plot. In the historical part of Yekaterinburg, development resources were exhausted several years ago. And so we try to build up.

At present, there are more than 100 buildings higher than 25 floors. This is now a standard for us. Besides, the issue of constructing 50-storey buildings is being discussed. This is our new reality.

Skyscrapers in Russia: a necessity or the implementation of somebody’s ambitions? 

The main thing is not where, but how to build

— The conflict at the heart of the construction of the high-rise “Lakhta Center” in Saint Petersburg is widely known. Native Petersburgers were sharply against it, as it would break the unique skyline of the northern capital. From your point of view, how can we reconcile unique historical architecture with the development of out-of-context high-rise buildings?

— It is impossible to find a universal recipe as to where to build a high-rise building. Even if you start erecting it in an open field, somebody will complain.

A city is a living thing. Saint Petersburg has a rich history. Both Yekaterinburg and Saint Petersburg combine features from different epochs. The main thing is to combine the old and the new organically.

It is a very acute issue for Yekaterinburg. We have a lot of examples: the “Europe” retail center is one of them. The 19th century building was retained and some modern glass and concrete added on.

And, by the way, at this year’s forum we have planned a section on urban development, where we shall discuss, in particular, how to fit an old building into a new development.


— Are foreign guests expected at the forum?

— Luckily, this year the executive director of the Zaha Hadid Bureau is coming. We have been negotiating since the beginning of the year, and now he has confirmed his visit.

A unique project will be presented by the famous Renzo Piano Bureau. The Italian team will present the reconstruction of the embankment in Genoa. Imagine – the first master classes and project presentation will be in Yekaterinburg!  So we are definitely lucky.

Besides this, the construction of a high-rise building based upon a project by Norman Foster has been planned in Yekaterinburg.


— ...A “gherkin” building, like in London? (as Londoners call it — ed. note)

 — No, a “pineapple” building. It will be very unusual both in form and in function. The developer has not revealed its secrets yet, and now we are being invited to the construction site to be shown around.  

Skyscrapers in Russia: a necessity or the implementation of somebody’s ambitions?

We try to build our skyscrapers ourselves

— There are practically no companies in Russia with experience of constructing skyscrapers. When will this change?

— You are not right. In fact, when the “Premier” GC first presented the building designed by Sir Norman Foster’s architectural bureau at the Urban Development Council, it was not quite clear how to start it: complicated, expensive foreign construction materials were included in the project. Our Russian designers and engineers had to adjust the project to suit Russian reality. In the end, practically all the materials were replaced by domestic production.  The facades will be from Yekaterinburg.  

I am proud to say that, in Yekaterinburg, 95% of high-rise buildings are constructed without foreign investors or general contractors. There are companies in Yekaterinburg capable of pouring the solid-cast framework for a high-rise building, of masonry work, of producing translucent structures.

It is much more complicated to make fire-fighting systems and fresh-air systems, but still we have the experience, and we will share it with other regions.  


It is difficult to take into account our peculiarities in a French office

— Have you got an architects’ pool capable of skilled work with high-rise projects, or do you often have to invite foreign specialists?

— The “Iset” tower is known to have been designed by French architects. And it was planned that they would design the whole of Yekaterinburg City, but it turned out that it is very difficult to take into account all the nuances of construction in Russia from an office in France.

Now a tender has been announced for the development of the Yekaterinburg City concept. Architects from CIS, Germany, and France are among the participants, and there are 150 claims in all. The developer does not deny that Yekaterinburg City may be designed by Russian architects. 

I must say, Russian architects are very agile, and learn very quickly. There are several advanced architectural bureaus in Yekaterinburg.


— Concluding our conversation, could you please answer a personal question: how do you spend your free time? What are you fond of?

— I like reading very much, and I just swallow thick books. But I do not have enough time, unfortunately.

Recently I found another hobby for myself: together with designer Rita Khaak, we made a colouring book for children. It is titled “How to build a house” and depicts the main construction processes: from designing to putting a house into operation and landscaping. Each stage is supported by various tasks which may be fulfilled together with the parents.


Photos - Vera BELOUS