As a follow-up to concerns about construction with the World Heritage site, and in particular the new Mariinsky Theatre proposal, a meeting was organized with the Russian authorities at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre on 5 January 2006. At the subsequent request of the Russian Federation National Commission and following an invitation by the State Party, a World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission to the site was carried out from 3 to 7 February 2006 with the main aim to review the state of conservation of the World Heritage site of Saint Petersburg.
The full report of the mission is available online at http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2006. Specific concerns focused on the site’s integrity and authenticity; its boundaries and buffer zone; and how proposed constructions and new developments (specifically the plans for the Mariinsky Theatre) will potentially affect the outstanding universal value of the site. The mission specifically noted:
The extension of the Mariinsky Theater consists of three sub-projects, a) the restoration of the old Theatre (an early 19th century classical architecture); b) the construction of a new second Stage; and c) the construction of a third Stage re-using the Scenes Depot building that burned in 2003, located in the vicinity of the Theatre. The restoration of the old Theatre is being carried out according to international conservation standards and does not raise any major concern. The reconstruction, extension and re-use of the burnt Depot has also been planned according to acceptable standards.
The component that has raised questions is the new construction. This project was subject to a formal and transparent international competition, managed according to the best international standards. The winning design (by architect Dominique Perrault) is inspired by the golden domes and spires of the city but intends to create a sharp contrast with the traditional architecture of the site. The contrast is accentuated by the size of the extension, 10m. higher than the existing Theatre. The building design of a second stage of the Mariinsky Theatre is enveloped in a metal golden shield, and is of an irregular, mountain-like shape that has no relationship with the surrounding architectural context.
While examples of this design style are found in many other cities, it should be noticed that this issue has been a subject of discussion and preoccupation of the Committee for a long time and has led to the Vienna conference and the Vienna Memorandum (May 2005), which clearly states the need to link in a continuum modern developments to the historic landscape.
A meeting had just taken place at the municipal level in the days preceding the mission, and the decision was taken to lower the height of the new complex by 10m, in order to equal the height of the existing structures. The Mission concluded that if this decision is confirmed, the impact of the new structure on the World Heritage values would be acceptable, as the structure will not create any visible intrusion in the city landscape and would only be visible from the vicinity of the Theatre.
Small Holland project:
The rehabilitation of this area for public use is very sensitive to the preservation of the integrity of the area and does not impact negatively on the World Heritage values of the site.
Extension of the Hermitage Museum:
The expansion of this museum will also not impact negatively on World Heritage values, and will in fact give a homogenous use to the Square and deter traffic invasion.
Borders and buffer zone:
There are longstanding difficulties with definitions of the borders and buffer zone for this site which accumulated with the change from the Soviet Union (under which the nomination was first prepared) to the privatized and uncontrolled conditions prevailing subsequently in the Russian Federation. The confusion surrounding ongoing privatization led the authorities to initiate development of a Master Plan to govern urban development. This is due to be completed in July 2006 and will include 72,000 ha. of regulated (height controlled) territory and all listed buildings in the City Centre and the surrounding City District. Excluded from this regime are those buildings and spaces included in the adjacent Leningradskaya Oblast created after the fall of the Soviet Union. The mission was unable to obtain precise information about buildings in this district during its short visit.
The World Heritage Centre mission report outlines an agreed process for follow-up by City officials and representatives of the Russian Federation. The points are as follows:
a) The City of St Petersburg will send to the World Heritage Centre, via the Russian National Commission by 15 April 2006, all the maps with the indication of borders, protected zones, listed buildings and areas of Landscape Protection. Furthermore, the City will send a document listing all the areas included in the World Heritage site outside of the Historic Centre but inside the City District, with the indication of the surface of each parcel and the geographic coordinates;
b) By 30 September 2006, the City of St Petersburg will send, via the National Commission, a draft proposal for the new borders of the core zone of the World Heritage site, with an explanation for the changes proposed. Furthermore, the City will send a proposal for the new buffer zone of the World Heritage site;
c) Similar proposals (core and buffer zones) will be transmitted for all the serial sites located in external areas, within the City District;
d) The authorities of the Russian Federation will request the Leningradskaya Oblast to provide the same information and maps for the areas of the World Heritage site located in its territory;
e) The World Heritage Centre will examine the proposal and will send its comments to the authorities in October 2006;
f) The Russian Federation will send a request for the inclusion of the buffer zone and the other proposed changes to the World Heritage property (according to paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines) by 1 February 2007;
g) The file will be transmitted to the Advisory Body for evaluation and will be submitted to the World Heritage Committee.
Overall state of conservation:
While some cases of alterations of historic structures have been observed, the integrity of the urban landscapes of St. Petersburg has been protected, and there are effective conservation institutions and mechanisms involved in that effort. At the same time, there is a need to plan ahead and prepare for emerging issues in a timely manner: namely, the future upgrading of the housing stock to higher standards of accommodation, and the dramatically increasing traffic congestion.
Conservation efforts within the city are effective and implement appropriate planning and management tools. This is evidenced by the near doubling of the buildings listed for legal protection, including examples of modern architecture and industrial structures; the growing scale of investment in heritage protection; and the current conservation zoning system (comprising of one zone where changes are not permitted and a second zone permitting urban development within defined limits) and the use of a “landscape regulation zone”, which is roughly equivalent to a World Heritage property buffer zone.
Conservation efforts would be aided by development of a conservation strategy designed to address negative perceptions in the local community and aimed at bringing local citizens groups into the conservation process in positive ways. A more in-depth overall assessment of the state of conservation of this World Heritage site would require a thorough examination of all the initiatives undertaken by different public and private actors. Provided the World Heritage Centre is kept informed of major renovation and construction initiatives and any new major policies and plans both within the World Heritage site and the area surrounding it, the state of conservation of the site seems to be positive.